Fiji Post Card
by Judi Sion
Please be advised, nay, perhaps warned is a better word: The following entries have absolutely no redeemable spiritual value whatsoever and are not intended to. They are, at best, like me, irreverent, judgmental, and slightly off color. Spiritual value is neither implicit, implied, innuendoed, insinuated nor desired. I admit it write in parables and slip in codes wherever I can, but how you read them, and indeed even if you see them, is purely up to you.
I prefer the feather approach in my writing. (My tongue is becoming my blunt instrument.) I don’t like preachers. Zealots are dangerous in any sect; they only appear to direct their excessive-compulsive personalities into matters relating to a consciousness they call God. If they exhibited those tendencies about anything other than religion, we’d walk way around them on the street, and we’d never put weapons and governments in their hands I’m sure.
I write because it feeds me. I write if there is anything within reach that allows me to move letters on any medium, paper, blackboard, screen windows, computers, shells, sand, napkins in cafes and newspapers left behind in airports. Seldom does any of this literature see the light of day (please do not assume that I intend any spiritual or New Age connotation to the use of that word light).
When we are on the road, I constantly write what I call Travelogues, catching perhaps the most insignificant color from the palette of the day. I observe different markings in leaves and stones. Unable to hear the conversation at the table where I am, I listen to the one in the far corner. It is a hearing liability.
And so I write the conversations I hear and the markings as I cipher them on the shell. Usually the entries sit in various files and discs, wantonly tossed about suitcases and drawers. I have stacks of these like Tom has stacks of unpublished songs. Someday.
Tom said I really “must” write something for the newsletter. I told him that presented a current dilemma for me as my mind was on very awkward things, not particularly politically acceptable in polite conversation. I’m not feeling very spiritual these days. And despite the Hathors advice, I’m having a hard time appreciating George Bush. My personal spirituality and politics lie somewhere to the left of Zecharia Sitchin and to the right of David Icke, if you get my drift. (In other words, I’m pondering genetic manipulation and the resultant inherent flaw in our DNA which keeps us “giving it all up” to something, bowing down, prostrating in the name of whatever‑God, Goddess, government, religion, meditation, prayer, honor, respect-and the relativity of that to our personal power and evolution. We were created to be, and have continued to be, a slave race.)
In other words, my God is in my mind and heart, and the Devil is in the White House. These are dangerous waters to snorkel in, to stir a metaphor, and I prefer the reef out front. Ergo, I am simply sending this postcard from Fiji, where we are this month, in a little brown house by the sea.
Tom held a fantasy about Fiji, which should have bothered me right away. He’d had other fantasies as well. In his mental picture book, they still wore little wooden shoes in Holland, and he was sorely disappointed when he only saw miniatures in souvenir shops. His crest fell further when we saw more windmills in Greece than where “they belonged.”
These pictures we carry in our wallets‑the carefully perpetuated photographs from the slick brochures seldom hold the faintest resemblance to the reality.
We were in Fiji for two reasons. One was Tom’s fantasy about the tropical isles. You know the picture, palm trees, coconuts falling at your feet‑wide open‑waiting to be eaten. Gentle breezes. A pristine coral reef, waiting for exploration. Exoticized notions of gentle, passive natives waving palm fronds for your comfort while singing complex Polynesian harmonies.
And then also, both Mary Magdalen and the Hathors had come forward and strongly pressed us to move forward and get to Fiji when we lingered elsewhere and considered not coming. They both said the “tantra would be enhanced ever further in Fiji.”
Now, I do know that the better (uh, more proper) understanding of tantra is simply “alchemical energy practices.” But that did not hinder my eagerness to get to Fiji.
We knew nothing about Fiji when we landed, but it didn’t take long for us to realize we may need not only to get new pictures, but possibly a new wallet as well.
We hadn’t been fans of Thailand. The heat was bestial and the humidity was endless and unflagging in its attempt to deride focus or expenditure of energy on any behalf. In other words, walking down the block left you drained and wet. I walked in and out of the shower throughout Thailand as it if were the kitchen.
