That Day

It was that day. The day the sun sat low and refused to rise but flexed bows and slung arrows that pierced your eyes. The trail buried in shadows. New black top was soft beneath my feet and the trail snaked and followed the same course as the river. The river was high and slow. And there it was. Scratched in the path, dusty blue chalk, Eddie Atwood killed me.

But it was only further down the road that I found the body. Asleep, slumped across the picnic table. Except for the ants and the snail that clung to his ear and the fact that his eyes were pecked clean and the crows bouncing on the red cedar branches that hung low above the table. Not even afraid of me.

Then the crunch of leaves beneath a boot in the direction of the river bank, not unlike the sound of potato chips…crushed in your palm.

Eddie?”

Stringers | Five

Well-worn and dusted with sand, the black and white cover shimmered gloriously before Caspar’s eyes, an effect enhanced by the fiery afternoon sun. In the cover’s foreground the silhouette of a young man perched on a rock platform, staring out through a spray of mist as gauzy as cigarette smoke. Beyond the haze, a wave of unknown proportions rose from the sea, summoning the lone watcher as it curled and appeared to thunder across and off the edge of the page. Like father like son, Caspar shined with his own inspiration.

Over several weeks, using what scrap he could pack-rat from the store, such as shipping boxes and aluminum foil, and spare resources he could gain from his father’s workshop, including plastic wrappings, industrial glues, epoxy and varnish, Caspar set about fashioning his own surfboard from the pictures and specifications called out in his prized magazine. Lacking an ocean, or any other significant body of water large enough to generate wave or wake, the larger dunes of the Chihuahuan were the proving grounds for each new configuration

And it was in these dunes that Caspar spent all his free time hauling surfboards to the knife-edge peaks of silicone sets and then skimming back down, imagining the lift of the rising sea and the sensation of the wind racing up the face of each new wave.

Time rolled on, and as it did, Caspar perfected his craft, repeated the drills, all the while helping to maintain an ever-burgeoning family business. So it was the sum of like and similar days that filled the years to come, until the appearance of a man with an eye for the unusual who rightly went to work shaking hands, asking questions and taking pictures.

Artistic, absurd, without question unique, the unlikely Osberg site achieved iconic status in May 1977, named in New Mexico’s ‘Top Ten Quick Stops’ by My Southwest travel magazine. Proud, adorning the cover a much matured Caspar, perched atop the crown of a snarling beast clawing its way up the bow of the Osberg, right arm supporting his latest incarnation of surfboard, left hand raised to his brow deflecting the sun, plotting a course through the uncharted reaches. Three months later at the age of sixteen, Caspar having heard enough from so many passing travelers, said farewell to Las Cruces forever and hitched a ride west to California with a band of hopeful musicians to shape surfboards and in search of his first real wave.

to be continued

Stringers | Four

Caspar’s father had spent months on this inspiration and countless hours carving the gripping-beast motifs that adorned the joins at bow and stern. Beasts grabbing at and grappling with mortal enemies, seen and unseen, in battle to save their souls. Bleached a shimmering chromatic white from a relentless sun, the seventy-foot long oak structure could accommodate up to thirty seamen on a series of benches running the length and breadth of the craft. It was this ship, the pride and joy of the curious little rest-stop slash diner slash road-side repair shop and gas station, that had been Caspar’s immediate destination. Destination forgotten however, given eight years of age, a short attention span and one very dead lizard.

Caspar Kouyaté-Finn was incongruent if defined with a single brush stroke. But a more precise portrait would favour an intelligent boy, athletic nonchalance, tall for his age with heat browned skin, blue eyes and a janitor’s mop of floppy dark hair tinted light with desert sun. Genetic blessings of an adventurous Senegalese mother and an industrious Norwegian father. Living in the northern Chihuahuan Desert north-west of Las Cruces off I25, Caspar’s days would begin and conclude with the tasks of his parent’s roadside operation. Schooled at home, his only friend a thriving imagination.

