From SHE: Stories of a Woman
She knew what was coming. First was the acrid smell of urine. She had learned to hold her breath as she approached. The stench was overwhelming. Of course it was. The urine had no place to go—just rolling into corners of cement with no way to be absorbed into the circle of life.
Just beyond that was sand sodden with the refuse of high tides. There were broken shells, plastic bottles, seaweed, plastic bottles, feathers, plastic bottles, plastic bottles, and occasional remnants of clothing.
But just above that was respite. As she climbed the sticky stairs, she knew what was coming. She needed it, wanted it, longed for it. Her favorite times were during storms. It was like ocean and storm had Catlin’s Mandan O-kee-pa hooks lodged in her chest, and when they came to shore together, they pulled her to them and she could not resist.
She loved the wind pressing her flesh into her skull. And as harsh as it was, she did love the sea pushing the salt into her skin by means of that wind. Most of all she loved leaning into the wind. It felt like the womb, being sustained by something greater than her skeletal system and muscle. For a brief and tender time, she could feel as though she were being held.
When the stairs ended, she was on the pier. Now her nose would be accosted by another familiar smell. The fish entrails lay in little heaps in the cavernous, rusting public sinks. Seagulls performed a dangerous dance, trying to balance the fear of humans with the need to fill their bellies. The most courageous few bore the marks of their dance: fishhooks lodged in their jaws, plastic necklaces, and broken or missing feet. But they were not deterred. Those guts belonged to them!
Overhead sat the rulers of the edge. The great pelicans cast their dominant eye to and from the pinnacle of the temple. They were neither judge nor jury, only very present, looking on at this pilgrimage of humans to the sea. It must have been comical to them. Great slabs of concrete had been thrown down on top of trees raped for their longevity, then plunged into unfamiliar waters—all of this so that creatures with no wings could waddle above the substance the birds could fly over and float on at any moment of their choosing.
Voices always interrupted the first steps on the pier—voices and the tinny sound of portable radios blaring from fishermen’s carts overflowing with plastic bags, bait, extra clothing, poles, and yards of line. It always took patience to make this passage. A nice deep breath let out slowly and systematically usually helped her through the gauntlet.
Once through that, and ignoring the ruler’s stare, new acoustic and seismic events replaced the human push. Her feet felt it first. Shuddering timbers passed their stress through concrete, steel, and bone. She knew that the ocean was doing its best to beat down these foreign pillars. Wave after wave would crest and thrust all its force against columns as if it knew it could overcome some day. The waves did not acknowledge that new timbers would eventually replace their present victims. The waves simply would never give up, never surrender!
It was deceiving to look over the edge at times. At one moment the surface was a smooth plane covered with diamonds. Becoming mesmerized by these always led to disappointment, though. She could never really get lost in them because soon the wave would come emerging like a great roiling beast beneath the surface. The first sign of its absolute presence was the white crest of its white head, a broad crew cut of foam. But that cut never lasted long, and it grew into a thundering cauldron of manifest power, rising, rising, and destroying the diamonds below with its militant resolve to take the beach. But then its impotence was revealed. It could not sustain this path to war and crashed on to itself in a million drops of foaming despair. Its only recourse was to tuck its head and roll over and over, declining in power as it met the stalwart sand. She could stand for hours and watch this beautiful struggle, but she wanted more than just that.
After all the stench, noise, and battle, she arrived at the foyer of her sanctuary. Here the water and timber were friends—familiar associates laughing and talking together. If she stopped she could hear the softer, gentler waves lapping against the wood, inviting urchins to lodge there. At low tide you could see their cliff dwellings.
The air was at rest, just as it is when one is about to enter a great hall. On a calm day it was as if the whole world stood still. Very little movement could be discerned on the horizon. The diamonds would appear again, rising to their rightful place of brilliance in the sun, reflecting the radiance of the star that feeds us all.
As she passed through the narthex, she found again the incredible peace that always drew her here. She stood quietly looking on the edge of the universe.
Copyright 2010 M.R.HYDE