We landed in Fiji to find a host of greeters, each expounding the virtues of their hotel, their taxi, their carvings. There were no complex Polynesian harmonies, but they were gentle about what they were selling. No one was in our face.
The Nadi Hotel boasted deluxe air‑conditioned rooms, and so we chose it above all others for way cool reasons. They also offered free transport to and from the airport, and as we only had one night before we flew on to the island where we had rented a house, why not experience the big town on the Big Island in Fiji? (Mind you, to show you how innocent and ignorant we were, we hadn’t known until the last minute that the house we had rented was on a different island from where we landed. Ignorance is bliss, as they say. Who knew there are over 300 islands in Fiji and not one of them was named Fiji?)
You can still find hotels like the Nadi Hotel in the US if you go to the seediest part of an ugly city and look for the oldest, most run‑down facility you can find.
It was a Humphrey Bogart movie, co‑staring Katherine Hepburn. (She could take the wet heat and the dense jungle feeling.) The setting was early Africa Queen, with a touch of Casa Blanca, and a little Key Largo with the shutter thing going.
The sound effects in the dining room were great and needed no editing. After she took our order for chicken chow mein curry …don’t even ask …she disappeared, barefoot, into the back and the next sounds were clearly those of a cleaver impaling the air and then sinking deeply into an ancient wooden block. Nothing stood in its way. No bones were left untouched in this cleaver’s clear cutting. And to prove it, slivers appeared in every bite, big ones, little ones, in and amongst the noodles and pieces of some kind of meat. I didn’t eat it.
The aging air conditioner didn’t put a dent in the humidity, but, along with the running toilet, it did serve the purpose of drowning out some of the strains from the bar across the street. They had a live “band” which played something like a bad mix of Hawaiian, Calypso, Rock, and Salsa, with a touch of African and Indian. We lay all night, semisweltering, thankful for the sound from the noisy air conditioner and the constantly running toilet. I finally fell asleep after, at long last, Spencer Tracy actually divorced his wife and married Katherine Hepburn, who never really loved Humphrey Bogart anyway.
All in all, Nadi was deeply depressing. It was dirty and offered nothing we were used to enjoying. We had finally reached a place that offered no cafes, no coffee shops, no tea, and no internet cafes. And this was the Big Town? Oh, my Goddess, what have we done?
A terrible cyclone had just hit Fiji only weeks before our arrival. Another was predicted and was hovering somewhere offshore the morning we left Viti Levu for Vanua Levu, no doubt awaiting instructions as to where to “hit.”
I expected the trip between islands to take about fifteen minutes. I hadn’t read the tour book. I wish I had. The plane carried nine people, a pilot and a co‑pilot. People rode slung underneath huge engines with props on each engine, with one more prop sticking up on top, for good measure I guess. We flew, held in this sling‑like peoplecarrier, rather like the stork carries his charge, hanging down below the beak of the plane. Two men each consumed seats designed for two. We figured they placed them right down the middle to balance their weight. They were huge men. There were no aisles. You just climbed in where your seat was and scrambled over other seats if there was no door nearby. We sat between the wheels and the engines and two forward props, our view thereby limited to the fat men up front, the wheels and the world through blurred props.
I fell asleep on the way to Vanua Levu, my head against the thin wall of the airplane exterior. Every once in a while, turbulence would wake me, and I’d look down as best I could to see endless blue water. Fiji was much bigger than we ever guessed. I gave up sleeping and read the tour book instead.
It was then that I discovered the Kali Durga aspect of Fiji’s history. Until quite late into the 191 Century, Fijians had practiced cannibalism. And I don’t mean your occasional meal out either. I’m not talking about starving in a snowstorm with nothing to eat and surrounded by dead, available, convenient, frozen bodies either. I’m talking, if you’re walking and you aren’t my cousin‑and maybe if you are and I don’t like you‑you are lunch.
Those cute long, narrow, hand‑carved, pronged utensils that we had seen that morning in the craft shack in Nadi were replicas of the forks that the priests and chiefs used to eat their victims.
It seems that the priest was so sacred, so tabu, that only a woman could feed him his regular meals, though they were never to touch his lips. But the flesh of an enemy was eaten directly by the priest and the chief using those wooden forks, which looked rather like a squid, with long tentacles.
