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Freddy and Walter Cat put the Moira to bed after we arrive in Tagula

Words Apart

Moira sails up the leeward side of the Calvados Chain, and beats through Uli Bonna Bonna pass, right into a screaming 30 knot wind with double reefed main and the staysail hauled in hard and flat. We tack up behind Wanim Island, turn and shoot down through Popomwem Passage and Doga Siu Siu pass, and round up into the wind in the lee of Nimoa, where the Catholic Mission pokes out of the greenery.

Chart of the NW corner of Sudest Island in the Tagula Lagoon.

Two fathers paddle out in a canoe to say hello. One of them is the priest Dennis Young told me to look up, Father Joe. They decline an invitation to come aboard. I give them one of the big mackerels we caught today. It overlaps the gunnels of their canoe and by their expressions, I half expect them to start blessing me. At least the Church knows all about accepting gifts. The fathers repay us with joyful, sincere smiles. It is really all we want.

We motor over to the Government Center on Bobo Hai Point. Dennis Young said Matthew Polisbo had a trade store and home at the landing. He's the man to see. Freddy and I hoist the dinghy over the side and put on the outboard. I load in the other big fish we caught today and go ashore.

There is nobody around the landing. I heft the slimy mackerel over my shoulder and struggle up the path to what must be the trade store (it is the only building in sight). A starving filthy black and white dog spies my fishy cargo and skulks along behind me. Island people would give the Animal Rights movement hemorrhoids. Dogs and cats and pigs scavenge what they can. They are always on the verge of starvation, covered with skin diseases, and treated with indifferent brutality. The dog edges closer, moving head down, sideways, showing a few of its ugly teeth. I bend over and make like I'm selecting a rock from the ground and the dog immediately runs off at top speed, tail between its legs. Islanders are good shots with rocks.

A young girl in a missionary dress is sweeping the dirt in front of the trade store.

A big basket of fruit from Matthew.

"Is Matthew Polisbo here?" I ask. She stares, transfixed, at the Mackerel, then looks down at her bare feet and shakes her head no. My arm is breaking, but I don't want to set the fish down on the ground. One can see its history of pig shit and dog shit with hardly any effort at all. I swing the fish to my other arm and hold it out to her. This is easier said than done as the fish is nearly as long as the girl is tall and very heavy. "I have a gift for Matthew."

"He is in the bush" she says in Real English, meaning he is tending his garden. "I am his daughter." I hand her the fish and she carries it inside as lightly as if it was a one ounce can of sardines. Strong for her size. She immediately reappears in the door with a big basket filled with papayas and limes. "Matthew has a gift for you," she mumbles shyly, her smooth little muscles bulging under the weight of the basket.

Freddy tends the BBQ as the sun, uh, the sun....In the evening, Freddy and I sit in the cockpit drinking a cool blenderized papaya drink spiced with a twist of fresh lime. The anchorage is lovely. Flat calm, not much wind. The island is neat and reasonably clean and the people speak good English - no doubt due to the efforts of the Catholic Mission.

I feel good. Exhausted, but happy to have made the trip, pleased with the way we sailed all the way from Samarai right into a 20 to 30 knot headwind with rough seas, reefs everywhere, uncharted lagoons....We did well. Plus we have jammed the freezer full of fish, we have a big basket of fresh papayas from Matthew's daughter, and we are about to get to work on our pearl oyster study. Life is damn near perfect.

"Where do you think they are?" I ask contentedly.

"Who are?" Freddy snuggles up close to me.

I sweep my arm out over the peaceful, tropical lagoon glistening in the sunset. "The Gold Lip Pearl Oysters," I capitalize every word.

"You"ll find them," she says, inflating my ego.

"You bet. Tomorrow we unload our equipment and go find them." Freddy goes below to get some mackerel ready for the BBQ. I go aft and start the driftwood burning.

"I'll bet those Fathers are fanging that mackerel right now, probably thought it was a gift from heaven." Freddy does not reply.

I was in an airplane once, with a young Catholic Father sitting next to me. "Tell me about God," I said. He looked embarrassed, and then suspicious. He waffled around a bit but had no clear answer for me. Lots of vague stuff about Faith. He couldn't define that either (it actually means friendship, a relationship that supports confidence - as in relating deep secrets). As I watch the gathering sunset, I lazily ask my Inner Voice to define God. Inner Voice is never shy about things like that.

"The Bible defines God. The Gospel According to St. John. Chapter 1. "In the Beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God."

"Is that right? I thought the quote came from Genesis or something.", I reply to Inner Voice.

The sunset turns the drifting clouds a gentle shade of pink. Delightful. Calm. I wait for Voice to go on. Voice says nothing more. That's it. God is defined in the Bible. A word? "What a cop-out, Voice," I taunt.

