Saturday night, at midnight, hell blew over. A big black cloud rolled down over the stars and thirty knots of wind smacked Moira hard on the starboard side. Dawn found Sea in a furious mood. Sky was obscured by the rolling coils of the ITCZ - The Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone.
It is a monster serpent of air thrashing around between the tropics, angered by the inconsistency of nature which demands winds revolve in one direction in the southern hemisphere and another in the northern.
At 6 AM, Wallis Island lurked to the north of us, its 144 meter high bulk dark gray in the morning haze. By 8 we surfed through the narrow pass of the barrier reef into calm lagoon waters. Monday morning we cleared in, the officials very nice and polite and French.
Wallis looks like an interesting place, green and lush, a old worn down volcano with an offshore circular reef and a very shallow lagoon. So shallow we can't get around the northern part of the island. The people are all Polynesian except for the French officials and a few French doctors and technicians who are here on contracts.
Unfortunately, the main anchorage at Mata Utu is exposed to the easterly winds, still sizzling in at 30 knots. Matalaa anchorage, on the south eastern side of the island, is sheltered by a small lagoon reef; sheltered from the waves, but not the wind. So the moment we finished clearing in, we sailed for Faioa Island to get out of the wind. Faioa is on the southeastern section of the barrier reef and its lee side is calm, protected by the coconut trees and sandy coral cay flora of the atoll islet. The bottom is visible fifty feet below Moira's hull and there are some nice looking reefs nearby to explore.
From the cockpit I see three lovely, long, salmon-colored beaches edging the lagoon side of the island. To the north of us huge shallow water sand flats color the lagoon waters all shades of turquoise. The pastel colors glow under the ugly gray-black drizzle. The wind howls and blows swirling gusts through the rigging.
I tackle the problem of the outboard. It has been backfiring and I suspect the leaf valves are warped. Freddy and I heft it onto the solid teak slide of the after companionway and I take it to pieces. Hours later I find there is nothing wrong with the leaf valves. It turns out the problem was a worn out plastic roller on the carburetor linkage. I could have fixed it without taking anything apart.
Moira's cable steering is acting up so I take it apart and fix it. The day grows old, lies down, and fades out. All day I feel absurdly depressed. Miserable.
It is evening and the stereo is blasting out Taj Majhol, covering the moan and howl of the ITCZ serpent outside. Freddy ambles by stark naked. She puts a fine spaghetti dinner on the table, complete with icy cold beer and blistering hot garlic bread.
Here we are in a calm, protected anchorage. Clear water, friendly people. New places to explore, things to do. So why do I feel so miserable? Is it the wind?
"How long can we stay?" I asked the immigration official. "As long as you please." he replied. Lots of photo opportunities on the island and on the reefs.
"Those were the biggest pigs I've ever seen in my life," I comment over dinner, thinking of the huge black pigs we saw as we drove down the island road yesterday morning.
"The man said they were sea pigs," Freddy looks glad to talk about anything. I have been silent and brooding all day.
"He said they eat with their heads in the water, in the sea. They catch fish."
"Yeah, they stun the fish with bullets of bad breath." Her face falls and I regret my skepticism.
"No, really, he said they go out into the lagoon at low tide and actually catch fish and eat them."
"Well, they are as big as a pygmy hippopotamus. I'll bet that huge boar we saw stood as high as your tits." She laughs and we go back to the spaghetti. "Boy, this is great," I add. "But if I eat any more I'll look like a hippopopomus."
Later, I feel something clawing at me from inside. Something vicious and angry. Not indigestion. Discontent. Distress. I try writing just to get my mind away from the feeling.
Walter cat is constipated - not unusual after a sea voyage. He seems miserable and irritable, too. Just now he's sitting in the companionway with his head on the sill staring at me. It's like he is telling me something.
Reluctantly I listen to my inner voice and it says, "Move. Up Anchor. Move." But we can't go anywhere with this wind and rain.