I will give them this. They ate what they killed. There was no waste. They baked their victims or sometimes ate them raw. They used the bones for necklaces and hairpins and ear‑lobe ornaments. War clubs were inlaid with bones and notched to keep track of the owner’s prowess in killing. Leg bones made good sail needles and thatching knives. Sexual organs were suspended from trees. Rows of stones outside a but tallied the number of bodies eaten by the chief. One of the last chiefs had eaten over 800 victims in his lifetime, by himself. He was a really Big Chief!
Young boys could not receive their adult name or be considered men or marry until they had killed. I won’t tell you what the women did. Every village had a Bure Kalou, a temple. Construction required that four strong men be buried alive in each of the corner postholes.
As a direct result of this behavior, the Methodist Church took it upon itself to convert these heathens, and to this end, they sent missionaries to Fiji.
And that’s how the Reverend Baker became toast, or perhaps bruschetta is more chic. In July of 1867 Thomas Baker made a grave mistake (look, I warned you this was going to get rough!). Perhaps he sought a place in the history books (or at least the cook books). Some say he was simply impatient. Some say he had martyr tendencies all along. Some say he was just stupid. No one will ever know for sure what happened, but the legend is that he was warned not to go up into the hills, into the Nausari Highlands on Vitu Levu. But he made the trip anyway, carrying a conversion agenda with him all the way. This is where it gets spicy. It seems the chief’s head is considered sacred, and so no one must ever touch the head of the chief. Apparently Baker left his comb in the chief’s hut and the chief decided to try it out. When Baker returned and saw his comb in the chief’s hair, he lost his composure, and snatched it out of the chief’s hair. The villagers went into an uproar and the Reverend Baker met a fiery end.
“They ate everything,” one villager recalled, “even tried to eat his shoes.” But Baker turned out to be a tough nut, or at least one of his shoes did, and the remaining shoe is exhibited in the Fiji Museum.
Gopan is waiting for us when we land. He is Indian and Fijian, slowmoving, ever‑constant; he will always be on time. Gopan and the tides, perhaps the most dependable things on Fiji we will soon discover.
Home is two little houses that appear out of the devastation of downed palm trees, upside down rain trees, and mangrove swamps that look like God played pick‑up‑sticks by tossing his hand and then walking away and not cleaning up after himself. The cyclone had taken a much greater toll on Vanua Levu than we had known.
But there was something extraordinarily magical about this particular little sliver of land. It jutted out over an overhang of pumice. The entire lot was pure lava, leveled after eons and covered in lush tropical growth, coconut palms, ginger bushes, salmon‑colored Hibiscus, blooming flowers I can’t name but will never forget.
In the few moments before black that first night, when faint hues tint the horizon, I saw a shadow pierce the sky and walked outside to watch a huge fruit bat exhort his flying prowess above my head, over and back, rise and dive, lunge and peak. Bats awe me and from my own shamanic tradition, they represent sha‑transformation. This particular messenger had a wingspan no less than a hawk or a small eagle.
The Milky Way melted across the sky and there were stars I’ve never seen before.
Since Tibet, we have traversed Thailand, North to South, spent a month in Australia, and several weeks in New Zealand. Tibet had been deeply moving, beyond description, for both of us, and we knew individual contemplation was in order, but there had never been time or opportunity. Constantly changing hotel rooms and airplanes demands its own rigor and focus, but here, at the edge of the sea with the prevailing winds a constant, surely there would be time for reflection.
And besides, there was absolutely nothing else to do. The phone lines were down so the internet didn’t work. There was no television, no. VCR. There were no movies in town and no real restaurants.
In fact, there was no real food. The cyclone had destroyed crops and when we got to the market, it only offered potatoes, a few rotten paw paws (papayas), onions, garlic, cabbage, pithy cucumbers, flaccid carrots and equally limp eggplant, and pineapples. Nothing else. No bottled water. I start boiling water.
