Thursday, March 5, 2009

Monsters and Fire Faeries

This morning before the sun showed and after we'd picked glowing nets out of the inlet, Sonny the boy and I ran along a wild, deep beach. Lacy teal dumpers crashed into the sand bar and we discovered the beach shack all of us dream about, where you can 'spit on the southern rights from the verandah.'

But today, a putrid wind blew and the culprit was the rotting carcass of a mammoth leviathon, long dead but not long on this shore, rolled about by the swell.

We thought it was probably a sperm whale. Further along the beach, a fresher morsel, a fin perhaps, jutted out of the surf occasionally. And then, the skull of another.

Last night we drove through banksia scrub for long enough to find our way to the paperbarks on the quieter side of the sand bar and roll out some swags. We set nets much later. The wind blew over the bar and the stars shone just brilliant for someone who normally sleeps under an orange street light.

We rowed out into the inlet. I had a moment. I'm not big on reincarnation. Perhaps it's the missing God Spot in my brain, or maybe it's the fact that my life is usually dramatic enough without invoking an Egyptian priestess or an African slave.
I stood on the rear thwart of the tiny tinny and used an oar to pole the boat over a shallow, coral-encrusted sand bar. The only noises were the swell outside (immense and all encompassing but incessant enough to forget after a while), the odd startled call of a wood duck and the ripple of water against the aluminum sides of the boat.
I was the tallest point in the whole inlet and above me the stars blazed and the quarter moon glowed the water into stainless steel.

"I've done this before! At night, on the water, standing in a little boat with an oar, poling over a sand bar." I was a kid, (and not the same kid as the one who had to go fishing with Dad in the harbour at dawn - all because children under twelve got a free netting license, and therefore I was finally earning my keep!)

Not that kid. I was brown boy with dark salt-encrusted hair, who worked on the water at night, perhaps a river.
And that's it. This is who I once was.

It's the right place to have such a revelation. It's Australian Gothic, this place. Even with the sun or the stars blazing, there is always a moody stillness here. This Country appears to offer up her booty and yet her legs are always closed. Lightning storms hang on the horizon for days, illuminating the strange cliffs and ghostly paperbarks, the greys and olive hues of water ringed with emerald samphire swamps. It's windy and still all at once. There are secret corners and the silence is shadowed by roaring swell. The ocean throws up sad, lumbering monsters.

"Get up. There's something in the water," Old Salt told me this morning . "You gotta see this."
I sat up, swag and all. "Is it five yet?" My alarm was set for five.
"Close enough." He was standing by the shore of the inlet.
The light flared from my mobile phone. "It's fucking 4.30!" I flopped back down into the sand and grumpily tried to justify half an hour's sleep in the face of some amazing natural phenomenon.
He was standing just on the edges of water and strange blue lights shot out of his toes. Hot blue bullets rocketed away from his legs.
"Fire in the water."

There was more phosphorescence than I have ever seen. Each step into the water as we pushed out the boat created a flaming turbulence of motion. Every stroke of the oars created a sparkling rush of Tinkerbell fairy dust in the inky brine, and then the dripping airborne oars traced arcs of wild colour beside the boat. Shrimp became tracer bullets.
Still dark and starlit, with the moon gone, it was what Old Salt termed a 'piccaninny sunrise', a little sunrise, no light but a sparkle in the eye of a new day.

I felt like I'd crossed over some kind of earthly threshold, so surreal was the night. I remembered (again) that chapter in The Wind in the Willows; 'The Piper at the Gates of Dawn', when Ratty and Mole went hunting all night for a lost child and instead, lucid, exhausted and utterly reverential all at once, encountered their God, Pan.
The wind ceased its harrying but the swell still thumped outside the bar. Fish torpedoed away from our boat leaving a comet tail of phosphorescence in their wake. Old Salt rowed and rowed, straight past the stake in the sand that held fast the net and neither of us noticed, until we were well out into the centre of the inlet.
"There won't be many fish tonight," he told me. "That bloody net is lit up like a disco ball."

(After we'd set, eight hours earlier, we went back to the stake. He held the corkline out of the water. "Hold this."
I took the corkline. I felt the fish hitting it, a sharp tug like when they bite a hook. So I knew there would be a few.)

The nets were pure Disney to pull up. I could see every single mesh illuminated, coming up towards me and swooping down into the water in a glittery fanatasia.
We caught a few, yes, some nice fat, healthy fish. By then the sky was lightening and all the fire faeries ran away, 'til the next time. It was time to wake the boy, who'd slept beside me on the beach, still wearing his school uniform, and head over the bar to the bay.


  1. What a life you lead Sarah Toa. Makes me a bit envious.
    Yes, I have had a few 'reincarnation'episodes. Some very unpleasant,an 'evil' past if you believe in evil, and some good. For the doubters - they come from a different place, they are not pictures in the mind but bodily and vividly experiential. And I believe that sometimes we go looking for that life again as you seem to have done.

  2. That's interesting...never happened to me before but this was total body recognition and like you said, vividly experiential. That one moment of recognition converted me from confirmed reincarnation sceptic!

  3. Fantastically illuminated Sarah Toa.. The writting that is, not just the net. It would have been a site to see i bet.

    I was sitting down at Mindel beach last night wishing the cloulds would part and I'd get a good glimpse at the stars in the darkness..

  4. Thanks for reminding me about the reincarnation thing. One loses 'faith' so often - well I do. But there are some things you just 'know' and these are the things that matter. Don't worry, I am not going all new age on you.

  5. Wow! I saw phosphorescence like that one night at Conspicuous Cliffs with David Vann. The ebbing waves painted the shoreline with sparkly green lights, very trippy...

  6. A totally magical experience, Sarah. Thank you for sharing it with us. I find myself envying you for your experiences quite frequently!