Freddy and I go ashore and explore the beach, but the wind and rain soon discourage this. There is a small group of people staying on the island. Fishermen. They tell us a story in their oddly accented French and Freddy translates it for me. It turns out to be the same story we were told on Ouvea Island in the Loyalties. The Polynesian name for Wallis Island is Ouvea. The king sent workers here, to Faioa, to make a new canoe for him. The king's son drowned and the working party took off in the new canoe and eventually founded the colony on what is now the Loyalty Islands. They named it Ouvea, after their homeland. Later, in 1767, the English changed Ouvea to Wallis when it was 'discovered' by Captain Wallis on H.M.S. Dolphin. "Funny how the new island has kept the old name and the old island has a new name," I mumble to Freddy as we sit with the islanders under their thatched lean-to on the top of the salmon colored beach looking out at the rain and wind ruffle the lagoon.
The people around me, except for their European clothing, probably look exactly like the king's working party. Women and kids and men sitting around on a rainy day in Paradise. Freddy negotiates a trade. They get kava, sugar and tobacco and we get a big bunch of bananas and a basket of papayas. We and they go away smiling that little smile of satisfaction at having out-negotiated the other party.
The water is clear so we decide to go for a dive and see what it looks like around here. There is lots of shallow water shelf area with dark reefy looking places. We load up our snorkeling gear and head out towards the southern point of the island, full of expectations of lovely reefs and swirling photogenic clouds of tropical fish. But, the reefs are unimpressive. They are heavily overfished, the coral broken and dead. In fact the lack of fish is, itself, impressive. "Christ, they must eat little tiny fish," Freddy remarks.
"Either that or they use explosives or poisons or very small mesh nets," I agree. The underwater scene soon depresses us and we slide back into the dingy and motor slowly back to Moira.
Three Wallis men come out in their canoe to look over the boat and continue telling stories. "Not for a very long time has there been a hurricane at Wallis," the older man says. He does not think there will be one this year either. After an hour they paddle back to the island.
Freddy picks up a book. Walter begins the laborious process of cleaning all that fur, starting with the vast spread of his black spotted belly. He sits like a human with his belly-up and legs flopped out to the side.
I guzzle a cold beer and listen to the rain. There is a flash of lightning. "The ITCZ serpent is spitting fire," I observe and Freddy nods, playing with a curl of her hair as she reads Flowers for Algemon. I go aft and detach the antenna for the SSB radio just in case the lightning strikes us.
The voice is there, nagging again. Up anchor, move. Move. Move.
Relax. It's easy. Close the eyes, listen to the rain. No hurry, cool down. It isn't the number of miles per day that counts. It's what you do and feel along the way that counts. The goal is always in the now, you won't reach it tomorrow. You were not there yesterday. Goals, like all climaxes, are in the right here and now. So cool it, relax. No deadlines.
The voice is completely, utterly unconvinced by all this. "Move. Move. Move," it nags.
A searing white lightning flash is immediately followed by a horrendous blast of thunder and Walter Cat leaps straight up off the settee and vanishes aft.
I awake in total exhaustion and lie for a long time looking up at the slate gray sky. Moira is rocking slightly. I am morose, miserable, mad. Freddy has her pillow over her head and seems to be asleep. I stagger into the forward cabin, put on the coffee water and go to see the world. It matches my mood exactly.
Dreams hassled me all night long. Whenever they woke me I kept feeling this voice saying move, move, move. Today we will move. Anywhere.
Freddy gets up and fixes some liver pate on toast. "Lets go over there behind that other island," I blurt out over breakfast. "Investigate possibilities."
"I think the wind is more southeast today."
I gulp down breakfast. "Come on, lets go."
"What's the hurry?" She looks hassled, peeved at my bouncy need to go.
On goes the motor. Down comes the awning. Up comes the anchor. Voice is ecstatically happy and with each act of moving I feel better and better.
