21: Inside passage
Summer sprawled itself leisurely around Shalisa Creek Bay, expecting to generate the usual quiet days of simply soaking up sun and serenity for the residents there. Flowers and sunshine, warm beaches, green growth stretching and yawning contentedly in garden and outperfect.
Instead, the offer of such fine weather gave impetus to projects ashore. Long bright days encouraged work on the crumbling wharf, restoration of deteriorating residences, and a bathhouse which Tashakawa and Shiro designed and began to construct.
All that sudden activity ashore generated noise and disturbance, making quiet, free-time days retreat into the treeline for awhile.
Somewhat surprised at this unusual reaction to all the usual offerings for days of loafing, Summer decided to ignore all that activity and laze anyway, rambling in Meadow, sitting among the old trees with Grandfather and the Old Ones, floating happily in and out with Tide, and hugging Beach warmly, which area of relaxation at least got used for bouts of quick swims by people in between hard work.
The bathhouse project had been made possible only when peace at last was made with the obstreperous diesel generator, and that had been made possible only when Harry, in concert with the other men, went over it carefully bit by bit and subdued every complaint and objection it managed to raise. Between the lot of them, they always found an answer and a solution to counter any problem it could come up with.
Outwitted by this united effort it finally surrendered and pretended to become a model of working efficiencyat least for the moment.
The old water pump, seeing what was happening right beside it, didnt even put up a resistance. It gave in quickly, and willingly agreed to pump water if theyd fix it up like its buddy. The generator suspected that a certain amount of jealousy might have added to the sudden conversion.
After this triumph was completed the bay residents found, as Rose had suggested, that imagination would supply endless ways of putting the new employees to work. Apart from the bathhouse enterprise, the previously abandoned residences were getting rewired and replumbed at an amazing rate, which made them perk up and begin to give hopeful looks around through bright, repaired, clean windows , and to forgive the noise overhead made by the hammering which went with the replacing of shingles. Boats ran back and forth between the village carrying an assortment of goods and appliances which made Summer wonder if sunshine ought to be turned off a little, as everyone seemed to be suffering from frenzy brought on by the heat.
Fitz, Charm and JOLLY ROSE found that a touch of people claustrophobia was setting in. Feelings of too many too soon began to rustle around the ketchs rigging, and ROSEBUD spent more and more time carrying her two companions on longer and longer expeditions out beyond Gap where Horizon beckoned and called to its old friends.
Deep-seated restlessness surfaced, suggesting tempting coastlines which hadnt yet been seen. They decided they needed some time alone.
<Im getting edgy. Rose and the children dont really need me around anymore, with all this help arriving. Its not that Im trying to get out of workbutthis weathers for cruising. Later on its going to get too rough for any sort of extended excursions. Ive seen what Wind and Weather can do around here and along the coast later on. I sampled a little of it last year and I was told that it was a mild winter, so if I want to get any sailing in this summer Id better do it now.
<Maybe some less frequented waters for awhile would take care of the itch on the bottom of my keel. Why dont we turn the barge over to the others here Charm? Im sure theyll enjoy having it, and itll make them feel more welcome, just like it did for me. We mustnt get proprietary even if I am supposed to have some sort of rights to it, and it seems to have turned into a great gathering place for everybody. Why dont we head up the coast a bit and find a piece of sea and sky to ourselves while we have this window of good weather?>
He readied JOLLY ROSE.
When he told the others of his plans, his desire to go received understanding. They knew that Fitz had wandering ways. The separations the other skippers underwent were of necessity, and the thought of getting home was always there drawing them back. Fitz had no such ties luring him to return to anywhere.
The children felt definitely down when they heard the proposal, but Fitz reckoned that young minds and young spirits would probably snap back the day after he and his crew had left.
Whos going to take us boat watching? asked Walter anxiously.
We cant go by ourselves Rose says, added Bernice.
Guess some of us fall down too much, laughed Morgan, making a stage grin at his little sister and brother, And she thinks we need carrying home sometimes.
Oh, Im sure if you suggest it, anyone here will take you up there. Bud and Shiro and Armand know just as much about boats as I doprobably a lot more. There are three of them.
Wellyou take care, cautioned Therése. Its big and scary out there. We know because weve been there.
Fitz smiled at these serious words of caution, thinking of how the journey to Shalisa Creek Bay must have been an enormous adventure for the five aboard ELFINSHOE, so he promised to be careful.
