Stringers | Ten

Squaretail, quad fins and heavy-duty glassing. The pale-blue surfboard lay at Caspar’s feet as he began his final preparations. Removing each article from the pack, he strapped them to the board in the order he would use them. Discarding for good the boots, sweatshirt and shorts he stepped into the full-body suit pulling it up over his legs, letting the upper body hang at his waist, interest drawn by the complete lack of sound as the tide began its return to source. As the rain fell in sheets and the wind swirled with no design, Caspar took the cool salt air into his lungs and letting it go doubted his purpose for the first time, wondering if this was after-all a fool’s act.

Finding himself thigh-deep in the fifty-degree water, Caspar leaned into the storm, faced a battalion of white-capped soldiers, and launched himself atop the glossy deck of the nine-foot gun. His focus trained beyond the nose of the board, Casper steadied himself and began the long paddle to the island, the last obstacle as he crossed over the threshold.

From her vantage point on the beach, the girl watched Caspar greet the summer swell as it arrived from its lengthy Alaskan journey, meeting each wave head-on with confidence, driving down, pushing through and popping out clean on the other side. With that observation, the girl let her thoughts wander to an image and the words and rhymes of Jim Morrison, and his poetic verse “…climb through the tide…”. As she watched, Caspar paddled further and further from shore and seemed to shrink in the shadow of the force that roiled the sea, sending wave after wave to dissuade the young man from his quest. A black speck on the horizon now, indistinguishable against the shifting backdrop of silvers and greys, Caspar drifted out of sight, to a place where she believed, if the earth were in fact a tabletop, he would fall off the edge and slip into the void.

Caspar found the going much rougher than expected. And as the bitter chop grew in size from breakers and easy rollers to waves two and three feet in height, his only option became to duck each wave, escape the blows by going under, rather than taking them on face to face. As he forced his way up and out through the backside, he met yet another wave and another, each more determined than the last to knock him loose and flush him back to the mainland.

to be continued…

Stringers | Nine

Buttercup creaked, rocking ever so with the shift in weight and then regained equilibrium as the girl emerged from the van and dropped to the ground in time to watch Caspar, board under arm, disappear behind a stand of sword fern waving in time with the breeze.

A serpentine of severe switchbacks, only inches wide in places, carved a treacherous path in the near-vertical slope long ago abandoned by state forestry; their only responsibility now was to post signs warning of sheer cliffs, falling rock and unstable soil. One misstep and a twelve hundred foot flight to the beach would be a blink rather than about seventy minutes by more traditional means. Roots and rocks slick with moss and lichen interrupted the trail regularly adding to the challenge of balance and forward progress. Thirty minutes into the descent Caspar paused for a moment at a widening of the passage to take in the magnificence laid out before him. And for that moment, the girl did not breathe.

Shadowing Caspar, but at some distance and out of sight, she watched as he inched ever closer to the edge of an earthen shelf that weakened with every step, a cornice of dirt and tangled root supported by nothing but grace.

Before Caspar’s eyes the endless sea took on a flat calm and seemed to withdraw, bringing the island ever closer, moving it forward against the horizon belying the true distance of his first destination. A ceiling of cast iron-grey compressed the atmosphere, adding a sense of urgency as the rain blew wild and the ground beneath Caspar’s feet fell away.

As she was about to call out alerting Caspar to the danger, he took a step back and then another as he turned to continue his descent, never knowing how close he had come.

Caspar emerged from the forest to a blast of wind and stiff curtain of rain and the briny smell of wet sand. Never breaking stride, he made for the waves slapping at the beach. Real estate reclaimed a handful at a time by the incoming tide. Soon the tide would reverse, soon the time would come for the crossing.

to be continued

Stringers | Eight

Ages ago the universe had decided the sun would rise at 4:17am on this day. Given no argument to the contrary, that is exactly what happened as the veil of dawn lifted before a darkening menace of cloud. Throughout the night the winds had gained intensity, whistling through the straining limbs of the ancient rain forest dense with hemlock and red cedar. An occasional gust sent a shudder through Buttercup, a response to the impending storm with sounds from the ocean’s belly adding depth to a building, climatic orchestra.

