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The Breath of Islands

Moira sails into the Amphlet Island Group

Mind is what awareness does to change with change and thus survive.



Just past Fergusson Island, on the way to the Trobriands, Moira glides into a small cluster of volcanic peaks called the Amphletts. Neil Stanton told us the people here make pottery - one of the few PNG people who still do. The chart shows most of the islands have no anchorages but Neil said there was a spot in the lee of Wamea, the easternmost island, where we could drop the hook in fair weather. Cautiously, Freddy in the rigging, we ease into the small embayment in the lee of the 1300 foot high peak.

The Amphelett Island Group, just south of the Trobriand Islands, is a small ring of extinct volcanos.

The water is deep in the lagoon but in one corner, close to shore, there is a shelf of rock in 5 fathoms. We drop the anchor right on top of it. I put Goldie, our pet baby Gold Lip oyster from Sudest over the side in its little wire cage.

The island rips straight out of the sea with no beaches or even a rock shelf in the tidal zone. Dromo Dromo village clings to the steep volcanic slope amid scraggly green vegetation. The houses are tiny, maybe 2 meters by one meter by one meter high, built of leaves and branches. They are cute, colorful, neat and tidy. A toy village.

Within minutes of our anchoring, a miniature canoe comes alongside with four miniature men from the miniature village on this itsy bitsy island. With a mixture of pidgin and sign-language, I ask to buy some pottery. The men hang onto the side of Moira and ogle the tall mast and gleaming white fiberglass hull. They dress in fashionable ragged, faded European shorts and chew betel nut like it's going out of style. After awhile, the men appear to get the message for, although they say nothing, they organize themselves in their toy canoe and paddle off towards their village. They have covered Moira's deck and flanks with red spittle from the betel nut. Freddy scrubs at the disgusting mess while I slosh the deck with buckets of sea water.

"Looks like it's not coming off," I sluice another bucket over the worst part.

The clay pots of the Amphlett Islands are known throughout the Milne Bay area. They look little different today than they did 1,000 years ago.In an hour or so they return with some magnificent bowls. They could have been made 20,000 years ago. This time there is a young man with them, Christian name Francis. He speaks English, "Dromo Dromo people go long Fergusson (an island about 30 miles south) at night. Walk secret place near top island. Find clay to make pottery. They always do this long, long time before. People of these islands only people in the world who know secret of making pottery like this one".

One of the other men, chuckling to himself, hocks a big wad of red betel nut juice onto Moira's deck. A millisecond after it hits the deck, Freddy blasts it off with a bucket of sea water. About half the water manages to inundate the man who spit. Everybody looks at everybody else in silence. Freddy calmly loads up another bucket of sea water and I wonder if she's going to empty it in the guy's ugly kisser. The lesson sinks home and they all start to giggle and then roar laughing in an odd high-pitched whinny. Not another drop of red slime comes near the Moira.

Francis explains there is no soil on their island, so the people have no gardens and must trade pottery for food. Neil told us they were part of the famous Kula trade circle extending from the Trobriands to Bougainville to Sudest and Milne Bay and back again in the days of prehistory. They still trade their pottery for food with the neighboring islands.

The bowls are delicate, brick colored, and have a series of fine designs traced into the clay. Francis says they knead the clay into long ribbons and then wind them around and around to build up the bowl shape. All the women in the village make pottery at the same time, just after a clay-hunting expedition. When everyone has finished, they put the dried pottery into a house and burn the house down.

"That's some kiln," I muse. "Do they use anybody's house in particular or do they build a house just for this purpose?"

"Special house," Francis says with a secretive look.""When pottery burned him very hard. OK to cook over the fire. OK hold water. Anything."

The bowl we buy makes a glass-like tink when I tap it with my fingernail. Freddy negotiates a trade for some cloth and tobacco. I discover there are about 200 people in the Amphletts, and there have always been about 200 people in the Amphletts. There is no trade store, no aid post, no official school.

We will be in the Trobriands tomorrow to begin our pearl oyster survey. We'll have to leave early in the morning to get into the anchorage by mid-afternoon, so we eat at sunset and promptly get ready for bed. Freddy and I wash up, turn in, and make love.


I toss and turn but can't get to sleep. I get up and go forward to have a drink of water. Then I climb out into the cockpit and check out the weather.

I sit for a few minutes in the cockpit. The evening sky is dark and full of stars. I think about John Kasaipwalova. He is a Trobriand Islander. Dennis Young told me John would be able to help our survey efforts as he is a very educated man. Kasaipwalova is one of the few PNG people who does creative writing. He writes poems. And one of them, an epic poem describing the magic voyage of an islander through life, is called "Sail the Midnight Sun." Dennis gave me a copy of part of it. He said John was producing the poem as a play at the University of PNG.