Well miss you, smiled Isabel, Butsooner or later everybody needs time to themselves.
Fitz appreciated the words, having seen this responsible big sister take off by herself along the deer path for the meadow. The sounds and sights of Natures surroundings seemed to offer healing balm to those quiet thoughtful spirits roughly used by pressing circumstance, as well as to those whose choice it was to follow that path alone.
- - -
A sunny afternoon saw Fitz take JOLLY ROSE out through the Gap on his way to satisfying his wanderlust. A certain exhilaration travelled with them as the well-known current of making decisions for just himself, boat and crew, drew him along. Deep-rooted habits of his life had been side-stepped for some time, and for him the layoff from sailing had been an extended one.
JOLLY ROSE too felt the pull as she motored forward steadily and smoothly on the turn of Tide. Charm came out to the cockpit and stood looking between the spindles of the taffrail. Her gaze toward the retreating shore seemed to indicate a little regret at leaving, but finally she settled for watching ROSEBUD as the dinghy enjoyed the free ride, holding her painter stiff, and raising her small bow firmly in the waters sent against her by the ketch, as she lay well back from the stern on the second wave of the big boats wake.
With a sudden sound of agitated water off the starboard bow came the flash of swift, sharp blackness slicing surfaceand anotherthen one on the port, until the boat was surrounded with the presence of that gregarious family which has always welcomed to the joy of living in Sea those others who move warily on the surface, and at their own peril, between sky and water.
Dolphin, mythical rescuers of drowning seamen, leapt in a group beside the ketch, diving and surfacing, rushing alongside, splashing and playing gleefully in the cutwater, inviting JOLLY ROSE to join in as they slanted across her bows, manoeuvring close without fear of collision, and clearing beneath her keel to change starboard for port with astounding speed and precision.
Charm, charmed, ran from side to side of the boat as the dance went on until, with a last cheerful flip they were gone again, leaving as swiftly and surprisingly as they had come.
Wasnt that something Charm! exclaimed Fitz, as enthralled as his crew had been with the performance, What a happy sendoff.
<Sendoff?! Not a farewellof course not. A bon voyage.>
He glanced over his shoulder to see one last dorsal fin disappear below the water, took a deep breath and settled himself to the cruise as the dolphins returned to the company of Sea and themselves.
The excitement of the leave-taking was heightened a little more when the skipper noticed that Horizon was becoming blurred as Fog rolled up in a bank toward him and they found themselves on a collision course.
Fitz checked his heading and stood on, knowing there was nothing out there to worry about except perhaps a passing vessel, but he had seen none before Fog set in and he expected none now. Nevertheless, he dutifully sounded his foghorn at the prescribed intervals as a precaution, and Fog, always delighted to play games with such sound, caught it deftly, threw it around in all directions and waited for more.
The eerie sensation of standing still enveloped them, but he knew that the boat was moving by the feel of motion itself and the sight of their disappearing wake, which was quickly turned into nothingness like himself and all concerned with JOLLY ROSE.
It took longer than he had figured on for his elemental companion to get tired and bored with repetition, but at last it happened, and Fitz sailed into sunlight as warm and comforting as that which hed left behind. Rotating his shoulders to loosen them a little from the slight tension hed felt as hed seemed to remain a stationary captive in space, he turned and looked back.
Only Fog in a wide white bank returned his gaze. Shalisa Creek Bay was gone, obliterated as though it had never existed.
He felt a sudden twinge of dismay, as though he had just been excluded from an enchanted place and was now thrust out on his own into the roughness of the real world. It took him a couple of moments to get over the feeling as he laughed and told himself that he certainly was in the real world and had better prepare his mind to deal with that fact.
- - -
He didnt rush his first day out. A small inlet put forth an early invitation for safe anchorage but, though the evening was fine and Sea happily calm, he didnt sleep well that night. Having spent months away from sailing except for short trips into the village, getting used to the movement of the ketch again and being overly sensitive to the different murmurings JOLLY ROSE now made as she reported through the night, and which he hadnt heard for awhile, kept him awake.
Restless, he was up at dawn and out with the early tide, planning to make a good long day of it. Unfamiliar tides, and wind which went against him, made it just that by the time he reached his destination, a small bay on the lee side of an island.
