Our constant change in relative position
creates error in expected cycles.
The wind comes hard on the bow as we snake out the pass from the Conflict Islands and turn towards Niviani. We beat through the calm water on the leeward side of the Conflicts. Moira heels over 20o and cleaves Sea. Cloudy skies, fresh trade winds, bright green islands with powder white beaches and turquoise lagoons slide by.
I have the autopilot off, enjoying the feel of the helm and the smooth power of the sails. We are finally on the way to Tagula, better than half way down the line of reefs and small islands of the Louisiade Archepelago.
We should arrive at the west end of the big barrier rees surrounding Sudest well before it gets too dark to navigate through the reefs. I contemplate exactly how I will do the pearl oyster survey.
Freddy stands on the foredeck like a figure-head on an old sailing ship, enjoying the wind and sea.
At noontime, jsut as Freddy hands up lunch, the clothes pin holding the fishing line pops off.
"Fish! We got a fish!" I yell, and juggle my lunch tray, trying to set it down on the steeply sloping deck without spilling everything. Freddy comes up the ladder and takes it.
I scramble aft, pull on my gloves and haul in on the heavy handline. We are making seven knots and the fish is unable to fight. It sticks its head out of the water and our speed lifts it right out, surfing along behind us. A big mahi mahi. All right! As I bring it alongside, Freddy readies the gaff, reaches down, and neatly hooks it in the throat. I take the gaff from her and hoist the slippery beast aboard.
As it hits the deck, Freddy tosses a towel over its eyes to calm it down - I kill it with a quick knife thrust to the brain.
Walter the cat appears on deck, rubs against my leg, shakes his tail, and supervises the cutting of the fish.
Mahi mahi are easy to clean. I slice big slabs of fish into steaks and put them into a plastic tub. Walter extracts a toll of a small piece of raw fish to let the big steaks pass by his toothy grin. Cutting up a big fish on a deck healed over 20 to 25o, leaping through the ocean is not easy. I finish by sloshing the deck with the bucket to get rid of the blood and slime and hobble back to the cockpit, exhausted.
By mid-afternoon the wind is honking at 30 knots and Moira, double-reefed with just the staysail unfurled, hardens right down and slices across the crystal clear sea.
"Exhilarating," I scream into the wind. "EX-IL-AR-ATING!"
We sizzle through the pass into the lovely little anchorage in Deboyne Lagoon. "According to Mr. Young," I shout over the howling wind, "Dusty Miller lives over there, on Nivani Island. He's got a good spot."
"It looks shallow," Freddy shouts back. In the calm of the lagoon, we fly along at 9 knots. The wind and spray is brittle on our faces and Freddy, hanging onto the big steering wheel, the wind whipping her hair about her face says, "We need some kind of force field to cover the cockpit."
Nivani's anchorage is about 12 feet deep and cluttered with shallow coral heads. We come into the wind just off Dusty Miller's bay and drop the sails. I climb into the rigging and look out for coral heads as we slowly motor in to anchor off the snowy beach. Nivani is a high, green little island with a village, a coconut plantation, and a rambling European style house on the hill overlooking the anchorage. We settle down to a nice fresh fish dinner and sac out early, pleasantly plump in every way.
The next morning, after breakfast, we dinghy ashore. The village, up close, is like most Melanesian villages. Shabby, corrugated iron huts, muddy paths, flies. Three scraggly, sick looking dogs shamble away from us suspiciously. There are few people around and they are not very happy looking, either. The children stay indoors and nobody says much. So, we just smile and amble up towards the big house to see Mr. Miller.
The path to the main house is leafy lush. From the top, we survey the whole lagoon. Moira rides like a white flower on the glittering turquoise sea. It is a scene out of a dream of paradise.We approach the house. Complete quiet. Nobody comes out. "I have a funny feeling" Freddy frowns. I glance from the empty windows to her face. "About this place." she adds.
I knock on the door and a middle-aged PNG man immediately whips it open. He must have had his hand on the knob. He is very....quiet and....something. His face is an expressionless mask. He says nothing at all, simply shows us through to an inner room. The house is dark and cool and strangely colorless after the tropical morning greenery outside.
Freddy and I stop just inside the inner door, both arrested in our tracks at the sight of Mr. Dusty Miller.
He sits all alone at a large table. Dusty is a big man, elderly, and gray. Not just gray haired, but gray everything. Gray faced, gray inside, gray aura, gray room. And even a gray smell, gray silence and gray temperature. He might as well be a stuffed specimen for all the reaction on his face. I find myself thinking about urgent things to get done on the Moira. The room is decorated with mementos of World War II. It really is remarkably like looking at a wax display in a museum,Dusty Miller included, except the eyes in the old mask shift, smoothly following the old PNG man who shuffles quickly out of the room.
