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With the rise of the wind: Stories by the South China Sea

With the rise of the wind: Stories by the South China Sea

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With the rise of the wind: Stories by the South China Sea

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Feb 23, 2018


With the rise of the wind brings together short stories about one person’s thoughts and insights as he absorbs the wonder and mystery surrounding the shore on a tiny piece of the South China Sea; not only about the rise of the wind that can draw out once buried thoughts and emotions dormant in the hearts of those who occasionally stand or sit near the shore and become hypnotized by the power and moods of the sea. There are little stories here also about the people living beside this sea on a coral-reef fringed provincial coast and the mountain behind it; about earthquakes and typhoons and their effects above and below the sea; about the lives of birds and snakes, of fish and starfish; with fragments of home-spun philosophy, biology, geology, meteorology, oceanography and volcanism, as well as idle thoughts about how the universe comes together at the shore.

Feb 23, 2018

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With the rise of the wind - Jay Maclean



The rise of the wind bring the stirring of the sea, swells form and break on the shore and patterns of currents become visible as white horses racing along broad highways. It also stirs different thoughts in the minds of many—the many who stand or sit near the shore and become hypnotized by these events that show the power and moods of the living waters.

When I first wrote about the rise of the wind, I had been communing with the South China Sea for four years. Eighteen years later, the wonder and mystery of the small piece of that sea flowing past our shore are still there. I’m not alone in such thoughts. Writers from Herman Melville to Rachel Carson felt the same about the sea; the Persians held the sea holy and the ancient Greeks give it a separate deity. Papua New Guineans on tiny islands near the equator worship the wind that blows from the sea across their villages.

Here are stories about the wonder and mystery surrounding that little piece of the South China Sea, its winds, and the people living beside it, our neighbors and us.

With the rise of the wind

Often ‘tis in such gentle temper found,

That scarcely will the very smallest shell

Be moved for days from whence it sometime fell,

When last the winds of heaven were unbound.

John Keats (The Sea)

For four years, I have been watching it, studying it, exploring in my mind the depths of it; the probability of galleons and steel ships of war rotting beneath it, attended by luminous fish and unseeing crabs; the relentless flow of the water now eastward now westward, hunched over carrying like an Atlas billions of tiny floating animals and plants—the plankton—and criss-crossed by schools of tuna and mackerel, flying fish; warm surface currents and cool, cold depths; fertile currents, like rivers, full of jellyfish, and desert currents through which aching glimpses of a blue infinity; bather of reefs; washer of the shore; caresser of islands, handmaid of the moon; fractured mirror of the sun; face of the clouds; pastel reef rainbow; sapphires of blues, emeralds and jade; star-scattered ink of a million squids.

Only now, perched on a log between the shore and our house, the Melon Patch—the totality of it but a speck under swirling galaxies— idly wondering if I am trying to find myself or lose myself, do I suddenly understand it, this massive black body of water, this channel, flanked by distant Maricaban Island, between two huge bays, one a few kilometers to my left, the other about the same to my right.

I gasped with the realization that this new understanding was about me, not about itself. Almost as if the channel itself had spoken to me like a living thing, and one could be forgiven for the thought because the channel lives in the longitudinal movement of its arterial flows, the heart-like rhythm of its tides, the constancy of its temperature, and its internal structure of currents and symbionts, endoparasitic fish, ectoparasitic birds.

I saw, it was like a flash (after looking at each other mute for so long), that we were of the same mind. I saw my thoughts flowing unbridled and unstoppable like the invisible currents in the channel; only a gliding piece of flotsam here and there to indicate the immensity, the intensity, the energy of the process. Like an observer of me to hear only my spoken word or two, from which to guess the nature and length of an unuttered story.

I saw the conflicts within me of concepts, ideas, memories, drawn from diverse origins and coalescing like the meeting of currents in the channel—one gives way, presenting its smooth glassy surface, to the other, rippling and chopping and encircling; or the two embrace in a whirlpool of endless circles and draw each other down to dark depths; or one below rises up in calm upwelling, settling over the ruffled surface of my mind like oil. No logic seems to override or control the thoughts that pour into my embattled consciousness. Like a long hallway or corridor, which never fails to bring on an intense sadness, a sudden inadequacy, and if it meets some nicer emotion, causes me confusion and dilemma; or if it meets some kindred thought, someone lost, someone sought after, some present 'disaster', some future awful possibility, the two embrace and drag me down in a whirlpool of despair. Rarely, but sometimes, I can summon a new current of thought from deep within me that upwells and calms the troubled surface of my mind, easing the sadness until—the tide, the corridor, turns.