Now with morning minutes old, a finger of light probed the shadows of the cliff-side campsite, finding a gap in the blinds that shielded the van’s windows and taking a poke at Caspar’s forehead. Unaware of the source of his irritation, Caspar raised a hand to swat away the annoyance that penetrated his waking dreams. As the sun arced higher in the early sky, warmth emanating from the finger spread across Casper’s face until he could no longer deny the calling.

Feigning sleep, the girl peered in silence between folded arms as the young man gained his feet, stretched, and surveyed a pile of gear laid out before him. Red waterproof pack, full-body wetsuit, wax, leash and a small stuff-sack of food, all appeared to meet Caspar’s approval as he nodded a silent ‘let’s do it’. Dressed only in cotton shorts he opened the van’s side sliding door and stepped down barefooted on to the hard-packed earth and stone covered in a carpet of old-growth detritus.

Present, he stood alert, absorbing the sights and sounds of the moment. Above, the forest canopy filtered the sun and blocked out a sky packed ever tighter by the angry storm. Below, the sound of the tide and waves, angered by onshore wind and rising sea level, sang alongside the frantic cry of a flock of gulls blown out of formation. To the west, Tatoosh Island shimmered in the distance, bejewelled behind a caul of silver-grey fog.

Returning his attention to Buttercup, Caspar retrieved the surfboard from the rooftop carrier, felt the weight, comforted by the familiar lines and curve of the rail. Satisfied with things as they were, he propped the board against the moss-covered trunk of an enormous Douglas-fir, retreating to the shelter of Buttercup as the first drop of rain pierced the umbrella of evergreens. Shrugging on an old hooded sweatshirt, and lacing up a worn pair of leather boots, he collected the wet-pack, transferred the neoprene suit and other essentials to the red bag, rolled the top over twice, snapped the clip ensuring the seal. Casting a tentative glance in the girl’s direction, he shouldered the load and slipped out once again, this time with no plans to return.

to be continued

Stringers | Seven

Bare light bulbs hung from the ceiling, piercing the darkness and casting hollows of yellow light through dense, stagnant air, the only obvious window boarded up and pinned with pictures of impossible waves. High bar tables and stools filled the room, peanut shells dusted the bare wood floor. The bar itself formed the centerpiece of the establishment, an enormous cedar log stretching the length of the back wall, carved in the likeness of a totem pole. Surveying the room Caspar set his sights on a winged image mid-bar.

Being Saturday night the bar was at full staff setting the number of employees at three; one leathered biker type and two indigenous barmaids. Biker type, an enormous bald-headed Spartan, had to be the owner as he spewed abuse on an underage patron but did nothing to discourage his cash contributions to the bars bottom line or healthy rate of liquid consumption. Barmaid one was either the owner’s wife or in training for the honour by keeping up in both leather and ballast. Barmaid two did not belong.

Tallish and lean, the young girl’s raven hair sat tied up in a bunch pinned together by a pair of bone needles, leaving the length undetermined. She glowed with healthy light brown skin and possessed wide-set eyes with a depth that appeared to look at everyone twice. Her knowing smile confirmed that assessment. From behind the bar and behind her back, aided by a wall patched together with hand-etched tiles, the girl watched Caspar part the doors, evaluate the room and target the solid wood bar. Appraising this stranger as he edged for a stool, more curious than business.

ID,” she inquired. Absorbing the California license, ‘Twenty-seven tomorrow, what brings ya here dude?” Mocking him seemed fair.

Canoes,” replied Caspar. But she already knew this beyond the one-word reply read from his lips over the bellow of biker type’s spouse to be.

Head tilted in query and with some concern, “Kill yourself on your birthday? Cool. You know there’s a storm?” Most ill-timed deaths in these parts were from alcohol or drugs. What this thoughtful looking stranger seemed to want to accomplish was new and curious, unexpected.

So what are we drinking birthday boy?”

Second thoughts on the beer. “Just water,” replied Caspar.

And to?”

Brian Jones.” And she knew this too. As a child she loved Winnie-the-Pooh.