Somehow, the thought of the two of them living together here in this house leaves a dreadful mental aftertaste. Dusty whispers, with a gray voice, "No matter how hard you try to be nice to them they lie, steal...they're no good. It's gotten so I hate natives." A snappy opening line, I must admit.
Dusty was born in Samarai, one of the elite Australian colonial families who, "Tried to make New Guinea decent for white men," as it says on a marble monument in the middle of that colonial town. He became the manager of Steamships - a trade store in Samarai - and eventually retired here to this plantation.
His monologue grays to how the Bloody Stupid Independent Government is taking the plantations away from their proper owners and returning the land to the natives. "Stupid. The places don't produce anymore, you know. Overgrown with weeds. These natives don't know how to take care of anything. Can't manage their own affairs. Look at the village, here. Did you see it? They are completely out of food. Can you imagine it? Go look in their store - empty. Go look when you go back to your boat. Empty! And they have no money, either. Completely out of food."
He looks at us and, seeing we are fidgeting, he makes an effort and clears the gray mask of his face, smiles a terrible gray smile and squeaks, "Care to stay for a feed?" I feel Freddy shudder next to me. This, thankfully, is as much enthusiasm for hospitality as he can manage.
The gray voice resumes, "Last week I had a lobster. Yes. First one in years. I tried to get one, you know, tried for years to get a lobster. I just called down to the store and said, `BOY, Bring me a lobster!' Ha, Ha....I said 'NO NONSENSE NOW!' I had pneumonia, you see. I hadn't been in the village for a long time. And then one of them knocked on the door with a lobster."
"Where did you get this? I said. "Master, we catch him for you," the boy said. Well, there you are, you see? I said, "I KNEW you could get them! From now on, No Nonsense, you get me a lobster every week. You hear?" "Yes Master," he said....." Dusty's eyes stare into some gray infinity and he adds, softly, "But they didn't bring one this week."
Dusty's eyes return to the room, squint into narrow lines and his face gets grayer. He turns to look at the war mementos. Photographs, bits of airplanes, Japanese swords. He opens his mouth to speak and......
"Well, I've got some bread rising, we've got to go." Freddy is up and out of the house in a shot - she doesn't even hear Dusty protest, "but you've only just arrived."
I start to say something to Dusty, look out the still open doorway at Freddy's retreating back, shrug and run after her.
We hurry through the sunlight, my lungs doing deep knee bends to bilge out Dusty's musty feeling. The villagers ignore us as we stride through the shacks towards the dinghy. Their faces reflect whole volumes of information about their lives here. They say, without words, we don't sing, we don't dance, we don't carve or make things or laugh very much. We are unhappy people, trying to make a go of it with our store and gardens, trying to live like the man in the big house.
"Not that I doubt Mr. Miller," I stop and check out the little local store. "Yup, he's right, it's empty."
"Except for cigarettes and beer," Freddy sees a small stack of cardboard cartons in the back of the shack.
"Of course, those could be empty, too." We go on towards the dinghy. "Probably not."
"They probably do have cigarettes and beer. Drugs are the last thing people give up." Like so many little local-owned trade stores, the owner goes broke because he simply can't refuse something to one of his one-talks. When a one-talk comes in wanting a beer but with no money, the beer walks out but no money comes in to buy more beer. Soon the store is empty and there is no money to buy more stock. Dusty is right, it happens everywhere in PNG and in the Solomons, too.
We climb back aboard Moira, turn, and look back on the idyllic little island paradise. The white sandy beach, the green lawn and flower gardens, the lazy palms and the liquid lagoon. "What a waste," Freddy echos my thoughts. "Such a lovely place."
I check the chart. It's too late in the day to make our next anchorage by nightfall. So Freddy and I putter around Moira, cleaning up odds and ends. Our minds keep going back to Dusty in the big house. "He was also right about the plantations no longer producing once the government gives them to the local people."
"It's not what he said, it's what he is." Freddy replies with her buns sticking up out of the freezer.
"What he is," I mull this one over.
"Yeah, sick. Twisted. The gray wreckage of the Aussie Colonial Mind. He should get out of here if he feels like that." She puts a plate of her delicious banana bread on the dinette.
"Oh, right. People do the dumbest things to themselves and to others." I sample some of the bread. "I was thinking...."
"Could have fooled me, I thought the banana bread had sent you into a feeding frenzy."
"Well, thinking needs a lot of energy," I wheeze through the mouthful of cake. "Look, here's the image.
One old man alone on this little island with a small, close-knit native population. He hates them. They hate him. But they also fear him because of his mysterious White Man Magic. What the villagers don't realize is the gray husk in the big house is not a human being, but a civilization. An Australian, English, European civilization. He is a character actor in a great anglo-saxon drama, playing the role of colonial master."
Freddy munches banana bread, too. "The villagers don't do much role playing."