"Which way?" Freddy calls from the helm.
"Over there, towards the pass and those three islands," I go aft to check the chart.
"Why not over there? Or back to the anchorage on the big island?"
"No, no. Over there. We go over by those islands." I am confident and happy. That's where we go.
"Where the bullets are and there's no shallow water to anchor in?" she snaps.
"Right!" Her smart-assed remark comes across as a criticism of my choice. But I know if I ask her where SHE wants to go it will be, "Where ever you want." I resolve not to play that stupid game. We motor towards the pass for about five minutes in silence.
"You have any better ideas?" I finally snap, playing out the game.
"We go where ever you want."
I climb into the rigging, looking for coral heads as Freddy steers for the pass. It's blowing 25 knots from the SE and there's a fair chop by the time we reach the pass. It's all very picturesque. Deep blue clear water threads through the turquoise shallows edged by golden brown reefs and, in the distance, great rugged breakers of white foam. To starboard the island is a deep rich jungle green with black rock cliffs.
We round the southern tip of the island and slide into its lee. Bullets of wind, funneled by the jagged peaks of the mountain, whip across the deep blue bay which cuddles in the curve of the island.
"What's the depth?" I call from the rigging.
"105 feet." Her voice holds that "told you so" smugness as another bullet blasts us.
"let's head down toward that last bay. By that little high island." The little high island holds my attention. Something about it. An odd shaped mound. The bay just this side of it looks promising. Moira swings to point at the center of the little island. Everything is exquisitely beautiful, including my mood.
Inner voice is hopping up and down with delight. Satisfied. THIS is where we were supposed to move to. Yes.
The reefs drop right down from about 2 feet deep to 100 feet. No problem, we'll just anchor in deep water. I shuffle back and forth along the narrow rail up by the first spreaders. I feel excited. Beautiful. Looks good.
"Come to starboard," I holler and Moira noses slowly into the last bay. Yes, yes, this looks right. Just a little more. I look around and it seems as if we are just coming into the right position. As if the scene around me now is one preset in my head, and the pieces are lining up just right. I clamber down the ratlines and run forward. The anchor plunges into the clear water with a burst of foam and the rattle of unfurling chain. I signal Freddy to back up to set the anchor. I let all the anchor chain run out. It needs cleaning and reflakeing anyway.
Freddy reverses until the chain comes tight. The anchor never budges in the soft ooze 100 feet down. We shut down the engine and the world is soft and quiet. I look up at the small island. "It is so beautiful."
"Yes," Freddy agrees.
"Hey, this is great. We could get lots of good shots here. Fantastic, background for This Magic Sea. Let's go check out the small island."
Quickly, in a real hurry, we set off in the dingy. At the last minute, just as we cast off, Walter Cat leaps into the Avon.
"He wants to come along." Walter presses against Freddy's leg, insistent about coming.
"Christ, he's never done that before," I look at Walter and he says, with his eyes, he IS coming along.
"I'll look after him," Freddy promises. "We'll stay on the beach - if there is one."
We set off, the three of us, to see the little island. It is almost as high as it is wide, the sides rising steeply to a rounded top. It is about 100 meters from stem to stern. A jungle of plants covers the whole island except in a few places where black rocks peek through like the glimpse of a thigh up a woman's skirt. The closer we get the more excited I become. My eyes dart here and there, finding small areas of perfectly arranged photo settings. "Look at those rocks and those light green orchids just there along the coastline," I point them out to Freddy. Walter Cat has his front paws up on the tube of the Avon looking just where I am pointing, too.
"Oh, wow, it's magnificent!" Freddy is as excited as I am.
"A real uninhabited, natural paradise island," we grin at each other and Walter turns and gives us an eye-squeeze (his way of smiling).
We round the westerly point, a soft, golden beach appears nestled against a jet black wall of giant boulders.
"What?" Freddy turns to look at me.