This night brought heavy sleep and, when he woke late in the morning, he reflected that his seamans senses hadnt kicked in as they always had at least once during the dark hours when he was at sea. He usually came awake and checked everything in his mind with sounds, and orientation of his place in the anchorage by the stars, listening and looking to see if everything was as it should be and reassuring himself that the bottom had indeed offered a secure hold for the anchor.
Over breakfast and a second cup of coffee, he told himself it might take a couple of days before his old intuitive responses returned.
That days sail was a pleasure for Fitz, with sunshine and clear sailing most of the time, main and genoa wung out, filled with a steady following wind to help him true on for the heading he set. Here was the freedom he had been craving. Sea, Sky, Wind and his sailing companions. Deep satisfaction settled in for this leg of the cruise.
A lush, shallow bay, with a mud bottom closer in to shore, was their anchorage at the end of the run. Two other sailboats were already there, and after dinner the green shoreline invited a row along its perimeter in ROSEBUD. They exchanged pleasant greetings with the other crews they passed, as everyone was enjoying the warm evening.
ROSEBUD noted with disappointment that the other two dinghies were not of wooden construction like herself, and she felt that the motors attached to their sterns would make the evening noisy for awhile but, she told herself, that was to be expected these days, as she knew that inflatables didnt offer the directional stability she did, and rowing one of them was not as easy as she herself made it for Fitz.
Once they were close in to shore, the Clam family kept them from beaching because Tide was out and their jets of water were everywhere, reaching surprising heights, and they playfully splashed Charm whose inquisitive face leaning over the gunwale was too tempting to resist. She hastily decided that curiosity certainly was a detriment to a feline, and that she had better restrain hers in some situations. She retreated to the offshore side of the dinghy, shaking salt water from her coat.
On the third day things became relaxed as the ketch skipper began to fall back into his usual ways of sailing. Familiar routines and the pleasure of running his vessel took over and, by the time he set anchor for the third night, he was feeling at ease aboard JOLLY ROSE again.
He enjoyed his evening meal without the low-key stress hed felt up until then, and sat at the chart table afterwards planning the next days travel, happy that it included a small village which would probably offer facilities for wandering sailors and safe shelter for the night.
This he confirmed late the next afternoon, sailing in to a busy, friendly harbour, welcoming to visitorsand there were quite a few. He hoped that as he went farther up the coast thered be less congestion in the areas he intended to visit.
<Have to admit though, although there are lots of boats here, that its not like the press of traffic I left in my southern haunts, and the skippers and crew are much more sociable in a friendly laid back way.>
After visiting the grocery to buy forgotten items and top up supplies, he decided to forgo the pub because there was an inordinate amount of noise and loud music bellowing out from it and he wanted something a little more tranquil. Instead, he and Charm took ROSEBUD for a row across the inlet from the village wharf and along the less inhabited shoreline.
Seeing a small deserted shell beach which seemed to ask them to come ashore, they pulled carefully through the rocks which protruded underwater all along the approach and stepped out onto the smooth hard-packed creamy-white surface for a stroll.
There was a path leading from the water into trees with dappled sunshine along its route and not much underbrush, so they decided to wander that way. Old clearings on either side and a well-tramped path brought visions of small boats being brought to the edge of the beach for launching to accommodate early morning fishing, or peaceful evening jaunts as he and Charm were doing now.
They had gone only a few steps when his imagination was diverted by the sight of a small boy who was sitting on a weathered old stump carving a piece of wood he held. The artisan was so intent on what he was doing that he didnt see the man immediately.
Fitz paused and, seeing the concentration going into the effort, he thought of retreating quietly and leaving the boy to the obvious enjoyment of his work, but the carver lifted his head suddenly and saw him standing there. For a moment it seemed as though he would be the one to vacate the area, but he held his place, carving tool in hand, uncertainty in his eyes.
To relieve the boys anxiety Fitz smiled and called,
Hello there, I hope you dont mind our blundering in on you like this.
The young craftsman turned back to his work without answering and made a couple of perfunctory swipes at it, then rubbed the shavings away, seeming a little shy at having his efforts discovered, so the man continued,
Im Fitz, and this is Charmorat least it was Charm.
That big cat, seeing a stranger, and a small one at that, had turned and begun to retreat back along the path. Fitz followed and, picking her up, put her on his shoulder, telling her, as he walked back toward the boy,
Its all right Charm, its just a young artist.
Artist or not, it was the young part which concerned Charm. She flattened herself on Fitzs shoulder, trying to make herself smaller as Fitz apologised,
Youll have to excuse Charm. Shes a little afraid of children. One of them gave her a bad time when she was a kitten and she hasnt forgotten yet.