"Don't think they can't," I warn, "I saw some pretty good character acting in Alatau. These guys prancing around playing Mr. Premier and Mr. Secretary and all these other Colonial Officer roles. But here in the villages, you're right. The individual human beings are just individual human beings." We go into the cockpit to wash down the banana bread with an ice-cold coke. Nobody is stirring on the little island, it looks deserted, like a stage set after the actors have gone.
"There are more than 740 different languages in Papua New Guinea. Not dialects, but different languages." I mumble, thinking out loud. "It's the basis of their main cultural feature, the one-talk system. In the old days, if you visited a neighboring village in the next valley you would find they didn't speak the same language and you would likely stay "for a feed" as the main course. This hostile behavior pattern broke up the islands into a quiltwork of little sub-cultures, each based on the one-talk system.
"Language is consciousness. We form our thoughts with words and words shape the kinds of things we can think about. Con - together and Scious - to know. Knowing together. The members of a one-talk share the same consciousness, the knowing together, the same spread of reality. In the 740 PNG languages, reality is mostly a social affair with strong ties to the forest and plants and the sea. Gregory Bateson says PNG languages are simple and direct when it concerns the physical world but highly complex with social matters. The people of the forests and seas of PNG sometimes speak pidgin English, but with few exceptions they do not share the secret of writing nor do they enjoy the secret of being a character actor."
Freddy stands up and stretches. Her wrap-around comes loose and slips to her waist. She just ignores it, enjoying my ogling eyes. "And English one-talks are different. There are too many individuals to share a `family tie' of the kind a tiny language system has."
"Mmmm, something like that," I pull her down onto my lap and nibble at her ear. "Like the old Greek actors wore a mask called a through-sound, a persona, our language invented verbal and later flesh masks so we can act out our roles as Mr. Premier or Mr. Secretary."
"Or Mr. Crazy Scientist," She squeals as I growl and bite at her throat.
Walter the Cat, seeing me attacking his favorite feeder, grabs my ankle with his claws and sinks his teeth into my foot. "YOW! You bit me, you little creep." I examine my wound. Monster Cat sits protectively next to Freddy's leg with his ears back.
"He thought you were really attacking me," Freddy laughs. His ears come forward one notch, indicating he might refrain from biting again providing he gets something to eat.
"I'd better get him something to eat and start dinner." She heads below with Walter right behind her, protecting her rear from further attack.
"The people of this little village can't come to terms with the European masks. Oh, they know about real masks. Like the ancient Greek actors, PNG witch doctors use masks and, on special occasions, the people use paints to create per-sonnas. During wars or exorcising an evil spirit the masks hide the frail and ordinary human beings, allowing them to perform acts an ordinary human simply could not do. The masks of PNG are magic works of art. They impact even the most jaded European minds." I swing down the companionway.
"Some of the Sepic River masks sell for thousands of dollars in New York," Freddy notes.
"What these people can't comprehend is how a language system, with its words and names and assigned roles, has become the nucleus for non-animal entities, creatures made of words and definitions - Names and personalities. They don't know this is the heart of the white man magic. Our masks are made of living human skin."
"Master Masks," Freddy digs into the freezer for a big lump of the fish we caught yesterday. "How about if I fix chili fish?" I nod agreement and Walter rubs against her leg as Freddy cuts him some fresh mackerel. "Master Masks. That's good. Master Masks are special mind-forms, made sacred by christening of names and assignment of duties. A European will defend `name' to the death. But these islanders assign no special significance to a name and often will have several names - a local name, a tribal name, a Christian name, or any name somebody decides to assign."
"A school teacher in Samarai told me she was shocked to discover most of the children in his class had made up their own names for use in school and had entirely different names in their villages," Freddy's wrap-around has again, to my resumed delight, slipped down around her waist as she fixes dinner. She is the perfect image of a maiden in paradise with the floral cloth jauntily hanging low on her silky hips.
I plop down at the dinette and watch her whip up dinner. "I can't help but think how strange we all are. The European actors and the people of the islands, are so much more than these idiotic language consciousness. Each human has a mind so intelligent, so brilliant, it can construct a human body from a single egg and make it function flawlessly in almost any circumstance and maintain it for years and years."
"Hmmm," she checks her cook book for the old Bahamian chili-fish recipe.
I hold up my hand and wiggle the fingers in front of my eyes. Everyone has a hand like mine. Few consciousness know even the minute surface details of their own hands. Fewer still know the complex web of blood vessels, muscles, tiny bones and sinuses and nerves working to make their hands do such wondrous...or such stupid things.
"Dusty Miller, and those village people, they all have hands like mine. They all have another mind within them. A mind so powerful and wondrous and deep it can make hands and eyes and even brains. The "conscious" mind is only a small fraction of the larger infinity mind. The personality is a Disk Jockey babbling inane jargon to an outside world - a world as unknown and unseen to the DJ as the inside world of its own body."