"LOOK!" She looks. "There. A flight of stairs going up the side of the island towards the top." They are cut into the sharp rock wall.
I circle in towards the beach, feeling robbed of my strange tropical paradise. There is nothing wrong with people living here, but... "The rock and cement stairs must mean there is a European's house up there. No local person would build a flight of cement stairs like that." From the size and number of steps the builder must be really wealthy.
"Maybe they don't come here during the week," Freddy looks disappointed, too.
"Yeah, maybe." We anchor close to the beach. It is so beautiful I ache at the thought of having anyone else here. Like the island was mine - no - like the island was - sacred, a magic place. A power point of Earth. Special. People living here violate her beauty.
Freddy jumps out onto the beach with Walter in her arms. She puts him down on the sand and he walks about with his tail straight up, shaking vertically in the hilarious way he says he is in the highest state of pleasure.
I wade ashore and the sand is soft, soft, soft. Everywhere I turn my eyes I see another photograph of natural beauty. As if Mother Earth had made this her finest design. Each rock, every plant, the sent of the jungle and sea reaches deep inside me and touches rich and powerful emotions.
Freddy and Walter are confined to this corner of the island. Mostly because Walter moves about one inch an hour in his total sensory overload. I walk up the beach and, just under the lee of a big black cliff face are two thatch houses. They look deserted. I wonder how long it's been since people were here. Inside the first I see a big swath of red cloth hanging from the rafters. A flower necklace - decayed about 4 or 5 days, lies under it. Tracks of birds and crabs crisscross the sand floor.
Nobody lives here. Maybe they come here on weekends, like Freddy says. Good. Or maybe these are servant's quarters for the big man on the top of the hill - only occupied when the big man is in town. Probably a politician.
Freddy, in a pink bathing suit, is down on her hands and knees in the sand looking for tiny shells for kaleidoscopes. Walter is helping. "Hey, les petits coquillages!" she calls and starts digging in earnest.
She's found the little coquina clams we love to eat and starts to collect a bunch of them for dinner. I watch her for a moment and announce, "I'm going to walk around the island."
I head south, past the stairs to the big man's house, and round a rock point. The beautiful rocks we saw from the dingy confront me and I stop and stare at them, drinking in the perplexing wonder of their allure. Just there is a place where, eons ago, the lava flowed out from a crevice. The mystery is how and why it seems to have formed such an aesthetically pleasing arrangement. Further on I find another flow of black glossy lava edge-crisped in deep green and gabled with gnarled roots of trees which look like carefully arranged bonsai trees. Every place my eyes turn I am confronted with perfect harmony.
I'm beginning to feel tingly all over. The rocks grow huge and brown. I step over their sea smoothed surface and look up at the soaring cliffs and trees. Each aspect is a perfect vision of power and life.
All at once, I can FEEL the planet's interior under my feet. I visualize the upwelling volcanic sap forming this tiny magic island. I think of the mound at Port Douglas, Queensland. The Aboriginal Place of Power. The sacred power place. This is like that, but more so. I am 'singing' inside, vibrating with the planet, trembling as I walk. This is one of those special places, a place of deep power, a mysterious vortex connecting life with the whole planet. I stop and close my eyes and my mind reaches right down into the molten core of Earth.
Around the next rock outcrop a long sand spit leads towards the larger island like a pointing finger. I walk around entranced with the feeling of naked rock from the interior of the earth mixed with sunlight and air and sea producing .... life. Awareness. Nerite shells line up along a rock fissure in the intertidal zone. A perfect example of the edge phenomenon where life seeks out and clusters along borders. Photographs, photographs, everywhere I look.
This is the setting. This is why I was so miserable and discontent at Faioa Island. This is why Voice kept pushing at me to move. I had to come here. Like a boat caught in a whirlpool I was being drawn here to this place. A feeling of complete satisfaction - as if I had just had an orgasm with Nature - suffuses me from head to toe as I step around another rock outcrop and place my foot into the soft sand of the next cove.