The two huts loosely referred to as a “house” sit on a cliff of pure lava, about 30 feet above a pumice beach. A coral reef surrounds one side of the bay but access is only by a ladder suspended in the air and cantilevered by a stone. You have to simultaneously push the ladder down while lifting the stone, and then angle it so that, while risking life and limb, you might climb down to the surface of the jagged lava.
So we sat our first day on Vanua Vevu, staring out at the famous Hole in the Wall dive site, with no access we were willing to risk.
Night approached. The markets had closed early that day and the spinach we had bought the day before turned out to only be some weed the locals had picked and bundled together. The “gluten” Tom put in the spaghetti sauce to add protein had added some flavor, but had shrunk, like little heads and wasn’t edible. Besides, I didn’t like the look of it very much.
Life in paradise might not be what we thought it would crack up to be.
Power had just barely been restored, but the crops couldn’t be. At first we had phone service, off and on, for a few days and I merrily called home, sitting staring out to sea. The reason we had rented this house was because the owner left his internet service in place for us. Without Internet, I am lost, and we are in the final production stages of three CDs and the next newsletter.
The only internet is in Savusavu Town at Savusavu Real Estate and is 35 cents a minute, the most expensive thing on Fiji I can assure you. The computer is slow and quirky with a bad keyboard. It’s also the gossip headquarters for all of Savusavu and women slip in and out, their whisperings growing to cackles. Children wander in and hang on your knee. Some pull up a chair beside you and just stare at you while you type. The men come in all puffed up, talking loudly, gesturing wildly. It is impossible to think there. I was trying to edit some copy for the CD and found myself sitting with my fingers pressed so tightly into my ears that it hurt. I gave up. One after noon cost $72 and I got almost nothing done.
The market was a joke. I don’t know why the vendors kept coming. I don’t know why they just didn’t take the season off. “Closed due to cyclone. Open again when there’s some food to sell next growing season.”
We faced a food crisis. We had come to Fiji with pictures of eating healthily and utilizing the time for pure, clean food, luscious fruits and vegetables. There was almost nothing here to eat. No lettuce. No broccoli. No greens. Almost no fruit. No chicken. No fish.
Taking stock (no pun intended, though I am a bit hungry as I write this): since there was no phone there are no easy phone calls to the taxi driver who is the only source of transportation the ten miles of nothing into town. No phone means no internet; so nothing can be done at home. We have no car and there are none to rent. The TV doesn’t work. The video player doesn’t work. The books lining the shelf along the kitchen ceiling are all romance novels or spy thrillers. I just don’t read those. There are about six old issues of The Sun magazine and three issues of the Smithsonian. I read them in the first few days. I will be able to quote from them by the time we leave.
There are no fancy restaurants to dress up and go out to, though we really don’t have any urges, and its way too hot to put “clothes” on anyway.
So here we are, just Tom and me, circled by palm trees, coconuts falling everywhere, thudding onto the roof, denting the ground outside the bedroom window. At night the fruit bats circle the house and dare us to come out and play. We sit in the porch swing, my legs too short to reach the ground. I hold one end of a burning mosquito coil in my hand. Tom pushes. We wear sarongs and curse when we have to put on clothes and go to town.
Somehow, we are falling in love with this place, this one little sliver of land out of all of Fiji. Maybe it’s the wind on this point, Nagaga Point. It blows constantly, not maddeningly, but assuringly. It rustles the palm fronds and adds to the roar of the ocean. At night there is an occasional insect sound, but otherwise there is an ever‑present breeze to blow off the heat and keep my thoughts moving.
We ventured out to the ladder today, held enraptured as long as we could tolerate by the coral reef without getting into it and tasting it. I am compelled by the sea. I chose a college just to be close to the ocean. l don’t really swim well, so it isn’t that I ever spent much time in the sea. Well, the truth is, I know all the strokes, and I actually look really quasi‑professional “pretending” to swim. But I’m holding my breath. I cannot, for the life of me, do that “put your head under the water and blow out” thing, and then lift your head and take a breath and repeat. Invariably when I put my head under water, I take a huge breath. And to this day, it still shocks me that I cannot “breathe” it. And so I pop up choking and spitting. Tastes bad. Looks bad.
