Wild Life on Grand Seal Island
As the song says, “It was a messed-up party and I was there!”
I was hanging out with the gang at The Village yesterday. As luck would have it, I found myself awash in this incredible party.
It started around sundown. A bunch of us were sitting around a driftwood fire on the beach, playing guitars and singing songs and drinking beer. The air grew chilly, and we all huddled together, singing funky old songs. Get this — we sang songs by people like Molly Makepeace! (Yeah, I had never heard of her either, but she was apparently really big in the ’60s.) We were all smushed together, probably three dozen of us, guys and girls, nobody wearing much clothing, getting chilled and buzzed and singing stuff like:
We sing our songs,
in nature’s tune.
They echo far
across the moon.
We act a part,
we play a role.
Our bodies form
a single soul.
Sing out, sing loud.
Sing it out loud.
Is that cool or what?
Around midnight or so, the party moved into The Cave. That’s a big empty building that probably used to be a clubhouse or dining room or something for the people who lived in the shacks, back when they were “cottages” and in decent shape. We got a fire going in the fireplace, broke out some more beer and “other stuff,” and kept on singing.
Then Bo told a story. He’s the big black guy — Eliza’s boyfriend — and he has this deep voice that’s perfect for storytelling. He also has a perfect face for it — a long black beard that’s squared off at the bottom, and amazing eyes that can shine and glare and laugh all at once.
The story he told was about a wooden whaling ship off the coast of Maine, maybe two hundred years ago. It was the middle of January on a really cold and bitter day. They were chasing a pod of sperm whales — really big ones — when one of the whales suddenly stopped fleeing and turned around. It aimed its big skull right at the ship and swam with all its might. It cut through the water at an amazing speed, and WHAM! It splintered the timbers on the side of the ship, just below the waterline.
Well, the captain was no ordinary man. The ship was sinking, water was gushing in through the cracks in the boat’s hull, and every sailor on board knew they were going to freeze to death in the ocean soon. But not the captain. His name was Joshua Fowler, and he was uncommonly tuned in to the power and the rhythms of the world around him.
First, he ordered his men to throw overboard everything that wasn’t absolutely essential for survival. Then he had them all stand on the side of the boat opposite the bashed-in bruise, tilting the ship until the battered timbers rolled up a bit.
Then Fowler used the sails to position the damaged side toward the wind, which tilted the broken planks just barely out of the water. And then he waited. He watched the cracked pieces of wood. His men stood silently on the downwind side, wondering whether the old man had snapped along with his ship. But Fowler said nothing. He just waited.
A wave of seawater slightly taller than the others broke over the side of the ship, drenching the splintered wood. The water trickled back down to the ocean and through the hull — except for the tiny film that froze on the timbers. A minute later, another tallish wave, and the film of ice grew a tiny bit thicker. Another wave, and the ice grew all the more solid. Nature is the ultimate engineer.
After an hour of this treatment, the wound on the ship’s side was covered with a bandage of hard salt ice. “That ought to get us to port,” Fowler calmly said to his men. “Back to work, everyone.”
And sailing on a ship built of wood and ice, Fowler brought his crew home safely, ready to go whaling another day.
Bo told the story slowly, with his deep voice dragging out words and making the whole night seem powerful and dangerous. We drank some more, got pretty wasted, and swapped stories and songs all night. I ended up with my arm around a girl named Saffron or something — I didn’t even know her, and we’re sitting there half-making out. At one point, Eliza took Bo by the hand and led him outside, dropping her shirt on the rocks as she went.
I finally crashed in the Cave, on top of a picnic table next to the fireplace, using my trusty reporter’s safari vest as a pillow.
When I woke up, it was after noon. The sun was shining painfully through the holes that used to be skylights. My back was stiff from lying on the picnic table for half the day. And all around the Cave, lifeless bodies were draped all over the place. It was like a neutron bomb had gone off, killing the people but leaving the furniture intact. Bo was back, asleep with his head on his guitar, and Eliza was snoring with her head on someone else’s thigh. A bunch of people were under the picnic table I was on. I don’t know how many were down there, but I counted at least four different arms and five legs.