I cry out with the ecstacy. The cove is filled with the heavenly perfume of jungle orchids in bloom. The sand is powder soft and my feet sink almost to the ankles into its sun warmed surface. I stop and turn my head back and forth, transfixed by the mystical beauty of this tiny cove. Fragrant air, cool and sweet, sweeps through me in great trembling gulps. I hear a small animal sound and realize I am making it.
I move my feet over the sand and onto the next rocks. the sand in the next cove is cool and rock hard - the contrasts are wonderful, everything perfect. A big crab lives here. It's stalked eyes follow me as I cross its domain. When I arrive back at the white beach and see Freddy sitting in the shade of the cliff with Walter Cat I am exhausted and entering a state of postcoital depression.
"Isn't is fantastic?" Freddy gets up and runs over to me as I come closer.
"Unbelievable, unreal, marvelous, exquisite," I agree as she comes into my arms and gives me a big kiss as if I had been gone on a week long trek. "I guess I'd better get it over with and go see who lives up the stairs."
Freddy walks over to the stairs with me. "Impressive." She comments.
"Yeah." I walk up them, two at a time, looking for tracks in the dirt which has settled on the treads during the last rain. Nothing. The land has been cleared of vegetation for about 10 feet on either side of the cement stairs. Up and up. Must have been a bitch of an effort to lug all this cement up here and notch the rock like this. The steps are wide, maybe two meters or more and yet they have a short rise. Like the owner walks with little steps. But what owner needs a stair step two meters wide? Hell of a lot of work. Big money. Up and up. I lose count of the steps after I pass 100 and am only half-way to the top. Finally the top comes into view but I can't see over the sharp edge to get a look at the house. Up and up, I am huffing hard by the time I reach the last stair and stand looking at the top of the Magic Island.
There is no house. This information puddles in my oxygen deprived brain - relief - curiosity - wonder. Wonder, because right in the middle of the clearing on top of the island is a giant cement and stone platform with TONS of beach sand filling it. This notable achievement is decorated with lovely flowering ornamental plants. Best of all, a three meter high cement statue of a man painted with silver paint crowns the platform. The man has sharp, European features with a neatly trimmed cement beard under a hawksbill beak. He holds a cement staff in one hand. He is wrapped with a cement cape and draped over the cement cape some considerate soul has tied a faded red cloth flapping in the wind. "Wallis and Futuna" is stenciled on the cloth.
Spell-bound, recovering by breath from the climb, I draw closer to the statue. The Cement Man is looking out over a staggering vista of reefs and sea and sky and islands. On his shoulder there is a small baby boy - also made of cement - also European looking - who is gloating over a sphere he is holding in his lap. There is a cross on top of the sphere.
I am impressed. Shocked, even. Imagine lugging this thing up here. I know I should recognize this man, this boy. I am sure it represents a Christian myth. The man must be one of the Christian saints. I've seen him before, but I can't think of the name. Anyway, he's one of the Christian aristocracy. The boy is probably Jesus with his favorite toy - Planet Earth, dominated by the cross used to nail him into hominid history.
The scenic overlook, unobserved by the cement-vacant eyes of man and boy, is terrific. I walk back and forth from one part of the platform to another just drinking it in from all angles.
My mind is awhirl with relief, as if I just discovered my love had not been violated at all. The island is not inhabited. In fact, whoever had gone to the enormous effort to slop those cement stairs up that cliff and hoist this multi-ton statue and its pedestal of sand and stone to the top of this island must feel exactly the same way about this little island as I do.
The people of Wallis - some of them anyway - recognize the special power of this place. This redoubles my relief and joy - I am not insane - this is not just a crazy reaction to a nice place - other hominids have perceived exactly the same bewildering vortex of power focused in this island. Here, right here, where I stand, next to the cement saint and the cement Jesus, we are in the center of the eye of a planetary vortex. I feel it flowing through me like 100,000 volts of ecstacy.