In college life‑saving I tried wearing a nose clip but they looked so damned dreadful, I refused to be caught dead in it.
I got a possible explanation for this bizarre behavior from the Archangel Michael. He said to me once, “You are from a place where beings swim in blue, pure liquid love.” Who wouldn’t try to breathe that?
A few years ago, someone taught me how to snorkel, and my access to the sea changed forever. Finally I was free. I embraced the tube like an infant takes a mother and fins are much more comfortable and maneuverable than shoes, and I can fly underwater.
And so yesterday, we lowered the ladder and stared down onto jagged lava. Tom went down first, carrying the bag with the snorkel equipment. We barely fit through the hole at the top of the platform, and the ladder wiggled and growled as we stepped from rung to rung; it hung straight down. It was handmade and the rungs glued rather than doweled. I prayed it was Super Glue holding the rungs which were holding me. My muscles are not as strong as before the accident; they twinge and feel like badly damaged rubber bands about to break, and I move with more trepidation on land.
The scene changes daily, depending on where the tide is. This day we can enter the water directly off the lava peaks, a delicate procedure, I assure you.
We had barely entered the water, which was only about three feet deep where we got in, but we soon realized that to get over to the deep and more placid section of the reef, Initiation would be demanded.
Regardless that the water was not that deep, it was like an old washing machine my mother used to have. It tumbled and twisted and pulled at you. I used to watch the sheets try to hang onto one of the dashers, holding on for dear life. But in the end, the constant won out always and the sheet was wrestled loose, only to spin and spin and be taken by the centrifugal force and impaled against the wall of the tank. The wall of this tank was hard coral and alive. I neither wanted to be impaled against it, nor did I want to take its life.
But I was that sheet, tumbled and yanked and rolled and dashed. I wrestled with the sea. I argued with him. I know it is a man. He listens to no one and he has such strength, such brute force. So I worked the sea like I used to work men. I tried to outsmart the sea. I let it think it had me, tacking with the wind and rip tide, then when the wave had just passed and the sea lay after its explosion, I pulled away when he wasn’t looking. When he woke up, he was furious and came after me again. Again I went with him, twenty yards in one direction he dragged me, and when the wave and Great Under Toad passed, I pulled away again, gaining more ground.
Inside my mind, I told myself that this was a parable for life. I could not rest once the worst had passed, or I would lose ground, so to speak. I had to keep paddling, keep blowing out the water that invariably entered the top of the tube when the waves crashed over me. Paddle and blow. Paddle and blow. Tack and swim peacefully, then pull away and paddle madly. It was a battle and, in the end, the sea only let me go because he knew I would have to deal with him to return to the land yet again that day. He laughed and withdrew to the other side of the island.
The deep parts of the reef awe a human. But to reach the depth, I had to swim over a graveyard of broken coral, where fire had first met water, thousands of years ago.
At the edge of the cliffs, where the lava first met the sea, there is an infusion of melted shells and whorled lava. And under the first half mile, lies jagged coral in varying stages of decomposition. Tiny fish in every color swim there.
The world beneath the sea is perhaps so much more evocative to me than what I walk through all day only because it is so different, so alien. And I grow tired of what I walk through all day, the hurt, the confusion, the alienation, the greed, the consumerism, the arrogance of mankind, the need to kill, the refusal to share. Why do we teach our children to share when they will grow up into a world that operates without a modicum of the concept?
“There is enough for everyone,” we say to them. And then they must re‑learn the rules to survive.
And God knows, underneath the sea, the biggest fish eats all, or smartest eats all. There is always a bigger fish, and you’d better be looking over your shoulder constantly, if you’re smart.
But I love it, just the same.
There are many more fish than we have races of people. Their colors and markings painted by some master make‑up artist and costume designer. Some wear lipstick and eye shadow and rouge. Some have stripes like ancient warriors. Some are prison fish, wearing black and white uniforms with absolutely no discernible differences in fabric. They rush by you in cellblocks, all dressed for jail, held in tight cadence by some invisible warden.