The place smelled like beer and cigarettes and ’60s tunes. No one moved, except for the swelling of chests keeping time with the snoring. Even the ocean outside was quiet.
I sat up, but my head felt like someone had impaled it on a really old and rusty harpoon. The pain went away a little when I lay back down on my rolled-up safari vest. But only a little. I got up after a while to go outside, hoping that some fresh air and a good pee would improve my constitution.
I spent the rest of today wandering The Village in a bit of a fog. I saw some people cooking sausages over a campfire, and I tottered over to them in the hopes that I would get fed. They gave me some sausages and bread, and I recognized them from the party.
“Man, that was some crazy party!” I said with my mouth full of sausage.
They looked at me blankly and shrugged. Apparently, that wasn’t unusual at all — The Village has parties like that every night.
I got into journalism because I want to live life on the edge. To the best of our knowledge, we only get one shot at this thing we call life. Most people spend their lives in muted fear, worrying about eliminating litter-box odors and getting their teeth whiter than white and making sure their doorknobs are more polished than their neighbors’. Not me. I want to be Jack Kerouac. Ernest Hemingway. John Steinbeck with Charley. I want to be Chris McCandless. Jack London. Bruce Cockburn, drinking on the Tibetan side of town. I want to be homeless in the best sense of the word — untethered, free, bound by nothing and no one. I want to travel the world alone, experience things that few people can even imagine, and earn a fascinating collection of scars and tattoos. I want to ship out on a tramp steamer, chew betel nuts in the shadow of Kilimanjaro, walk through snake pits in my bare feet, dive with the sharks on the Great Barrier Reef. I want to ride a raft on the Gulf Stream, eating only what I can catch with a spear. I want to practice meditation in a Buddhist temple in Burma. I want to leave a cryptic message at the top of some snowbound mountain that no one ever sees. You can’t do that if you’re shackled with a mortgage, a long-term relationship that requires constant care and feeding, and a bevy of kids who need shoes and nosewipes and college tuition. They say that the prison system in America is expanding rapidly, but they don’t know the half of it. The real prison system encompasses networks of pleasant avenues and cul-de-sacs dotted in rapid succession with boxy houses surrounded by tidy green lawns and decorative fences. To me, that’s the very definition of living death.
I read once about a group of six guys who dressed in tuxedos and parachuted into the middle of Africa’s largest wildlife park, armed only with one pistol and one bullet each. They landed, shook hands, and walked off in different directions, agreeing that the survivors would gather later at a certain pub to swap stories. They had the right idea. We’re all going to die someday — it’s a whole lot better to go out in the jaws of a panther or impaled on a bull elephant’s tusk than it is to wither away in solitude and die without notice.
That’s why I call myself “The Shadowless Writer.” In the Arctic, the polar bear is sometimes called The Shadowless One, because his white fur blends with the snow to make him nearly invisible. He’s also called The Wanderer, because he travels great distances alone, answering to no one. That’s what I want. I want the freedom of the polar bear.
I got into journalism to live more fully, more dangerously, and more freely than most people believe they can. But I have to say — if I had known that journalism would involve parties like the one last night, I would have majored in it in kindergarten.
—Donovan Graham, “The Shadowless Writer”
Comment—WomynFire982: is this blog going to be filled with nothing but sex and infantile frat-boy observations? you’d think the eastport sun would have better things to publish on their website
Comment—Orson Van Dyke: I believe the Free Press Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution grants Mr. Graham and the Eastport Sun the right to publish anything they want. That position has been modified by the courts to some extent—one cannot publish libelous material with impunity, for example—but in general the Founding Fathers found it wise to allow the press to exercise an important role in the free exchange of ideas so essential to a democracy.
Comment—WomynFire982: bite me
Read previous blog entries in the Island Wars story by clicking here.