I am on the beach with Freddy and Walter. Numb with wonder. We are aboard Moira, still numb but also getting hungry for some of those little clams. I write everything which happened. Walter lies on the settee gently beating the very tip of his tail to the music - eyes not quite closed. Freddy cleans a small mountain of surf clams with a toothpick. The clam dinner smelling spicy and good.
"There," she finishes.
"What's the name of that island?" I ask as she gets up. She looks on the chart. "N-u-k-u-t-a-p-u," she spells out and hands me the chart. Nuku....tapu. I note all the small islands on the chart of Wallis are called nuku. It must mean small island. There is Nukuofo, Nukufetau. Nukuaeta is the big one we are anchored next to. And tapu...Holy Christ! "Tapu, tamboo, tapoo, taboo - Hey. Wow! The old Polynesian name for the island means the forbidden isle, or the sacred isle."
It's murder out there. Nukuaeta gives us some shelter but also compresses the wind into bullets which ricochet off the rigging and whine through the stalk of over-ripe bananas hanging on the boomkin. Moira sloshes about in the confused high-tide chop but it's not too bad. The wind is back out of the east south east. Not going anywhere today, nope, just lay back and take it easy.
As the coffee water heats, I wonder again if maybe we should just sit tight here in Wallis for the hurricane season. But the dead reefs offer little in the way of photo opportunities and I would really like to get on with the program. Now that we have responded to the weird call to come visit Nukutapu the inner urgency to move has gone. I'm content to wait for a few more days or even weeks, but then we really have to get going.
On a dareing impulse I add a bit of chocolate to the coffee this morning. Walter, lying on his back on the deck, lunges for me as I walk by with the coffee/chocolate and furry paws with just a hint of claws grab my right ankle.
I take the coffee into the cockpit. The sky is heavy with big leaden coagulated clouds. One of them has an amazing donut shape. Could it be an embryonic hurricane? Sliding along the uterus of the great ITCZ serpent? I sip my coffee and watch it sail by, thinking about the approaching hurricane season. Hurricanes actually do form in the belly of the ITCZ serpent. Mr. Donut cloud really could be an infant hurricane. I look at it with the binoculars and can see the wall cloud twisting in a king of spiral motion. It makes me want to get to a more secure anchorage, but there are no good hurricane holes in Wallis.
Nukutapu is a mysterious velvet green this morning. The trees flash pale leaf bottoms in the driving wind. I try to decide what the sacred island looks like. The way you might mentally imprint clouds with animals or people or embryonic hurricanes. Nothing comes to mind except an excerpt of the book Flowers for Algemon, "What do you see?"
"An inkblot." "Yes, but try to see something in the ink." "But there is nothing in the ink except paper." Said Charley.
Nukutapu is just Nukutapu. That island right there with a cement man and boy looking out over our heads. An island, unique and special. Dressed in velvet green, edged with black and brown rocks and white sand. She pokes solidly out of Earth's mantle and sea, ruffled but not disturbed by the 30 knot ESE wind.
I sip my chocolate coffee and think maybe Charley's viewpoint wasn't without merit. The island is complete without my projecting anything onto it but recognition.
Hot diggity damn! It is, at last, a beautiful morning. Blue sky with a few white puffy summer clouds. The ITCZ must have wandered north or south of us. Sea is a golden glitter, the wind a soft caress. Wallis Island trickles little noises through the open hatch - roosters crowing, surf breaking on the outer reef, birds chirping, little wavelets chuckle Moira's Hull. What a relief. I get up and look ashore. Some kids in the village are playing skip-rope with a vine. I can hear their voices and the slap, slap, slap of the vine as it whaps the mud road leading through the little thatched coastal village. It's a great experience to hear something other than a demented wind keeping us uncomfortable and half-awake every night.