It starts off;

I am the midnight Sun.

The midnight sun born of love

came forth with tears of life apart

as the star and the ocean in the bliss

of after loving

smiled their baby the unknown secrets

of his course.


The lines are hauntingly familiar. I am the midnight sun. During our eerie sojourn in the magical Aboriginal domain of Port Douglas, I wrote an essay, in less poetic terms, saying exactly the same thing. The awareness of Man is the dance of sunlight with the elements of Sea. And at night - at midnight - we are the memory of sun's energy still active and aware on the dark side of the planet.

And the midnight sun, "smiled their baby the unknown secrets of his course" sounds to me like the Moirae in action, guiding Man through this great magic sea of mystery..

The star and the ocean. The dance of love creates us.

I sit looking up at the stars. A cloud blots out part of the field of stars. My sailor's mind latches onto the cloud and watches its speed and direction. The southeast wind carries it over me at 20 knots. How odd. There is just one cloud. The rest of the sky is clear as clear can be. I watch the cloud and wait for it to pass by. It's leading edge churns and its skirts flap as it glides overhead.

Some time passes until I notice the leading edge of the cloud is still in the same place relative to the mountain peak. The cloud, carried by the 20 knot southeasterly trades, is staying in the same place.

To see the cloud better in the darkness, my vision shifts to include all the light from the night sky. I become aware of my peripheral senses. First the light falling on my retinas, then the quiet sounds of Sea and the wind stirring through the trees ashore, then the smell of the forest and the brine, and finally the faint stirring of wind in my hair and on my skin. As I move my conscious mind below the usual barriers of my sensory filters, deep into all the stimuli of the night, I feel the words - I am the midnight sun - glow with awareness.

I sense the trade winds buffet the peak and swirl around to immerse me in their movement. To my expanded awareness, the wind is a sheaf of ocean warmed gasses 1000 nautical miles wide, 1000 meters thick sliding along the gentle Sea curve of the planet. I sense the temperature gradients within it shifting as Sun's Energy powers its flow. I feel the torque of the planet's rotation and friction of Sea and even the infinitesimal impact of the island resting there beside me.

As my mind focuses on the island/air, it reverberates with the interchange of Earth, Sea, Air and Sun. My mind perceives the living island burst, molten, from deep within the ring of fire - remembers the metamorphosis of molten lava into jagged rock in the Sea cooled sunlight. My mind reacts with delight to the complex green flicker-flame of the plant life of the island as it fissions the uplifted rock to form the forest.

I perceive the island/sun/sea/air foam into millions of waxy leaves of the brush-like vegetation on the mountain's slope. I feel a multitude of tiny stomata open wide on each leaf, drinking in the night air and breathing out oxygen and water.

The moist, oxygen rich breath of the plants rises up with the wind, lifted by the bulk of the island, up past the mountain summit where, in the clear cool night air the moisture condenses and the cloud appears; snowy white folds in the starlight, billowing in the trades.

Wamea is a small island. It does not make much moisture and not much heat and so the island breath quickly "dissolves" again into the night air and the cloud vanishes. Like a man breathing out on a cold day, the cloud is the exhalation of the living island into the cool night sky.

I see the web of life of the island as clearly as I perceive it's volcanic bulk and the stars. And the woven interaction of the vision opens my mind to a pattern of behavior unfolding in all directions, into myself, out into the field of stars, into Sea and Air and throughout all the levels of life and living.

The island cloud forms from the interaction of the sea breeze, transpiration of the plants, and the island. http://www.this-magic-sea.com/order.html

The cloud is the living manifestation of the island - like the plants themselves - moving and forming and reforming as a dance of myriad parameters.

The plants rise up in the trade-winds, taking energy from Sun, elements of the crustal rock of Earth and from the air. They weave them together with long, involved memories.

Always renewing always dissolving. Moisture flows through the focus of each plant just as it flows thorough the island's cloud. The actual elements forming the plants move from rock to root to stem to leaf and then fall, decay, and rise again in generation after generation through all the ages.

When the plants are cut and gathered by the people of Dromo Dromo village and then burned, the hard wood and waxy leaves vanish, liberating their gasses as smoke, giving up their sunlight as firelight, and leaving behind the black ashes of the rock.

All these interactions weave through the night within the mountain's silhouette, the churning cloud of life's breath and the stars peering into my thoughts from very far away. We are, all of us, mountain and sea and sky and air and all the forms of life, all of us, the midnight sun. "The midnight sun born of love, come forth with tears of life apart, as the star and the ocean in the bliss of after loving smiled their baby the unknown secrets of his course."