One swell subsides, another approaches. A strange day, weather-wise, foggy mysterious night, morning of drenching rain and violent wind gusts. A smoky pall over the island, blowing by, emanations from the Kilauea eruption – vog. Or simply fog, moisture evaporating off the land. We couldn’t tell which. The day with the dimmer switch turned down. This evening, the wind died. I put the chickens to bed, threw in a few mango rinds, papaya skins, collected six eggs in a bowl, and with a long-handled fruit-picker nabbed a couple mangos from the tree beside the coop, then walked with my booty along the coast, stood overlooking the gulch and in the distance, the lighthouse flashed its beam on and off and on and on and a dull surf boomed.
There’s a kind of low bank of moist, sopping clouds in the Gulf of Alaska. We went out there once, Craig and me and Lars, who was about 10 at the time, on our friend Harold’s fishing boat, Rocinante. He let us hitch a ride sixty miles offshore to the halibut fishing grounds so we could biopsy sperm whales. I went to sleep as we left the shelter of Resurrection Bay and Harold steered the boat southeast through the night. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. At one point, he fixed a course, set all his alarms, and slept in the bunk beside the helm. So the boat alone transported us across the Gulf. I woke in that perpetual fogbank, no horizon, everything gray, and all around us, winging by, albatross. We swayed in the swells, as though in a hammock, as though suspended in the air, or held up by the slicing wings of the birds. The clouds enveloping the northern end of the island of Hawaii tonight reminded me of that. In fact, our friend Harold once brought Rocinante to Hawaii, alone, just to see if he could. Due south from Alaska. Nothing in the way. No albatross in the Hawaiian version of those oceanic clouds, but four magnificent frigate birds wheeled over the bluff as Craig and I drove home late this afternoon. Black javelins slicing the thick sky to pieces. As I walked alone with the dog along the bluff, I was comforted by the familiarity of the damp clouds, the mugginess of the air, the smell of iodine and salt. In fact, the forecasted big swell on its way here originated in a Gulf of Alaska storm. A wave in my Alaskan home finds its way here, without effort. The way something that happened a decade ago returns now to ruffle my hair.
On New Year’s Eve, as is our tradition, we sat around a fire writing down the things we wanted to release from our lives, and the things we wanted to bring in, and then we threw the slips of paper into the fire. More joy, I wrote. The energetic healers I worked with on Cape Cod during cancer treatment told me to navigate toward joy from now on. That, they felt, should be my new heading in life. Not easy for a Latvian, but I am trying. Living as if every beautiful thing comes after this moment, right now, with the faint sound of wind chimes and a gentle surf in my years, is staying true to that course, I believe. I finished the novel of that name today, Everything Beautiful Began After. A few pages from the end, the main character Henry is nine years out from his lover’s death. “Sometimes it’s all he thinks about. But he doesn’t stop walking anymore. He doesn’t stop looking around. He keeps going . . . And he is enchanted by the beauty of small things: hot coffee, wind through an open window, the tapping of rain, a passing bicycle, the desolation of snow on a winter’s day.” He carries everything that came before, all the beauty and grief, all the healing and shattering. I list the beauty of my day’s small things: watching Eve sleepy-slow ambling through the orchard to the house in the morning; sharing coffee with Elli; billows of rain; the tip of the dog’s tail moving above tall grass; a humpback whale’s fluke smashing down on the surface of the cove; the sensation of my body running, running on an old sugar cane railroad bed, hot to the core, then plunged into the cool ocean, slowly releasing its heat; salmon and fresh greens for dinner on the porch with the family; laughing playing banana grams with made-up words.
In today’s blog post by Hester Hill Schnipper, the oncology social worker at the hospital where I was treated, she quotes poet Christian Wiman, from his new colletion, Every Riven Thing: “To believe is to believe you have been torn/from the abyss, yet stand waveringly on its rim.” Wiman, it turns out, is suffering from a rare cancer of the blood. Standing on the rim of the abyss, the view before and behind is crowded with the smallest of things, their shadows, and their beauty. To believe is to believe in them.