Snorkeling through coral is like floating directly above reindeer antlers. Brown trunks have green stems and then prong out to purple and sometimes to sky blue. Some stems are stark white with tips of forest green and sky blue and even pumpkin. It is a forest of antlers.
Then there are the “cranial” coral. Some “brains” seem split down the middle, like our own, lobed in cinnamon and purple. Others are giant molars, with cavities where fish hide.
Yesterday I saw my first living mollusk, a huge old thing, brown and white muscle quivering inside a monstrous shell, a foot across. I lay above him staring at his exposed parts when a floating piece of seaweed brushed across his exposed organs. He flinched and quivered slightly and considering closing, but his shell was so ancient and crusted with seaweed and sludge, and he was so huge, he could barely move, like a slow‑moving drawbridge. In the end, he decided it wasn’t a threat and re‑opened for business. I lay above him for eons it seemed. I tried to memorize his exact location on the reef, so I could show Tom. But I only floated a few feet away and never found him again, so cleverly was he camouflaged in the coral.
If I had my life to live over again, I would be the John Muir of the sea. I would write so evocatively, so longingly, that no one would stride across this reef without consciousness. And yet, despite John Muir, they still cut down giant trees, though they are our life’s breath.
Armed with a bowl of mashed potatoes, I come to the computer in the middle of the night. It’s been a long time since I woke up like this, and I know the dangers of writing in a dark room. The bugs will soon discover the lit screen and perform various acts of suicide into the keys. They will impale themselves on the screen, squiggling letters to make me think I’ve written something I didn’t and then refusing responsibility. What is that called, when you subscribe human characteristics to something inhuman? Politics?
I turn the light on next to me. If I give them something else to pay attention to, they will forget me, sitting here, writing in the middle of the night. And that is called political spin.
And so they desert my screen and rush to the latest phenomenal light in the neighborhood, scrambling so close to the bulb they can’t see anything.
They call what I’m deafened by tonight, white sound. The waves crashing on lava, the wind, the night noise, creatures I’ve never seen singing to me outside.
For breakfast, we’ll have hash browns. For lunch, maybe a frozen pineapple smoothie. For dinner, perhaps spaghetti. Or maybe cabbage. Then the next day we can have a pineapple smoothie for breakfast, cabbage for lunch and potatoes for dinner.
It’s time to go back to bed. The bugs have gotten bored with the light I shined on the table next to me and are focused once again on what I’m really doing. And that’s called the American people waking up.
Starfish are royal blue on the reef, and many of them seem to have distinct personalities and no modesty. They hang their legs everywhere, slung over a brain lobe of coral like a drunken cowboy, not giving a damn. Kind of a “Howdy, ma’am, wanna see my spurs?”
They dot the sea floor and drape over coral and appear when you least expect them, under a rock, right where you are about to hold onto for dear life against the UnderToad. I found a leg loose on the sandy bottom today, like a probe searching for the mother ship. The starfish will grow another leg perhaps but the leg will not grow another Starfish. I bring it home to add to the growing collection on the porch table.
Returning today from the reef, the sea had his way with me again, pulling me here and there. I fought and tacked and fought and thought a lot about life. It’s really like that. But I realized something quite stark and clear. If I don’t lift my head above water every once in a while, even though I get so caught up in survival, I fiend myself going in another direction totally than where I intended. I caught myself heading out to sea several times when I thought I was heading home, so turned around was I by the frenzy of wave and current. It was a good lesson, to be reminded to always lift yourself above it all and see where you are from another perspective.
My teachers call that going to the place of the Eagle. They told me an Eagle can’t step over a pebble on the ground; he lacks visual perspective on the ground. He has to fly up and look at it from above, and then he can land on the other side of it. It looks huge to him on the ground, but from the sky, he sees it in perspective.
Ra sliced open the sea and rose, fully formed, dripping blood and light. I stumbled next door to the house from the sleeping but and thought about how many years it had been since I had seen the sun born, never on a tropical island. I am not traditionally a morning person. But the sleeping but faces the morning sun, and he lifts my lids and streams into me every morning. I know his rising and falling here, so evident is he riding across the sky, only to drown again at night.
Yesterday was the most amazing day on the reef.
