Friday, October 31, 2014

Drunk Bay

Hope you're enjoying The Descent of Winter. If anyone is tuning in sporadically and wondering what the heck is going on, here's an explanation.

In September I took a trip to the Virgin Islands to visit my lady friend at her new digs on Saint Thomas. (I'll probably join her in January.) It was my first time visiting the Caribbean (or going so far south, for that matter), and I kept feeling like I'd stepped into Chrono Cross. I have a theory—and I've completely convinced myself of it—that the Virgin Islands inspired the game's setting. There probably isn't any way of substantiating this (and I'm probably mistaken besides), but I do find it interesting that there's a resort condo development on Saint John called "El Nido."

We passed a sign for El Nido during our 24-hour lap around Saint John. Would that I could remember the names of all the other places we visited or passed by—bays, peninsulas, plantation ruins. It's all become a blur since my return to the mainland.

Drunk Bay is an exception. That place stuck with me.

I can't imagine a place where the disparities between the Caribbean and the Atlantic could be laid out with greater clarity. One moment you're standing on the beach of Saltpond Bay, looking out west towards the Caribbean. The surf is clear as bathwater (and almost as warm), and it laps benignly at the white sand. Then you turn around, take a trail into the woods, walk less than half a mile along the bay's brackish namesake and scrubland trails, and arrive at the shore of Drunk Bay, the Atlantic inlet on the peninsula's eastern edge. The opaque blue waters pound incessantly against the rocks. The air is heavy and brackish. A four-foot borderline of drying and decomposing seaweed at the shore's edge is attended by dense clouds of flies, the only visible animal life. No plants can grow here. There's nothing on the horizon but more ocean.

The Atlantic. Moody, melancholy, uninviting.

Drunk Bay is situated such that it becomes a repository for whatever flotsam the currents are dragging around. The shoreline is strewn all about with driftwood, shells, and sun-baked coral. I can't even guess when how long ago it began, but for years now visitors to the site have been arranging these materials into desultory sculptures of human figures. Visit Drunk Bay on any day—provided it isn't immediately after a storm—and you'll find dozens of crude anthropic portraits splayed out across basaltic canvases.

Of all the images we could reproduce here—why people?

The bay is among the 5,000 acres on Saint John under preservation as a national park. Even though you stand less than a mile from the nearest commercial space, Drunk Bay feels like the edge of the world. The Atlantic desolation is palpable, even when the sun shines. There are no human-made structures in sight. Nothing grows among the stones and sea drift. The powerful currents, relentless waves, and jagged rocks make swimming a treacherous venture. It is pure, aphasiac nature, no edges blunted. It has the atmosphere of a dreadful sacred place, so austere and lonesome that one can easily imagine the tiny human figures waving their arms on the boulders had been left bey nomads and medicine men instead of moneyed sightseers.

People. Not birds, not fish, not lizards or trees. Little flotsam people.

I dislike the word instinct—it usually professes to explain causes when all it does is note tendencies—but the presence of human images in such an austere landscape suggests the exercise of some fundamental human motive.

A mutation of the reproductive drive. We don't just make more humans everywhere: we make everywhere more human. Where there are enough of us the landscape becomes an image of our desires. Flat surfaces. Straight lines. Right angles. Ironed out and regulated. The flux of nature denied and beaten back. Anthropic virulence.

But in the lonely, diminutive wilderness of Drunk Bay, we settle for leaving tokens of our image. Peopling the desert. As though the scrub and cliffs and cacti and hermit crabs and geckos and sandpipers cheeping and racing by the undrinkable pond are any less without us.

A kind of basic religious instinct might be at play, too. By "religious instinct" I just mean the behaviors representative of human beings' responses to that which they cannot control, understand, traverse, or profit from. Drunk Bay is a cold shoulder on a tropical island. What it inspires must be something like reverence. Sacredness is the issue of impenetrability. We are content with what accepts us. We revere what does not.

When facing an inexplicable and uncongenial event or existence, we tend to etch a human figure over it. Unless we can turn away from it wholly, we have to find some way we can relate to it, or make more explicit its relationship to us. Thus: animism. Or the king in the desert sky.

Plenty of rocks, sticks, and shells everywhere else on the island. The solitary shore of Drunk Bay is the only place you're sure to find them arranged into human shapes.

There seems to be a kind of spiritual acknowledgement in the production of these rude little people, as there is in cave paintings, bone carvings, and stone circles. These are the estuaries where our dreams make their ingression into raw nature. And our dreams are of . . .

Graffiti in the canticle of stone and sea. From profanities our gods were born.

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