At that the boy looked up, a small thin youngster, with shining black hair and solemn dark eyes. Then, looking at Charm he said,
She is, isnt she. What are you carving?
With downcast eyes again the boy held out his work. Fitz saw a miniature of BRIGHT LEAF, except that the carving on the bow, which hadnt yet been finished, seemed to be a stylised version of a bird in flight. Fitz took it to be a water bird, but its neck and legs were almost too long for that.
This is very beautiful, he told the creator of the work truthfully, impressed by the skilful way in which it had been fashioned from the hands of one so young. Do you make these for the craft store in town?
A pleased face looked up at him, but the boy shook his head.
One day, he pronounced, Ill make a big boat and take us away.
Fitz smiled at this, remembering his own boyhood dreams as hed sailed a small dinghy and thought of bigger boats.
The sea is a wonderful place, he agreed, looking down and seeing the serious expression in the boys face. Ive been sailing for a long time.
You have a boat? he was asked as the carver looked toward the beach.
Yes. See that one over there? If you look through the trees you can see her anchored there. Shes called JOLLY ROSE.
The boy got up, set his work and carving tool on the stump and walked to the beginning of the path, with Fitz following slowly, hoping to ease Charms anxiety.
She touches Sky, said the observer at last.
Regarding his ketch, Fitz thought that it well might appear that way to the mind of a child.
She does have a tall rig, he agreed.
Eyes, bright with an idea, were turned on Fitz, as he was asked,
Could I go on her for awhile?
Ohof course if youd like, he agreed. Lets get ROSEBUD.
Charm tightened here grip even more on the shoulder of Fitzs jacket, as the passenger stepped carefully into the dinghy, and the ketch skipper could tell by the way he did so, putting his foot into the centre of the boat and settling himself carefully on the stern seat, that he was familiar with water craft.
They rowed quickly out to JOLLY ROSE and his guest climbed agilely aboard without waiting for a word from Fitz. As the ketch skipper came onto the deck himself he was informed by his young visitor, Im Heron, who then headed purposely for the ratlines. The word Heron made a connection in the mans mind.
<Of courseits also the name of the bird he was carving on the bow of his boat model.>
Uncertain whether he should allow his young visitor to attempt what might be a risky venture, Fitz hesitated long enough to let the boy start up, and then decided as he watched, that he neednt fear for the safety of his guesthe went to the top without hesitation, quickly and safely. Charm, seeing her chance, jumped off Fitzs shoulder and headed below for her locker while the boy, once at the top of the ratlines, lifted his face to the sky.
He stayed that way for a few momentsand then began to sing.
Surprised, Fitz watched and listened, remembering the voice of Rose Hold coming to him from the meadow when they had first met. The song ended and the boy stayed for awhile, still looking skyward, then he slowly descended and came onto the deck.
Walking over to Fitz he said,
I spoke to my father.
This declaration left Fitz speechless for a moment, realising he had just been told that the boys father was dead. Then he smiled his understanding and invited,
Would you like some tea and scones Heron?
There was a vigorous agreeing nod of the head, which sent the short black hair shaking like an array of thin supple wires, and Fitz indicated the companionway.
Charm and I, explained Fitz, Always have tea in the evening.
Nice, said Heron, looking around the cabin, and Fitz took that to mean approval of both beverage and boat.
Where are you from? came the question, as Fitz buttered scones and poured water into the teapot.
Weve just come from a place down south a bit, called Shalisa Creek Bay.
Conversation ceased as the two sat and ate scones and drank tea, and Fitz noted that scones were disappearing into the thin little boy at a great rate, along with the tea.
Grandmother, said Heron, pausing in his enjoyment of the fare for a moment, Knows of that place.
Oh? replied Fitz, surprised again by this surprising guest. Does she know people from there?
The boy shook his head, saying,
She was small like me then. Is it far from here?
Mmmmmaybe three good days of sailing, estimated Fitz, Less, depending on whether you use the motor or not.
Is it a good place? was the next query.
Very. Its a fine sheltered bay.
Heron looked thoughtful, as he finished another scone, then said, as he looked at his empty plate,
It was good. I guess I better go home now.
Oh, fine. It is getting late. Then Fitz added, Take some scones with you for a late night snack.
