Wednesday, September 10, 2008

in which the fish swims in the forest

It is Spring.

In these parts the season is not measured by blooms or buds, but by the invisible forests and the different directions
From which the great entities cast their breath upon you.

There has been a usual spring tantrum, the sea is almost a metropolis of movement and business, lit by the white searchlight of a still-lowlying sun. The sea shows its olive underbelly in a wayward fashion, looks at me sideways and then tears more hair out. Great shakes, enormous moving walls carrying the contents of deep underground kelp forests.

In my rock pool it lies almost still, beautiful olive green, with the rippled sand showing through in patches of pale aqua.

Nobody else likes to swim in the kelp.
Makes them itchy, makes them twitch in fear. Things live in kelp.
Look out for all that weed, they say, but I just laugh.
I love seaweed and jump right into it, nostrils flaring with its eel-funk, that aroma so sharp it goes straight to the top of my skull and the depths of all my cavities, speckled and green.
I slither on in, watching the grand fronds wave like the Port Jackson Shark tails, everything rocking in unison, big columns of salty oxygen blasting down and sending up in a flurry. The sharp edges talk to me of scratching, they trace my cheeks and slither around my arms.

In my olivegreen wonderland today, I thought of things hidden in here, perhaps a Bronze Whaler shark, curving in and out. One time the sea sent me one of those along with the kelp on a huge roiling swell.
It couldn’t get back over with the waves that carried it in when the tide lowered.

On that day of high seas I had swum 30 laps or so, watching the kelp below and measuring the aqua patches in that half-lit state I reach after a half hour in my fish life.
I noticed Les O’Keefe there on the edge, putting on his cap. He asked me what I had done to my stroke, said my body rotation was different. My elbow height.

Sharp as a tack, Les O’Keefe. Doesn’t miss a thing.

I have in fact been to stroke correction, Les,
I told him.
In Canberra.

With Alexander Popov, Les. No less.
(And this was true, I had indeed had lesson from Popov and Gennady, which is a story in itself. Les noticed straight away.)

Ah, he said. 
I can tell.

Les represented Australia at the commonwealth games. He swam like a champ, even at 80 years of age. Last year at the winter swimming races, he appeared a little confused, lining up and standing indecisively on the edge, until all races were finished and he hadn’t yet swum. But that as to come, on this day he dived in smoothly and arced over the kelp at my side.

I finished another mile or so beside him.

I like the new stroke, he said,
as I slid out, seal wet and dripping. He turned to finish, and I ran up the hard sand of the beach to the headland and back, the water flying off me till I was wind-whipped and dry.

When I returned I was surprised to see
The Wildlife Ranger, and a crowd of hildren, one or two grownups, all peering into the rockpool.

Les continued to calmly swim, slap slap slap up and down gliding above the canopy of kelp.

there's a big shark in there,
everybody said, jumping up and down.
The ranger nodded.

Yep. Big Bronze Whaler, he said.

There is no shark in there, I said, 
I was in there not twenty minutes ago.
Ask Les, he’ll tell you.

Watch that patch of sand, the ranger said, so I did.

And as I looked at the pale clearing in the forest, a large shark shape passed across it, like someone had made
the shape of a shark out of the kelp shadows and breathed it into life.

It was circling the perimeter of the rockpool, calmly, with its dignity intact. Each ten minutes the patch of white sand dimmed as it glided across.
I had just swum two miles with a shark, possibly demented and enraged by incarceration.

I put my face at water level.

Les, there’s a huge shark in there with you.

He put his face up for a moment.
Did it bite you, when you were in here?


Well, it wont bite me then. Anyway, I’ve only a little way to go.
And with that he swam off, the shark patrolling the seaweed beneath him.

I haven’t seen Les this winter.
Just the kelp reminded of him me as I swam, one part of my gaze sweeping the waving kelp, looking for a tail or the pale blunt muzzle of a shark, though I’d be certain to have met it before.
I wondered if, from his usual haunt there by the sea, some ghost ship had come by, and Les had gotten on board.

Without announcement, the shark nets are back, that insidious curtain of steel, unseen from above. I saw the telltale floats this morning, dotting the deeper water off the headland.
Waiting to catch things by the gills, those shining bangles. One day I will make sure they are all taken away forever, those nets.

So now I am back to the words, and the work in the world, this is not so far away, from ideas of the invisible revealed, and the subliminity of the sea, into which I slowly make my way.

Just today was a day of deep sap-speckled kelp fronds, their uptuned roots in the oblique spring sun and pale aqua light, and me filled with the stink of it,
swimming in the guise of a whaler shark, just like a shadow of it,

just for a moment,

just for a moment.


Shauna said...

beauuuuuuuuutiful :)

(and i wouldn't mind a less from popov either. hehe)

bluemountainsmary said...

I didn't breathe when I was reading this.

So amazed was I by the way you write - it is exceptional.


Anonymous said...

Les sounds wonderful. I hope he is not gone.

You made me think of the ancient forest off Borth beach in Wales. I used to walk there often and kind of lose myself in time.

riseoutofme said...

A pleasure, as always.

I can smell the sea.

jane said...

Kelp coloured writing too. You think of everything to enhance our reading pleasure. I hope you haven't been having recent sneaky stroke correction with the Pop. Otherwise I shall have to trip you up come summertime.

Regulus said...

Wow. Amazing, as always. Poetic and evocative yet quite informative in that poetic, evocative way.

Jellyhead said...

Ooooooh, how exciting!!

A sparkling, salty, shark-infested spring sea story!

(Are you sure you still have all your toes?)

ganching said...


meggie said...

I loved the sea water, & the salty taste & smell. I was never so keen on the feel of kelp though! How extraordinary about the unfortunate shark.

little red hen said...

I am afraid I am one of those scardy cats who tremble at the thought of sharing the sea with some big animals... although I do like to drift about in the waves when I can put these thoughts out of my mind. I read this thinking how effortlessly your words seem to flow then I reflected on your previous post and admire your words all the more because you are able to achieve this fluidity even with the clamor of daily life. I am quite jealous!

Pod said...

oh you are brave......i am afraid i am a scaredy cat in the surf, though when 30m deep out in the ocean i never think of my shark fear

eel-funk is a good word

travistee said...

I have found amazing same-colored creatures in kelp...little eel-like fish and sea-horses...

Bryan said...

Lovely. (as always)

Kirti said...

Fifi you are a book I hope will never end.

Molly said...

Words like silky, creamy, dreamy chocolate.......That shark obviously saw your silver tongue, and blue-green fishy scales, and gracefulness in water and recognized another creature of the deep!