We hadn’t gone out for two days. One was a tense day. I felt the sea’s anger and he scared me, and though I tried to get beyond the coral graveyard, swimming and paddling and panting, I couldn’t break his grasp; and I felt guilty when Tom, though peacefully communing with a little brown and purple fish, whose people I know well, gave up his conversation to go back in with me.
Those are the places in sacred relationship that confuse. I couldn’t fight the current that day. I wasn’t peacefully communing. The sea was winning that day, and before my strength gave completely out, I knew enough to swim home.
I didn’t realize he was coming with me. 1 didn’t want him to give up his commune for me. But I lifted my head along the way and looked back for his snorkel tube above the water, and there he was, swimming closely, returning with me. I love that he came with me. He knows he didn’t have to.
The next day we went down the ladder and started across the razor‑sharp lava peaks to get to the only tiny low place where we can enter, but the swells were crashing alongside us and they rode in waves across the reef itself. “Better not to enter today,” my stomach turned over and warned my heart. Again, I felt guilty. I pointed to the breakers across the reef.
Am I an oracle who senses danger? Or am I too afraid to enter dark waters? I worry about my choice. He agrees and back we go, across the sharp lava, the wind whipping at us, jeering us on.
The moon is almost full and hangs between the palm fronds. I blame her for the sea’s anger. It is almost her Moon Time, and she is rising and swelling, and she calls to her all things within her dominion, including the tides, and they rise to meet her.
So then came yesterday. We had rested two days and had more strength, and we crossed the lava peaks and slipped into the water. We stayed closer together, just in case. And we wouldn’t have been able to share the same experiences if we hadn’t stayed so close.
It was the perfect day inside the sea. I saw my old friends, the little brownish, purplish fish with the bright blue eyes and purple rings around them, with just a hint of purple lipstick. I see brighter fish and larger fish and more neon fish all the time. But these little guys, like monks in brown robes, are the curiosity seekers. They stare at us and only dart away when pointed at. If we don’t point at them, they don’t dart. And when we point and they dart, if you turn back around after swimming off, you can see that they, too, turn back and linger and watch you. They circle you and stare at you, meeting your gaze, eye to eye. These are the enlightened ones of the sea. I know they know. And I know they know I don’t know.
But this day was Double Points Day.
I discovered the lovers of the sea, orange fish with white ribbons around their heads. They gyrate among the tendrils of some creature whose name 1 don’t know. But wherever you find a patch of it, you’ll find the orange fish, rubbing themselves passionately in the tendrils, gyrating, rolling over and over, with the tendrils caressing them across their eyes, over their bellies, through their fins. They lose themselves totally in the embrace, unaware of my presence, so absorbed in the petting they are.
Once, we rounded a huge coral brain, some forty feet across its cranium, and then, all of a sudden, it began to rain little luminescent teal blue fish all around us. They seemed to drop into the surface from the sky. They floated everywhere around us, appearing from nowhere, but from above, which isn’t easy for fish to do when you’re snorkeling pretty close to the surface anyway. The illusion was that they fell and descended all around us. It was the most disorienting and strange sensation, to see hundreds and hundreds of exquisite, luminescent little fish, moving with you. They, too, didn’t scatter, but moved in flow with us, in some synchronization of thought, swimming alongside in the same direction. We floated along with them. I didn’t want to leave. I was one of them.
And there was a deep, rich royal blue fish with a huge crown and rich, pumpkin polka‑dots. He hid quickly, not wanting anyone to see his wealth, lest they take it from him.
It was hard to leave yesterday. I might still be there, but it was Tom’s turn to be rational, and he advised returning. If we hadn’t stayed so close, perhaps neither would have seen the snake. Or only one of us would have been so rewarded.
It slithered, as if it was on the ground. I didn’t swim. It slithered through the water. Yellow head with black stripes and the rest of the four‑foot long body was a band of white and then a band of black and a band of white and a band of black, all the way to its length. It was mesmerizing and held us both, watching until it passed out of sight.