He put some in a bag as Heron rose to leave, handing them down once the boy was in the dinghy.
Grandmother will like them, was the boys remark as he held the bag carefully.
Fitz smiled at the thoughtful idea of sharing.
Once ashore Heron asked,
Will you come back again?
Ill see if I can stop here if I come back this way, Fitz told him as he pushed away from the beach, But it wont be for a couple of weeks or so. It was very nice to have your company.
For the first time since they had met the youngster smiled.
Aboard JOLLY ROSE again, Fitz looked back to see him still standing watching. He gave a big wave, Heron waved back, turned, picked up his carving tool and work from the stump and disappeared, running up the path.
Odd little fellow, Fitz told Charm as darkness set in and his crew resumed her usual place on the settee after letting enough time elapse to assure herself that the guest certainly was gone. So quiet and serious. We meet all kinds of interesting people, dont we?
Charm, purring, hoped they wouldnt meet too many of those who were of the diminutive size, even if she did put up with the children at Shalisa Creek Bay.
- - -
As they worked their way leisurely northward, space and space and more empty space became the perspective they viewed as they sailed. There were fewer sightings of other cruising boats, and the land around began to change from the luxuriant warm greens and gentler slopes they had left to the south. Tree showed darker colours, and a leaner, sombre coniferous cover of sinewy arms, with lower underbrush beneath, while Shore presented a more windswept and rugged face.
Vegetation here showed prominent signs of the struggle for possession of place, as trees and scrubby bush leaned inland, away from the onslaught of powerful storms. Headlands were more bare and rocky. Sculpted, scoured shores showed inroads from the force of rushing Tide breaking hard and high up against them, helped by the power of Wind and Rain.
Reaches of winding, deep waterways closed in on either side as JOLLY ROSE turned and twisted in channels with towering, awe inspiring slopes which plunged straight down into deep water, shadowy and dark much of the time and reflecting the blue of Sky only when Sun was high.
Few anchorages were available in this vast maze of coastline, with its network of inlets whose beds had been roughed in with decisive strokes of Natures creative tools. Enormous masses of rock had been pushed about and shaped by the sculptors whim to fit this seemingly endless space of land and water being used as media for the project, leaving deep cracks and crevices from the work which had been done with quick, delineating heaves and slashes.
This meant there were few safe bays or small inlets offering protection against the constant assaults of Wind and Weather should they decide on such a visit to this area, which made Fitz take extra care in planning his stops, knowing the depths were enormous and that if he should get caught by the mighty strength of Wind testing him out, with Sea as an ally, he might be in trouble with bottom beyond the length of his anchor rode.
Travelling through this immense landscape, so different to that which he had known for most of his sailing time, the environment seemed alien to the ketch skipper, but it brought him into closer contact with the idea that he was not alone here. Having lived in Shalisa Creek Bay he had been made aware that resident spirits were apparently all around him.
Walking with Rose to the meadow one day, he had followed as shed continued on to its edge and stopped at a gathering of old weather-resistant trees standing with comradely shoulders together, as though they had linked friendly arms against the forces of Time and the vicissitudes of Life.
Unself-conscious and perfectly at ease with Fitz present, she had addressed Grandfather and the Old Ones and begun to tell them of things she had done and of what she hoped to do in the future. When she had finished shed turned to find Fitz with an apologetic look on his face as though he felt he had intruded on her privacy.
Oh, Im sorry Fitz, she told him, with a laugh, Youll have to get used to this. I always talk to the Spirits. Theyre everywhere. The Shalisa always talk to everything. Its all as vital as we are and part of our ongoing place here. It makes for peace and understanding and gives us insight and knowledge about ourselves and things around us if we take the time to look and listen. That way we dont offend themwe care for them and they watch out for us.
Subsequent conversations had drawn his attention to Guardian of the Gap, Tide, Wind, Shore, Cliffas Rose advised,
Also, that part of your surroundings you feel is special for you and whose acquaintance youd like to make.
He was already well acquainted with Tide, Wind and Sea and had often spoken to them, but not always quite in the way of the Shalisa. He had decided then to try reconsidering his attitude toward them.
Now, in this area which he was cruising for the first time, he began to think that there were spirits here as well as in the friendly bay where he had overwintered. Surrounded by the towering confines of these deep channels, Fitz had the sensation that Spirit of the Cliff, with Raven and Eagle sitting on either shoulder, was looking down on him, and he felt the weight of that scrutiny.