Other times, I am simply the empty vessel, the geological channel, merely the bearer of these surges of thought currents that seem to wax and wane, rise and fall, that I look upon helpless to control, wondering where they have come from, why they are here, where they are going, what effects they will have on distant shores. A spectator, an observer, to myself.

But with the rise of the wind against the currents, or even of the currents against the wind, the currents show their presence to the sky in foaming, breaking waves. The once enigmatic, serene-countenanced surface is broken, exposed, to show all its conflicting components. The downwind currents become magnified, taking on the appearance and paradoxically, from a distance, the gentleness of wavy hair. The upwind currents dash about as if against a reef rather than thin air, rabid, tossing foam all over the channel. You can look down from the mountain beside the channel and see, from so far away, the direction and speed of the currents by their anger when the wind turns.

These are like the times when an alien thought, a wind, descends onto my mind channel, upsetting the balanced interplay of currents, settled, resigned, as they are in endless unresolvable debate, an endless toing and froing. What can such new thoughts add? Only additional confusion that surfaces in my consciousness and can render me almost speechless—incapable of working, eating, rational conversation.

When, instead of watching the drama from afar, I windsurf into the maelstrom, it is an awesome sight. And I can feel the confusion around me expressed in cresting waves coming from all directions, white horses rearing against each other. Planing the board becomes difficult and I sometimes wonder if I will be sucked down to experience firsthand the turmoil below my feet. Will it be a match for that in my head?

I like the channel best as it is now, at night, when I can hear rather than see the surface calm, relaxed, breathing gently as it tenderly strokes in forgiveness the rocks and rubble that it rails against by day. Sometimes it becomes completely oblivious to the shore, not caring to move (but the tide will nevertheless rise up to where tiny hermit crabs wait for plankton to become stranded). Then the stars shine across its surface and equally phosphorescent animals wink back from within it.

But I know our currents, hidden in blackness, surge relentlessly onwards; they cannot stop, be stopped.

And when 4-year-old son Marlon pattered down to the beach in his PJs and found me sitting on a log peering into the darkness and asked What are you looking at, dad? I was hard pressed to answer. The last quarter of the moon was fading behind some low cloud and the sky was filling with stars that I can never identify for him.

In time immemorial

We, Margie and I, started a fire earlier, when it first became dark before the moon had struggled over the mountain behind us, of by now so dry mango tree branches on top of the never-ending bamboo prunings and thumping old coconuts from spindly trees and their occasional too wooshing drying leaves—the one I never forget fell sideslipping in the wind and holed my cleverly I thought placed windsurfing sail—that we heaped together above the tideline between the two flame trees even though it scorched their branches but they should be dropping autumnlike anyway by now before putting out their bird-go-crazy honey fingers of flame-blood colored flowers so what the hell—and this story is at the end of the millennium—even if we didn't fill our shelves on the 19th floor in Manila with extra rations and flashlight batteries or matches and candles blessed by a priest so they would stay alight in the three-day darkness rumor that is covering Manila faster than electricity and other 'y2k pack' items, oh and the mango branches were of a massive trunk, really massive, one of the main arms of what they said was more than a hundred-year-old tree that a few months ago banged BANGED down in the creek and shook the hut in which we were huddled against a storm (Grace Nono's recorded fantasies turn to a synthetic violin ensemble that could be my own synthesizer talking, one of my favorite synth patches and after several playings is the first thing I hear even though maybe four tracks along the way further into the cricket-split, bamboo cracking creaking night) and the cigarette glows from the fire now settling down in the larger logs for the night nervously near the twitching foam, crabs and scattered hazy light of high tide, one of the last highs of the century of the millennium but I wasn't thinking of that when earlier tonight I stood on the shore side of the fire in its crackling youth with the shadows of the islands across the channel seeing the silver sea and its dark islandcracks, no I was wondering about in time immemorial the other people who also looked over their fires here at the sounding sea and what were their thoughts centuries millennia before the soldiers shot the sharks that used to play around the shallow coral heads and the divers and fishers gathered up the large hangover-colored fish that to this day have never been replaced and until the gathering stops never will and so the fishers gather smaller and smaller fish, true, I folded my arms like a movie Indian chief notthinking; in the movies it seemed a stance of strength but do psychologists say that it is a defensive posture? well maybe, alone, I was but unlike those who enjoyed or suffered or wandered, wondered by past pristine seas, I knew what were the animacules, the animals in the corals, not plants or stones, and the visible and invisible stingers and the habits of life beneath the crinkling foaming waving and spraying, that only a few feet down it was nearly always calm as a weekday cemetery, that fish of different kinds as well as of the same scaly feather swam together, helped each other to food and protection, warned rather than fought each other and interacted through a terribly complex set of cues and colors that all understood because their lives depended on it, rather like the traffic in Manila.