The last vestiges of a red sky give the scene a rosy illumination so I get out my camera for an early morning shot. A fisherman paddles out to the reef with a big monofilament net piled in his canoe. I sit in the cockpit and watch him place his net.
"What happened to the ITCZ monster?" Freddy asks sleepily as she hands up a cup of freshly brewed New Caledonian Coffee.
"Vanished into thin air," I mutter. Actually, it probably did. The vision of a giant cloud serpent lying over half of the Pacific Ocean is a fun way to visualize the phenomenon. It's head poked down into French Polynesia, its tail lashing the southern Solomon Islands, its body writing in great loops along the tropics.
What a typically human inversion. Weather forecasters perpetuate this kind of mental inversion. They talk about a hurricane as a low pressure area and then give the low a name and plot it's course. They talk about a 'front' bringing northeast winds and moving at so many knots towards the east. But really the low pressure zone does not create the bad weather, it is the result of the movement of great, churning masses of air.
The Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone is not a thing, but the result of two ocean-sized swirling membranes of air, one in the northern hemisphere moving clockwise in a vortex thousands of miles in diameter, the other in the southern hemisphere sluicing counter-clockwise. Where these come together, they create the turbulent conditions called the ITCZ. The same principle applies to a front, the boisterous convergence of vast gyres of swirling gasses.
Fronts and Hurricanes are not things, but focal points of many different forces interacting with each other. This morning, the two interacting masses of air happen to flow happily side by side, sliding along from east to west on parallel courses. And the ITCZ has poofed into non-existence.
But it could materialize back into this reality tomorrow and beat the stuffings out of us out there.
"Too bad it didn't poof out of here yesterday," Freddy puts breakfast on the table. "Would have been nice to have this weather when we did our grand tour of the island."
"Yeah, I would have liked to climb down and investigate the lake."
"Crater Lake? You nuts? Giselle said there was no way down the cliffs, and anyway there are monster 20 foot-long blind white vicious eels in the lake."
"She said that?" I miss a lot when everybody talks in French. "20-foot long blind white vicious eels? Down in the crater lake? What would they eat?"
"Crazy American tourists," she pours another cup of coffee.
Over breakfast I think more about weather systems. It's really a kind of 'edge phenomenon.' Sometimes, when a certain behavior is formed, it continues along with a life of its own. Hurricanes are like that. Once they get formed, they influence the atmosphere and get stronger and bigger, feeding on excess thermal energy, building themselves into a kind of living thing. Their existence perpetuates their being and they move out of the belly of the ITCZ as living progeny which sweep down from the tropics into the higher latitudes. Once formed, they change the conditions of the atmosphere, bending the masses of air they collide with, behaving just like a furious living creature.
The fisherman is still hard at work, swimming along, arranging the floats, beating the water with a stick to chase fish into his web. I decide to go over and take some underwater photos of all this energetic Polynesian fishing.
I slide in the water with my camera and flipper over to where the man is thrashing about. He looks up and waves. I show him the camera. He holds up a string of fish he has caught. Wow! Unreal! He has three tiny little tropical fishies on his stringer. He's been out here all morning flopping around, whapping the water, fiddling with his net, and that's ALL he's got? And he's smiling?
"Richard," I say, pointing to myself.
"Mikale," He taps his chest and beams. Mikale is a big Wallician, perhaps 35 or 40. His house is at the north end of the village. His canoe is ready to sink. His net is empty. He's cold. He's happy. I take some photos of him with his meager catch and look around the reef. No fish. The turquoise tropical lagoon is devoid of anything even remotely eatable.
"No fish," Mikale observes in French, as he stuffs the net back in his boat. He wiggles aboard without totally swamping the canoe, and paddles off. I fin back to Moira.