He decided to venture contact, in the way he remembered hearing Roses address at Grandfathers place.
Spirit of the Cliff, he began, not at all with the confidence Rose had shown, Your strength and beauty are indeed awe-inspiring. Were only visitors here, passing through, and will respect your environs as we go. We would ask that you help us to have safe passage on our journey within your boundaries. Then, with an unconvinced laugh, he told Charm, Well, no harm in hedging our bets sometimes, as David would say.
In his own conception, he began to see himself as merely a transient, of no importance in these surroundings. Cliff, Sea, Wind and Weather predominated here, and Flora and Fauna had adapted over time to the ruggedness which they turned to their advantage. The offerings of such sustenance and shelter as might be provided by these shores were utilised well and efficiently. Seal crowded rocks in sunny places exposed by Sea when Tide was out. Flower clung to perpendicular rocky niches which seemed an almost impossible offering as a hold for roots, but the plants prevailed. Wings were everywhereseed-seeking and fishing Bird, and Insect, nectar-searching, probing, and predatory. Forest floor beneath Tree offered mosses, lichens and fungi rich rewards for diligent efforts. Creatures large and small found homes among the roots and rocks. Sure-footed Deer browsed close to the edge of precipitous Cliff.
The man-made concept of solitude which Fitz was beginning to experience had no impact on their lives. He was a stranger in this place and he knew it. He sat at the tiller considering his own precarious presence here, deciding that for him a closer contact with this environment would be hard won.
He had learned the ways of southern waters well. These northern reaches held different hazards and gave other signals. He now felt that he was like a tiny piece of floating bark here in this amazing collection of islands, seemingly limitless expansive spaces, and winding channels. These deep waters snaking into the land belonged to and were cradled in the great arms of Cliff Spirit, and only because Fitz gave this idea credence did he become something other than a floating piece of débris on the surface of Seaat least in his own mind.
He realised he would have to learn quickly and be an intelligent student if he wanted to have any sort of familiarity with the region. Tide books gave calculated figures as to rise and fallactuality was something else. It had to be constantly compensated for, and dealt with, in the sense of gauging the force of Current and considering the ebb or flood of Tide. Roughly, the tables were correct, but it was up to the skipper to choose his time, watching and waiting and deciding at last.
The northern star chart was different to the southern one he had come to read so well, but his more recently made friend the Navigator shone its eternal directing message to the north just as truly here, as had the Southern Cross aided mariners on their way in warmer climates.
They spent quiet days in deserted waters and at night gazed at the Milky Way, thrown in a broad path across the wide dark infinity overhead, its path so surprisingly and clearly visible when compared to the barely seen wash viewed from a harbour filled with the lights of mankind. He looked at starlight still shining on its travel toward earth even though the celestial body which had originated it might possibly have disintegrated aeons ago, and watched as falling stars demonstrated that process on a smaller, swifter, more spectacular scale.
The peaceful, quiet, solitariness soothed Fitz, but underlying that calm was an ever-present alertness to the sounds and sights and movements of these unfamiliar surroundings.
Over a two day period, the weather changed from sun to cloud and from cloud to overcast, and with this shift the silence seemed to become brooding, the uninhabited spaces aloof and somewhat melancholy to him, and the upward soaring cliffs everywhere dwarfed him and began to feel oppressive. This was not the welcome he had looked for here along this vast coastline, with its seas which could become so angry, and its formidable rocky shores which had swallowed so much shipping over time.
He had expected change, but this was almost too dramatic for his liking. The hand this coast extended in reply to his own initial greeting was big and strong and hard, and Fitz felt that winning a smile from this region would take more than the cursory glance of first contact which he was giving it.
To counteract this downbeat mood he decided he needed to use the dinghy more to go ashore with Charm when beaches were available. This they did, walking together along rocky pebble and shell beaches strewn with bull kelp which had been wrenched from its fastholds by previous storms and washed up onto the land, and scattered with the variety of floating castoffs from man and nature Sea carried endlessly from shore to shore.
The places they walked were heavily overlaid with shells, whole, half deteriorated, and ground to pieces, layered there by legions of past sea residents, but he found that even here the hand of man was presented in the soggers, thrown up on the shores or grinding against the feet of the rocky cliffsderelicts of logging enterprises, most of which were themselves now gone.