Turn of the millennium

Now there is a downpour. Rumbles of thunder echoing all around and the sweet sound of rain on the leaves, on the nipa palm roof, from which they dribble in vertical processions, except when an updraft changes their teary shapes into little sparkling balls that seem to float and bounce in the air—god, I remember the bouncing balls, follow the bouncing ball in the song, in the Sydney newsreel houses of the forties, fifties and why did we, it was always me and my father, never see a real movie, only newsreels in black and white, only the cartoon was in color and transformed the dull crenelated walls, the dull news, dull clothes, dull streets, dull buildings; the trams in dull yellows and greens were little less somber but sparked life sometimes from their overhead electricity lines stretching to infinity or Maroubra and from big steel wheels screeching on the steel tracks that curved steeply from Elizabeth Street, always on Saturday afternoon. Later the buses came down different roads replacing the trams from Randwick and weeds alternately grew and were burnt back for many many years along the empty tracks past the paddocks where ladybirds and grasshoppers shared our summers in the shadow of the long brick chimney that never seemed to breath but to serve only as the divider between tram and bus depots, or a gigantic switch that turned off the trams one by one, forever.

Saturday nights then, and every other night were simply passages of darkness between the hours of living. Brown papery blinds were pulled right down by doily rings of woven string and there were heavy lacy curtains to cover them and hide the fact of night. 'The Shadow' serial on the radio tingled our spines and wind would rattle the windows against their frames. Rain beat loudly on the thin panes. Homes seemed not meant to be cozy then but rather to be fortresses against the elements, chief of which was the night. We were taught, consciously or not, to fear the night, and that meant that some things, somethings, out there had to be invented to be feared.

It grows dark as these memories drift by, the thunder reawakening me, heralding lightning so bright, although it is only 2.30 pm, that it seems already dusk. Maricaban Island is abruptly hidden by a silver curtain thousands of feet high that trails with a tempered roar toward me over the purple carpet of the channel. Words almost fail me in this grandeur still by day unmatched by the spectacles of light and sound we create by night to show our dominion over darkness with pyrotechnics, the death of 1999 being perhaps the largest display of our fears we will ever see what with 24 hours of explosions of Chinese naiveté and showers of lights of few colors in the air from bridges, boats, mortars and skyscrapers repeated over and over and in all the capitals and byways of the world as midnight rolled ineffectually by. What were we trying to say with those billions of dollars spent in clouding the night sky and blackening the inside of our noses and lungs and ringing our ears, scarring our retinas and wallets, and frightening our children whose hearts jumped with every boom? I'll tell you it was our collective deathwish, our need to fortify the nightmares of childhood, when our fears first were formed and informed, and hold to their belief, the belief that there is an evil in the night, in the dark, a clean and pure evil, and this is the evil, the spell, we want to please carry us away for we know that good never triumphs, but not the evil of burgeoning street gangs and their weapons and their hates, nor the voodoo of graffiti, the sickly-sweet smiling clans of politics, nor the mushroom clouds of starwars even crumbling reactors, trapped nuclear submarines or cargo ships laden lost with nuclear waste for distant continents, nor the poisons in the air from our smoking and our burning, our engines and tires, carcinogens, endocrine disrupters, greenhouse gases, pesticides

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