Adding burger and fries to his request for water, Caspar sat wrapped in his thoughts, staring blindly into the infinity of vodka bottles mirrored back from the reflective glass squares. At some point in his reverie the girl had refreshed Caspar’s water, setting the glass touching the edge of a soft blue notecard folded diagonally through the middle, ‘off at midnight’ in tidy block printing.

to be continued…

Stringers | Six

Stringers scripted in sky blue neon blazed away, indicating the entrance to the popular dive and occasionally Chamber of Commerce. Caspar had noted the establishment en route to the cape and drove the six-mile loop back for a celebratory beer and something to eat before ending the evening at the rugged overlook to spend one last night in Buttercup.

Parking well down the street he began the march to Stringers which hung balanced on a stone and cable bulkhead, the bar itself serving as the gateway to an old and suspect jetty. Defying Mother Nature, the pier rolled and groaned with the pull of the moon and the unrelenting strain and weight of surging seawater. Extending thirty yards out over the water, Caspar could see the ends of cigarettes pulsing and darting in the darkness, a dance expressed by the hands that held them.

Darkness fell in silence this night as the clouds piled up, blocking out the sunset and giving the damp salty air infused with smoldering tobacco and dazzling embers an added sense of the mystic. As Caspar closed the distance on the threshold, the sound of the incoming tide smacking the sea wall and pilings assured him of his decision.

Bumping through classic western style battling doors, he confronted yet more smoke and the smothering din of a bustling weekend crowd disproportionate with locals. Static from the sound system interfered with the driving rhythm of some popular grunge band, words that strained to reach, but not register with Caspar’s ear. And if the channel had not changed on a screen mounted in the corner above a glass case displaying bounced checks, he might also have heard news of a storm brewing in Alaska. A storm that was sending a swell East South East reaching the cape tomorrow afternoon with a promise of waves breaking ten to twelve feet on the face.

to be continued…

Maasai Tales

As I understand the tale…a hyena will throw his feces at you to show that it is white…this indicates that he drinks milk and is from wealth.

It was colder at the corner just like they said it would be. From the corner you could see for miles above the dry grass and flat tops of the acacia that dotted the valley below. The Kikuyu had driven away all the wildlife.  Tarmac seemed out of place but lead to the borehole and rows and rows of clothes left out to dry in the rising sun. Our road went off to the right and into the red clay and fell steeply towards a trench cut by the new rains that morning.

This really the way?”

See that cloud?”

As if that was an assurance.

to be continued…

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

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…

Stringers | Two

Tatoosh Island, once a whaling and fishing camp now long abandoned, beckoned with whispers of the ancients, interrupting the horizon. In the shape of a crescent lying diagonally northwest to southeast, the island protected and sheltered a secluded bay known as the Cat’s Paw. Named so not for any particular land formations, but due to the glassine palette of cobalt sea whose surface reflected a pattern of tinfoil creases and blackening shadow on occasion of the breeze preceding a violent storm. A haven for those in need during high seas or sudden marine anomalies. Private home to puffin, sea otter, seal, and grey whale.

Using the island as a compass, continuing one-quarter mile or so due west, subsurface rock formations created an artifact known as the Boneyard. Appropriately named, for at this location death was as likely to occur as fog and the wreckage on the ocean floor spoke clearly of this. Given the right conditions, this deadly reef would generate a perfectly formed wave known as Canoes. Breaking left to right, this manifestation would rise and fall with the pulse of the fickle Pacific, an indicator of her heartset on that given day. And so, flanked by colonnades of tortured Sitka Spruce, a story of the harsh winds that often battered the coast, Caspar sat, his mind overwhelmed with the image of what he proposed to do.

Twenty-four hundred miles north, winds approaching hurricane-force toppled trees and assaulted the Alaskan coast from Anchorage to Sitka. Winds measuring seventy-nine miles per hour were recorded at a private Sitka airfield where small planes were being tossed about with the chaos of a toddler’s toys. Power-lines dropped haphazardly across homes and cars throughout the city, fishing boats torn violently from their moorings, tethers of rope and cable snapping with the tension as if they were low-test monofilament. Energy from the fluke summer storm bled to the sea sending a heavy tidal surge southward. High surf warnings were being issued down the continental coast, the most significant pulses to be felt as tremendous swells from British Columbia to Northern Oregon at some point the following day.

to be continued…