"Hmmm," Freddy says when I pause.
"You're not listening."
"Yes I am. Personality. Disk Jockey, small fraction of infinity mind." She turns and looks at me over her pretty shoulder, gives a cute French shrug. "I've heard it before."
"The ability to reach into the deeper mind depends upon the recognition it is there and having words available to allow conscious thought about our infinity mind. To know about the hand and its inner workings means learning the name of each bone, muscle, nerve fibre control, hormone balances, cellular structure, and so on. The disk jockey can only accomplish this through a script of names and definitions and descriptive links."
"Descriptive links. Oh Wow." She chuckles.
"You don't have to make smartass remarks," I complain.
"Why not? You take yourself too seriously."
"Humph. Anyway, it is possible to find a way to get the language consciousness together with the infinity mind without words. A way of learning to "think" without words. There are many paths which lead to the depths of the infinity mind."
As I think these thoughts, I give it a try and slide my conscious mind deeper inside, into the depths of my being. I discover there is a question I am asking...or am being asked...something like...(It is difficult to translate into words because there are so many levels to the question).
Freddy says, "Yeah? Well, how come hominids behave the way they do? With infinity minds capable of so much, why do we as individuals, do such stupid things to one another. Stupid things to ourselves, too."
"Exactly. Just the question I was asking myself." But there was more to it. Something to do with social behavior. The behavior of hominid populations, is different than individual behavior - both in the way it controls the population of individual beings (its laws and ethics) and in the way it controls itself.
Freddy presses on, "The infinity brain of individual hominids creates this larger mind system, correct? Why is it, then, a great and wondrous mind system able to build both individual hominds and hominid societies is often so stupid, brutal, and asinine?"
"Just the question I was asking myself," Or trying to, if she would just stop getting to the point before me. Really, the two questions are the same, and the link is...
She says, "OK, We have and are controlled by an infinity mind. The representatives of this mind, the disk jockeys with personal or professional names, do apparently wasteful and stupid things. Why? Or rather, ARE these actions we perform REALLY stupid or (sometimes) evil or is there a "plan" of some kind?"
"Exactly! Hey, listen, who's doing the pontificating here?"
"Sorry, go ahead, I'm cooking."
"So perhaps there is a plan of some kind where the myriad stupidities turn out to be exactly the right moves." I pontificate. Freddy starts to say something and I hold up my hand, "Ahhh! I know what you are going to say. What grand, evolutionary plan could possibly applaud the use of massive warfare on a global scale and a "return to the bush" on a PNG level? Or Dusty Miller, for that matter?"
"Not exactly the example I had in mind, but as an example of a great-plan stupidity, it will do."
"There is a fourth layer to the question, difficult in the extreme to put into words. It has to do with control - the elusive Moirae, the three sisters of fate. Individual hominid infinity minds create and yet are created by their collective, written language mind. Is there a collective plan? No, wrong question. What I mean is, Is there a means for the collective mind to act like an individual being and direct specific individual hominids to perform certain actions? If so, how is this done?"
"Say what? You're not making any sense."
"Damn. Damn. Damn. Not what I wanted to say at all! It's not right. It is a question of reality. Is Moirae real? Is there a destiny? Why do minds, able to build hands and electron microscopes, do the other stupid things they do? Must we really live this way?" I've lost it completely, now.
Freddy brings the chili fish to the table and bounces into the seat opposite me. She smiles and the fabric of my complex thoughts unravels while I snaffle down the delicious spicy fresh fish.
The sun is just setting. Freddy and I recline in the cockpit and watch it get big and orange. "Exquisite," I put my arm around Freddy and watch the horizon rotate up to meet the sun. The air is crystal clear and Freddy says, "Maybe we'll see the green flash." and I smile.
As Sun and Sea touch, a path of golden light dances gently in the evening breeze, extending from Sun into the center of my being. The pathway is my personal sun-river. No one else can see it, not even Freddy. She sees one, too, but it reflects from different waves, along a slightly different path of Sea's surface.
Sea drinks the last of the golden sphere, the first stars begin to glow in the deepest of blues high overhead, and - like a familiar ghost - a word drifts up from somewhere inside or perhaps from somewhere in the lagoon or the sunpath. The word is Mana. I stare up at the stars, feel the infinity of our Galaxy. Mana, a primitive, supersticious belief, as Webster says? Or a word-tag labeling something invisible, intangible, underlying all those questions about persona masks and destiny control and the Three Sisters of Fate, the Moirae.
Maybe here, in the wilderness of PNG, the tangled skein of Moirae threads, woven from the cosmic night, will come unraveled. It is, at least, a great place to be thinking about it.
"There! Did you see it? I saw the green flash!" Freddy jabs me in the ribs. "What causes it?" Freddy is really excited.
"Nobody knows." I didn't see it. Did she?