With this, side thoughts begin to crystalize around the concept of God as a word. The way a snowflake builds symmetrically around a seed. I grab my log book and try to write down some of these ideas, while reflecting that the ideas about words are not actually words, but really are like a crystal growing.

First concept, I write: There are two divisions of words. Some define things we can see. Like the Sun. Sun is there. Words or no words, any animal and even any plant can be aware of Sun. Other words define non-observable targets. God is one of those words with no pointable target.

"Wrong," pipes up Voice, chortling as if I have stupidly fallen into a mind trap. "Words are tangible, pointable targets. God is a word. In the beginning there was the Word and the Word was God."

"Well, sure. Right. very funny. But the word describes something, the word is not the thing itself." But then I think about this a little deeper. Voice is actually correct. There is a kind of mental inversion here - a shift in viewpoint.

God exists, as far as human consciousness goes, in language - we could not "know" God if we could not speak of him. In fact, if we could not talk, we would not "know" very much of anything. "Knowing" is also a word. Knowledge is a group interaction process - not an individual thing. God is something we talk about, between people, under special circumstances. Very special ritual circumstances. God, the word and the concept behind it, is a group mind event.

Another thought crystalizes. Second concept.

Disk jockeys don't really understand words. They normally don't know the historical origins of the words they use every day. Like person or consciousness or God. Our conscious minds have not the slightest inkling how or where words originate in the brain. Nor do we have even the slightest inkling of how the mind/brain/body manages to conjure them into vocal manifestations. Commentators don't realize the depth and vitality and reality of words. Words contain layers of controls altering our mental functions and ducting our thinking. Control words. Like God. Exactly like God.

A computer has a "shell" of programming language to interface between the "user" and the machine language. Use a command word and the whole system undergoes profound and often lengthy calculations, manipulating input data to yield a displayed set of figures or words according to the algorithms programmed into the computer. Our words, some of them anyway, are commands in a language "shell" and these commands have an impact right down to the molecular level of our body.

Still another thought crystalizes. This one has many beautiful, delicate patterns. They kaleidoscope together to form a whole tapestry of meaning. It is about science. Third Concept:

Science is a way to learn how to point to things and thus define words. Words are defined belief systems. But words quit being belief when we can point to the objective thing the words define.

Voice flags the word "thing" as it passes out of my speech center in my brain. The flag says, "The defined system does not have to be a thing". In fact, there is no such thing as a "thing". All objects are interacting relationships.

The final, disturbing thought is like the air that supports a snowflake as it drifts down: Last thought:

There is no final thought. All our personal perceptions, all our visions and feelings are open to question. The greatest danger is easy acceptance of the obvious. Understanding arrests further observation and thus seals mind into levels almost certainly wrong in some respect. The ability to maintain more than one belief system concerning the same topic is what gives diversity and depth to thought. Wise men and fools are the most credible of all.

For untold millennia, everyone agreed on sunrises and sunsets. I look out to the western horizon and see the drama of the Tropical Sunset unfolding yet again, now a deep red, dazzling proof positive sunsets actually happen. Sunrises and sunsets are control words and they turned out to be wrong.

Science, a mode of thinking suspending belief in even the most obvious things, discovered the sun does not set. We are on a spinning planet and the planet's rotation gives an earth-bound observer the illusion of a setting sun. I think about the shift in hominid thinking the discovery of a spinning Earth made. And the shift in my own thinking when, a few months ago, the scientific pontificating became reality and I actually perceived the Earth spinning. In both cases - on a populational level and a personal level - there was a mental shift from Earth, the center of God's Universe, to a small planet circling a small star in a vast ocean of space. And from there, my own mind went on to the perception of a living, aware stellar system in a sentient Universe.

Freddy and I sit on the cooking gas boxes, watching the fish sizzle on the BBQ. It is so lovely I go and get my camera to take a shot between turnings of the filets.

There are levels of observation error, and data display error, for individuals as well as for mankind's group mind. But science, by consensus definition, accepts error as a normal, expected part of observation. Science insists on methods of observing the same results again and again. The need to see something already "known" again implies acceptance of the known containing the unknown. The will to disbelieve. Lack of faith is what gives science a bad religious reputation.

Christianity says believe in only one God and in the Word of God as revealed in the Holy Bible. And the Bible defines God as a Word. God exists and is real. God is a word, as the Bible is words, as Sunday sermons are words, as thoughts are words, as consciousness is words, as Mankind is words.

Voice has shown me something important. The infinity mind of hominid/mankind is a tapestry woven with threads of words. Words are strange and wonderful things. Much more strange and wonderful than I've ever given them credit for before.

I think about Dusty Miller and the seemingly stupid things people do to each other. There is no doubt whatever Christianity has a purpose, a non-individual group mind purpose. Something more than solace for the masses or good English for the people of Tagula. Religion has been one of the major selective forces of mankind.

God, the Word, changed apes into Mankind.

I taste a metallic danger just thinking about this.