Charm delighted in sharpening her claws on these stranded old tree trunks, and had great fun chasing tiny crabs which quickly disappeared under rocks, avoiding the reach of her quick paws. Fitz liked the exercise of rowing, and looking at interesting bits and pieces on the beach, and ROSEBUD thought getting her bottom scraped as she was hauled ashore was a nice way of staying reasonably clean.
The grey skies lingered day after day, and these enjoyable pursuits were looked forward to at each anchorage as a lighthearted break in the sailinguntil an encounter with those who lived along these seemingly deserted stretches of oceanfront warned them that this land was definitely not the property of mankind alone.
They were on a stony point, with Charm strolling along beside Fitz, when his peripheral vision caught movement to his left. He turned his head and saw Bear with her small black cub walking down to the water. Fitz and Charm were as yet not too far from ROSEBUD and the two animals were still at a little distance. He decided quickly to get back into the dinghy and head for the ketch, stooped, scooped up Charm, took the few steps to the boat at a carefully calculated, slow, unmenacing pace, got in and shoved the dinghy off.
Seeing them now, the mother bear watched for a few moments, her muzzle turned up sniffing the air and then, with a turned in paw-over-paw gait, began to come in their direction. Fitz put the strength of urgency into his strokes on the oars as she splashed into the water toward them, but she didnt pursue her chase too far, turning back after the water reached her shoulders.
It was only a half-hearted threat, but it was a warning Fitz took seriously. Whenever they went ashore after that he sang loudly as he rowed toward the beach, surprising the surroundings with renditions of pieces from various operas, scattering sea chanteys in between. Once grounded he banged the oars together, carried Charm on his shoulder when they got out of the dinghy, and stamped his feet as they walked along, clapping his hands and kicking rocks against each other to let anything in the area know he was coming, putting the big cat down only when he felt sure everything in the vicinity had heard his noisy approach and had fled, having been warned of his comingor perhaps they didnt like opera.
Still, it took some of the pleasure out of the dinghy trips ashore and they went less often, regarding the beaches from JOLLY ROSE and considering whether the tree cover came down too close to the water or if there was enough open shore to allow for the sighting of possibly belligerent inhabitants before they themselves were seen.
The constant overcast held and, without Moon and Star to make Sky cheerful, the nights were very black, giving Fitz a sensation of being closed in. A strange uneasiness stayed with him. These unknown waters with winds which tended to be anything but steady, changing direction as the landscape rose or fell or as a channel turned first one direction and then another, made him use the engine more than he cared to.
He was constantly vigilant and found that he looked forward to anchorages in a way which he had never done before, seeking whatever village stops were along his proposed route, planning to use them, and always feeling some relief when he arrived. He listened more often to weather reports, and eyed the sky a little apprehensively, waiting, until the weather finally did break.
They were on their way between two such populated stopovers when Wind got up, Rain came down, and Fitz headed hastily for a place of shelter, one of those he had noted on the chart as being there in case of need. Anchor and killick went down, JOLLY ROSE swung to, and he fastened everything snug and tight. It was a tiny indent at the base of a cliff which became their refuge, and Fitz, taking note of this circumstance, decided that his little talk with Cliff Spirit perhaps hadnt been wasted effort after all.
Seamen, it seems, have always been ready and willing believers in powers beyond themselves, perhaps with good reason. Alone with Sea, help from any source becomes welcome in times of distress.
They spent two days sheltering behind Cliff and were glad to be there. He and Charm relaxed quietly below decks while ROSEBUD cowered under her cover behind her mothership as Rain fell relentlessly, Wind roared around Cliffs head and occasionally came down and howled in JOLLY ROSEs rigging.
It quieted down a little on the third morning and Fitz decided to move out, wanting to reach a village back down the way he had come, as it was closer than going on. He didnt trust Weather. Wind was changing direction, and the thought that his shelter would be gone prompted him not to spend a third night there. He calculated the distance again, onward or retreat, and decided to return to the known harbour.
With the engine on slow forward to keep him away from Cliff he brought the anchor upalmost. The windlass growled willingly, but Fitz turned it off, knowing the chain was fouled in some fashion and wouldnt return completely to the bows. He thought that perhaps the killick might be interfering.
Setting the tiller he left the cockpit to go forward for an assessment of the problem and found a dead branch had snarled itself in the chain. As he leaned far over the side of the pulpit to clear it his boots slid a little on the wet deck, he lost his footing and, being tall, the weight of his torso unbalanced him and carried him over.
