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There are places within us we do not often share, and sometimes do not know so well ourselves.
A slight flash of sunlight magnified within the water catches my eye as I walk along the tidal pools. Square objects don't abide with the rolled and worn shapes of the sea, so I know it is something made by human hands. A small metal box, perhaps, or a piece of wood with something reflective attached.
As I study the water and rocks for the best way to retrieve the find, a sudden dreamlike feeling encompasses me. There are plenty of dreams I have wished would come true, or, more often, have desired the real-life experience instead of the dream. Perhaps this is why I am drawn to put words upon the
page, to attempt to capture those moments I cannot have in reality--moments of elation or love or reconciliation.
This should be such a moment, with background music, maybe the sound track to Casablanca . The scent of the sea and the touch of wind upon my face give me a look of eternity and, dare I dream, of beauty, even at my age. Perhaps I'm overly dramatic, but it isn't often that I find a true treasure along my sea walk.
I pause before plunging my hand into the water. My, how cold it is, and the tidal pool is deeper than it appeared. A woman of my age must be careful along these wet rocks; I'm not the youngster I once was, and some days it feels as if I've always been old. That icy salt water chills my fingers to the bone all the way up my pushed-up sleeve. The surge in and out of waves soaks my walking boots. Just as I consider pulling away, my fingers touch that reflected something in a tangle among the seaweed and rock. A spider starfish observes my quest from a few inches away. The wind whispers in my hair, but no movie music fills the spaces.
The treasure--for all beach litter is a treasure, even the old boot I found decades ago, which now serves as a geranium planter--is nearly more sea than civilization. Turning it over, I see it's some kind of book with a metal cover plate that is tarnished and dented. The lock has rusted shut.
My walking stick back in my right hand and the ocean's treasure burning a hole in the pocket of my raincoat, I shorten my usual route and high-step it toward the cottage.
It takes some time to clean the cover of seaweed and the sludge of the deep. Rubbing my hands together, I feel as if I've found the Holy Grail. I take a steak knife and try several times to break the lock before it opens with a click. Barely lifting the cover, I see pages glued together in a solid soaked mess, and I fear they'll disintegrate at a touch. It's a miracle paper could survive in all that salt, but recalling images from other shipwrecks, I know it's possible.
It's surely from the Josephine . The wreck of that ship on a stormy night in 1905 made Orion Point a historic landmark.
What was this book's journey before the wreck that plunged it to the bottom of the sea? Whose hands once turned the pages? Were any creatures from the deep inspired by the message inside? That's my foolish thinking, yet I savor such fanciful thoughts.
For over fifty years I've kept myself here on Orion Point. Sometimes people venture through the woods to see if the once-somewhat-famous author is still around. Mostly they leave me be. My once-wide world has shrunk to these eighty pine-covered acres of West Coast woodland with one dog and one neighbor as companions.
But after this discovery, Orion Point may never be the same. I must think and pray. It feels as if life-changing capacities are held within this book I found. I know it's God's nudge that I've tried to ignore for a while now. He's opened a door.
I've seen many seasons cycle around me during my seventy-odd years, changing me as they've gone. This feels like the first cold breezes of a monumental storm. Maybe it's all my imagination.
Somehow I think--and fear--it's not imagination, but truth.
My old dog yawns at my feet as we warm ourselves beside the fire. An artifact should be sent to a museum or an archaeological society for examination. A team of scientists has been diving and probing the ocean floor for the past week at the shipwreck site; surely they'd want this relic of the sea. It may have been their probing that brought it to me.
I know these things, but tonight as the book sits in a strainer on my kitchen counter, and I sit beside the fire warming the chill from my old bones, I cannot help but want to keep it. Somewhere I have a very old newspaper article my mother kept, telling of objects found from the wrecked Josephine.
Clipping such stories was a hobby of hers--as I now think back, it was more of an obsession. As a young girl living in the new stone house on the Point, she'd been here that night of howling wind and fierce water. She met the storm, carrying a kerosene lantern behind her parents as they brought blankets and searched for survivors. In her older age, she recalled the slow dawn that revealed the choppy waves filled with debris and the pale twisted bodies washed ashore.
The stories from childhood return to me now, stories of the ship's demise off the rocky shore that became my play yard. With thoughts of adventure and danger, I replayed my own fictive illusions of what happened.
As I rock in this old chair, I can nearly touch those days gone by. I can hear Phillip and Helen shouting out a welcome, coming to the Point to play. We'd inevitably find our way to the rocky piece of shoreline within view of where the schooner floundered.
"Let's get Ben," Phillip said so often, standing atop a rock where the crisp wind tickled his cheeks, and his brown hair fluttered up as if to sweep him away. I first loved him in those days, seeing the essence of life that filled him and overflowed upon us all. People were always taken by Phillip, from childhood until his death. There was something of the eternal in him, I believe, something that reminded one of things beyond the moment. It drew people to him. But few felt it as strongly as we did--his sister, Helen; Ben; and I.
"Let's save Ben from his father," Phillip would say.
Our feet would rush along the path to the lighthouse. Ben would have too many chores, his stern father staring at us as if we were intruders from an invading land. Within an hour we'd pick the nets clean, rake the stalls, stack the firewood, and polish the glass on the lighthouse tower until it gleamed in the sunlight--dismissing every excuse he could think of to keep Ben from frolicking. The chores completed, we'd head for the forested trails beyond view of the lighthouse. Ben would be ours.
"Let's be pirates fighting upon the rocks while the Josephine is sinking," Phillip shouted, more to the sea than to us. Ben needed a few minutes to shed the coat of his father's tyranny. Then suddenly he'd raise a piece of driftwood like a sword, saying, "We'll kidnap the girls and take them to the South Seas."
"No, you won't." Helen's hands fisted on her hips. "Girls can be pirates too."
Their voices remain with me tonight. I wonder if Ben remembers them while he sits before his fire in that same lighthouse, just a quarter of a mile away. Does he remember our losses and long for the days of youth? How have so many years passed us by? Every year amazes me more, and yet the feeling of a journey's end rises as an eventual destination through the fog of future.
An emblem from the Josephine came to me today as if delivered from the past. I've picked it up a dozen times, imagining what words could be written inside. What if it belonged to that woman, the one the ship was named after, the one my mother recalled when they found her barely alive that frigid morning?
When Ben comes by, I'll show him the book. Speculating on what is hidden within its pages reminds me of the days of yesterday, but these memories comfort me without inflicting the usual pain. Such comfort feels good to these old bones. Surely the scientists searching the wreckage would like to see it.
But for now, it is mine.