With the rising sun Caspar engaged in a progression of repetitive acts. If not sweeping the sand that drifted in through not so sealed doors, he was stocking emptying shelves. If not pumping overpriced gas he was washing off bug splatter cemented to roasting wind-shields. If not dumping trash, he was breaking down boxes and so on and so on, all the while intent to overhear the tales told by the shop’s transient patrons about the exciting places they were off to or had recently left behind.

Schooling took precedence during the mid-morning hours. European and African history kicked off each session, followed by language both English and French, a course in mathematics and finally ending with the finer points of cooking akkra, boulettes du poisson, mafé and poulet yassa. Any edible remains of the morning’s lessons sold from the shop’s kitchen as authentic traditional West African cuisine. Afternoon activities focused on the Osberg, and it was the eventual execution of these chores that lead Caspar to his second life-altering discovery that day.

While washing down the mighty Viking craft, Caspar happened upon a thickness of papers folded upon themselves as a tube and stuffed beneath one of the ship’s wide oak benches. Unravelling the packet revealed an aged magazine dedicated to the art of surfing, forgotten, discarded, no longer of use to the previous owner.

to be continued

Swiss

And the snow that fell turned to mice as it collected on the shingled pitch and forced the pine to know its limits. It was cold and he peered through frosted glass for a weakness, but he was too old now. Too old to get them back. Snow scurried wild across the roof. The evergreen cried out, a violin strained in despair, played under the shrill of the icy wind: the weight of the mice accumulating against the grain. He ached for the savanna and the warmth of the day and the smell of lovegrass sweet beneath the rains.

The old man lay in bed not knowing the time or day. Under layered sheet and warmth of worn woolen covers, he drifted in and out. Blanketed, the wind blocked from his sail. He built the house himself, one forgotten Spring. Foundation, field-stone, furnishings too and the frame that cradled him now, with oak from the year before the great fire.

A grey duffle hung from a nail driven into the frame of the door, the duffle missing toggles, hooks and eyes askew. Coffee cold in the can on the stove that burned the wood that served the house. He lay in bed staring through the whiskers of lace that filtered light and dark. Confused. The old man could not remember, except for his dreams where he was the elephant. Now the dreams were leaving too and the mice closing in.

And in the house that sat in the tree, the old man’s memories. It was cold and the collection of mice peered through the frosted panes, nails tapping. Memories full of holes. Mice nibbled away at memories. Memories like cheese.

Stringers | Three

Death by misadventure was the official cause: nine point-three inches of rainfall find the Chihuahuan Desert each year. That same nine point-three inches of rainfall is also enough to drown a collared lizard when its path leads to an open oil drum used to trap rainwater. Caspar found the unfortunate reptile at the bottom of the drum on his way to the ship where routine maintenance and a swabbing of the deck awaited. What made him look he’d never recall and how the lizard got there he’d never know. But there it was, floating on the surface, several feet from safety, still, silent, bloated, dead. Vibrant colors now dingy shades of pasty chalk. He poked the poor fellow with a stick forcing it below the surface and held it there for a few seconds and then withdrew the stick allowing the lizard to bob unencumbered back to the surface establishing it was quite dead.

What Caspar did recall with absolute certainty though, was the day of his discovery, for it was July 3rd, his birthday; and only moments before he had heard about the death of a Brian Jones on the store radio, dead at the bottom of an outdoor pool on some farm in England and something or other to do with Winnie-the-Pooh. So on this celebratory day, Caspar wore a sort of weighted dread, a sense of his own destiny. Water, life-giving, life-taking. Death by misadventure.

Complete with gangplank, metal anchor and hand-carved steering wheel, the Osberg ship in all its glory captured the imagination of even the most uninspired of weary road warrior. Prow bursting skyward navigating the shimmering golden sands of endless wasteland, the full-scale replica portrayed an incredible vision of Viking craftsmanship and window into the shadow-side of Scandinavian dreams. Sails rippling with early morning zephyr, so realistic, it was easy to imagine the vessel crashing through bitter cold icy chop at some nautical pace on way to do battle in the Norwegian Sea.

to be continued…