Down the side of the hull he slid headfirst, clutching at the rubbing strake, and found himself in the cold embrace of Sea who, ever watchful, reached out for him and gave him a helpful boost upward, willing to play fair in this game of top or bottom. Supplemented by Fitzs immediate effort to rise, it gave the effect of a cork popping to the surface as the man righted himself in the water.
He came up a little below the painted boot top and his head banged against the hull. A bit stunned for a moment, gasping for air against the cold and the unexpectedness of the fall, his wits kicked in just as the boat shouldered him along and he found himself at the edge of the transom as JOLLY ROSE, doing what she had been bidden to do under engine power, moved slowly ahead and sailed onward.
Fitz gave a desperate backstroke, turned over and made a grab for the painter of the dinghy as ROSEBUD came up on him. His jerk on the line brought the little boat onto him and the bow struck him in the shoulder. Hanging on grimly, he hauled himself hand-over-hand to the stern of the ketch, took hold of the ladder, set his foot on the bottom rung and climbed, breathless and chilled, over the taffrail and into the cockpit where he stayed, bent over on his knees for a minute or two, catching his breath and rubbing his shoulder and head.
Then he roused himself, checked the tiller, quickly stripped off his wet clothing, went below and towelled himself off briskly, found dry apparel, put the kettle on and sat down, subdued and thoughtful. Charm, aware that something unusual had happened, hovered about, anxiously offering sympathy.
<Bloody fool, going forward with the motor in gear, a stuck chainand no lifejacket or safety line. Im getting careless. This isnt the warm Caribbean Im sailing and even if it were, thats unforgivable. Im alone, the boat would have taken off and Id have been stuck here in isolation on a rocky shore with nothing but my boat knife, hoping someone might sail byand what would have become of poor Charm, sitting aboard waiting for me?>
Chastened and a little shaken, he made himself coffee when the kettle boiled, gave Charm some munchies and took his mug out to the cockpit to sit at the tiller. The thought of going farther north didnt appeal to him now. He regarded the lowering sky and the stern cliffs around him. This was not the open horizon he liked. This made him feel cornered, unable to manoeuvre, with the whims of Tide, Wind and Weather dictating his moves, rather than his making a choice of his own. These restricting, deep, winding inlets were not to his taste.
He had been three weeks away from Shalisa Creek Bay. He thought now of the flowers in the meadow, the children laughing and splashing as they poled their raft along the shore, the open, cheerful friendliness of those who had just recently arrived there, smiling to himself as he remembered Harrys diesel fuel shower, and recalling how Rose had appeared from Fog like a bay spirit herself one chilly morning.
<Think I missed something somewhere along the way. I really wouldnt like to sit on the moon alone, however great the feeling of accomplishment. Maybe its not the getting there, its the returning that makes it into something worthwhile. Think I just found out the difference between being alone and being lonely. Used to like being by myself butright nowIm lonesome.>
Charm came up the companionway, tail aloft, ears alert, whiskers forward, walked over to push herself companionably against Fitz, detected sensations which told her that something was not quite as it should be and said in her musical voice,
Its all right, Im here.
He put out his hand and drew her close, stroking her while she purred contentedly.
Thanks Charm. Do you miss Shalisa Creek Bay too? Know what? I think well go home. Never had a permanent fixed place to call that since I started sailing. Never needed onewe were home butmaybe things have changed for us now. What do you think, Charm? Sounds good doesnt it? I think maybe JOLLY ROSE and ROSEBUD feel the same way. Its too rough for us here. Could be that our overwintering there has turned me into a softy, but just the thought of the bay and the barge makes me feel happier already.
Maybe we need to come back again for another visit, with closer attention to detail and a friendlier approach on both sides. Weve probably been too ambitious in our scope, wanting to see too much at once. I figure we should take this in smaller pieces to preserve our perspective but, for now, lets leave this magnificent, overwhelming, untamed place for stouter hearts to meet it on its own terms and appreciate it more than I do at the moment. Right? Home it is then.
His craving for solitude so definitively ended, Fitz turned JOLLY ROSE in the direction of Shalisa Creek Bay again, starting the return journey to a place where Moon and constant Star would grace evening Sky just as brightly, a kindlier Shore was visited by Sea, gentler Spirits walked in Meadow and rested below Tree, and Waterfall with shining Pool secreted themselves behind the sheltering green growth of sturdy, less overbearing Cliff.