As I towel off, it occurs to me the formation of hurricanes is a good analogy to how masses of interacting forces create individual living beings - creatures which then alter their own local environment to bend conditions towards their survival. The analogy works even at higher levels of behavior. Economic conditions move wildly different hominids together - people with completely different backgrounds and goals. They feed on the excess energy of funds and build a corporation which then becomes a self-sustaining being, sucking money-power out of the sea of human finance years after the formative forces have dissipated. Or like governments which form in the low of a depression and then are impossible to change until they cool into oblivion in the arctic latitudes. Or like self-starting schools of fish which, once formed, alter the ecology of the open sea, migrating vast distances and changing even the chemistry of Sea in their passing. Or like atoms which lock their behavior together to form new kinds of elements or molecules.
Yeah, hmmm. I ponder the electron as a mini-eye of a hurricane in the massive matrix of universal forces.
Thump, thump, thump. "Whose there?" Freddy says.
I look out a porthole, "Mikale."
"Mikale who?" She grins, lusting after a snappy reply.
"Hi Mikale," He has a hand of bananas in his banana-sized fingers. I invite him aboard and Freddy fixes him some tea and a slice of orange cake. His hands are filthy. In fact he's got dirt everywhere except his big feet which are clean only because he waded out to his canoe. The garden-calloused fingers carefully crumble off half a slice of orange cake and he looks at Frederique with a curiously out-of-focus gaze.
I can't understand a thing he says. Eventually he halts his monologue and puts his mouth in chew.
Freddy explains, "He says there was once a girl here in the village who came home one day to announce she was no longer a girl. She had changed into a boy. And it was true. The big event in village history."
No doubt this is a much edited version of the story but it is all she is going to give me as the orange cake has been gobbled and Mikale is monologuing again. I sit and think about a girl changing into a boy. All I can think of is that this is a very common practice for giant clams and certain kinds of fish, except in these creatures the boys change into girls.
I get up and find a photo of a clown fish and I show it to Mikale. Carefully, in my miserable French, I explain how, if the big female gets eaten, the small male grows bigger and changes into a female. He does not believe me.
After dinner, the ITCZ serpent slithers back over Wallis and the wind is shrieking again. Freddy and I climb into the sac wondering if we are ever going to get to Samoa. I toss and turn in the choppy, howling anchorage, the wind moaning through the rigging, wondering if I'm ever going to get to sleep. Eventually I drop off into a troubled doze.
Three hours later I am wide awake. Well, awake anyway. I would have to be deaf, drugged, or dead not to hear the noise which assails my ears even above the noise of the wind.
"Haaaaaaaaayyyyyyy! OHOOOOOOO! I HAVE A PROBLEM! I HAVE A PROBLEM!" I swing my legs over the edge of the bunk and stand up unsteadily. "AHOY, AHOY, HAAAAAYYYYYY, I HAVE A PROBLEM!" I curse the nautical idiot from the depth of my sleep-ridden being. Next he'll be shouting avast me maties.
Freddy growls from the depths of the bed, "Sounds like a midnight parade of mental midgets."
"Get the flood light," I go on deck. It is a solid, absolute pitch black. I peer out into the night in the general direction of the man with the megaphone mouth. Freddy hands up the light and I switch it on and point it towards all the shouting. "It's Robert," I say to Freddy who is standing on the aft ladder airing her tits.
"So what's his problem. If he can yell like that this long it can't be exactly life threatening." Robert is off the other boat in the anchorage. He's paddling furiously, waves crashing over his ridiculous little Samoan dug-out canoe. He thinks the hollowed out log is in keeping with the romance of the South Pacific. He traded a perfectly good little fiberglass dingy for it in Western Samoa.
"What's wrong?" I shout, moving aft, getting ready to untie our dingy. This is not necessary, however, as he finally makes it to Moira and hangs on, huffing and gasping, the canoe almost awash.
He can't find his yacht. He forgot to leave an anchor light on and is disoriented by the wind and waves and darkness. In fact, if the bulging eyes, trembling hands and drooling mouth is any indication, he is scared out of his skull. I put him in the Avon and tow his log over to his yacht as Freddy lights our way with 250,000 candle-power.