I had an experience once, in my Medicine Days, with a rattlesnake. I could have killed it that day, but instead I took a walk with it. We just walked along, side‑by‑side, for about a quarter mile, and then it went under a bush, and I turned back. We had held each other’s life dangled in a split second that day.
I saw something under my tire and stopped, thinking it was a retread on the dirt road. Instead of driving over him, something made me stop. I stepped outside the door of the huge truck, to throw the retread off the road. I was alone, in the Arizona desert, miles from anything and anyone. That gave him a moment to coil. And so we stood looking at each other in that moment. Instead of either killing the other, we took a walk and talked about it, the rattlesnake and me.
We talked about life and death and choice. I asked for his medicine and he asked for mine.
He gave me the ability to bite but to always rattle first. He taught me to never attack first, but when attacked, to be willing to fight for your freedom. I would have curled up and died before that walk that day, not claiming my right to live. But I felt a transfer of power that day in the desert.
And I gave him reason.
You know the koan, the one about the scorpion. The scorpion is pacing back and forth along the bank of a flooded river one day, desperately needing to get to the other side. A turtle happened along. The scorpion begged for a ride across to the other side.
“Why would I do that,” asked the turtle? “You are a scorpion; you would bite me.”
“If I bit you, we would both die. I wouldn’t do that,” said the scorpion.
And so the turtle let the scorpion climb onto his back, and they began the swim across the river. With the other bank in sight, the scorpion was overcome with himself and bit the turtle.
As they both sank into the water, the venom rushing through him, the turtle asked, “Why on earth did you do that? Now we both will die.”
“Because I am a scorpion and it is my nature to bite,” said the scorpion.
I had not acted like a typical human that day, and he had not acted like a typical rattlesnake. We had each transcended our base emotions, our nature. And so we made a pledge, his people and my people.
My people, my immediate family, would never take the life of a snake. And his people, his family, would never take the life of any of my family.
But as I swam too close to this snake, and I felt him consider turning to face me, I felt a split second of fear arising, and I wondered if, due to a feud in the snake family, perhaps sea snakes didn’t honor contracts with land snakes. You can swim backwards, you know?
I knew a Native American grandmother once. She sat every morning in my rocking chair and combed her single long, white braid. It was immaculate. I couldn’t imagine how she did that with her own hands. When I braid my own hair, it comes out twisted and hangs weird. Her thin, single braid was never out of place. After several mornings watching her, I asked her if I could help her by brushing her hair. She looked at me for a long time, assessing something I didn’t understand at the time.
Then she said I could comb her hair and braid it if I never told anyone she let me. “My other granddaughters would all be jealous,” she said. “I have never let any of them touch my hair.”
And so I took her brush in my hand and combed and combed, I imagined a prairie and long dark nights before a campfire, when grandmother and granddaughter combed each other’s hair.
When I finished she took the brush from my hands and carefully removed every single strand of hair. Then she leaned over to the wood stove beside us and opened the door. She threw the strands in and closed the door. The fire consumed them.
“Never let anyone take a strand of your hair, granddaughter,” she said. ‘And be careful where you hair falls. You’ll leave a piece of your heart wherever you leave your hair, and any one who knows magic can do you great harm, or the Spirit of a place can call you back with a single strand of hair.”
Grandmother is gone but I never forgot what she said to me. I brush my hair with consciousness now and carefully destroy every strand. I don’t throw it by the wayside or in trash cans in hotels. God knows what magic the maid might be trained in!
I walked out on the porch this morning and combed and combed my hair. I let the strands fall into the wind and watched them fly away and laughed.
I will come back to Fiji.
Today we woke to find the phone, which was only connected yesterday, gone again. When the phone began to act up last night, I frantically called Gopan. I could hear him, but he couldn’t hear me. I dialed and dialed, and over and over we both said, “Hello?”
We prepared to walk into town, frustration out of control. It had been the weekend and we were out of food. Then a little white car pulled into the driveway. God bless Gopan! In town, I worked at the real estate office while Tom shopped. He came in, exhausted and drenched from walking in the heat, back and forth through the little town. No potatoes. No onions. No eggs. No phone. No internet. No TV No movies.
We go home and I frantically search through the foliage for every single strand of hair.