15 April 2014 | Vuda Point Marina, Viti Levu, Fiji
Dear Friends and Family, May 7, 2014
"Au tale taka nikua" - I love this day!
I've been thinking about language¬...thinking about what it means. What does it mean to have the capacity to communicate through language and how does our use of language reflect who we are? Sitting at dinner on a seaside patio at sunset recently I was struck by the chatter of humans around me. The incessant chatter passionately pouring out a stream of emotion and information continued like the roar of a rushing river for hours while part of me sat quietly observing and part of me played my part in the same behavior. It was just a typical restaurant scene just as I'm sure it occurs every evening as these most social human creatures congregate like a caucus of crows in a tree. What other being spends so much time talking? We seem to long to cross the boundary of our individuality and share our thoughts and experiences with others. We long also to be heard and seen and felt by another. And we long to catch a glimpse of what is going on inside them as well. Certainly it seems that humans have developed communication and social sharing to an incomparable degree. Animals communicate for sure. They check in with each other and impart information. But a caucus of crows is the closest I have seen to humans at dinner time in a social setting. However, even crows don't conspire every evening day after day for hours. In fact for most animals dining is a pretty serious business.
Our language expresses our experiences and the richer our experience and exposure the richer our vocabulary. Our technologic vocabulary is growing at a rapid rate as technology consumes an ever growing part of our lives. Language is as alive and ever changing as our lives and as these lives become faster paced and more removed from nature, I wonder if some vocabulary has been lost as well. I know new species are being named all the time as the bounds of science continue to expand qualifying and quantifying our shrinking world. In a remote lagoon in Baja California a guide gave me two different species names for two brown birds who were both essentially renditions on the theme of small, dusty brown, long beaked and long legged. You know the kind of bird one sees on the beach at the water's edge scurrying along the tide line with their trousers rolled up so they can wade and their beaks long-- the better to find worms and such in the wet sand. I understand well the system of classification and what it tells us. I was raised in a family which sat beside mountain streams in meadows in the high Sierras with Sam Pusetary's book keying out the wild flowers. From the count of the anthers to the leaf morphology we stepped through the classification and I loved it. But surrounded by all the raw nature of the Baja desert and the remote lagoon, it occurred to me that having such long complicated and completely different names for the two brown birds to show they were not at all related despite their appearances was a bit decadent. We can keep ourselves very busy defining things.
I then wondered that we would have developed language to differentiate and define these two brown birds but we would not have developed a word to describe the wind gently blowing the still water of the lagoon into rippling wavelets. I also know of no word to describe the sparkle of light dancing on the face of these wavelets. It's odd that we have no word for eel grass which has washed onto the mangrove branches at high tide and hangs dry like biodegradable tinsel streaming stiffly horizontal in the breeze. I don't even think we have a name for the color of sun dried eel grass or the ever so subtle sound of it rasping dryly against itself in the silence of the lagoon ecology. Why have we no word to describe the peaceful awe experienced when riding in a rowboat slipping through still water in close proximity to encroaching mangroves one rounds a bend and is quite suddenly poured out into a vast open pond which seems to suck one's soul instantly into the freedom of that expanse? What about a name for the sudden realization that what appeared to be the bark of a tree is not actually bark but thousands of migrating butterflies? And how about a name for that moment when amongst all the leaves in all the trees one suddenly spies a bird holding perfectly still?
Is there a name for a constantly mineralizing dry salt lake fed by ocean water a few feet beneath the surface when late in the day the shadows stretch impossibly long across the smooth white salt and faraway mountains float at the edge of the world like a mirage? Is there a word which means if you stand too still in such a place the salt seems to be creeping up insidiously as though to permanently encrust unwary trespassers anchoring them through mummification to this all too concrete plane?
Why is there no word for the playful antics of a baby grey whale sliding on her belly down her mother's back nor any word to describe so many whales blowing all around you that you don't know where to look and feel as though you almost can't breathe or maybe don't need to? Was there ever a word for the sideways swish of a whale's tale creating powerful swirls of water deep beneath my boat? And what of the swish which is so close to my boat that it causes a bit of a bump? Did that once have a name? Or does it still in some seagoing culture?
When did we lose the name of a chill wind gusting through a pitch black night against a backdrop of brilliant, twinkling, punctate stars overhead? How did we miss naming the faraway, hollow and mighty exhalation of a whale echoing across a smooth lagoon at twilight and perceived by a lone and silent silhouetted beachcomber? What can I call the pregnant pause which follows the fast beat of a playful romping chorus and prepares us for a deep pensive phrase?
I would have thought these would have been some of the first things man would have named in those simpler days in the beginning as the majesty of nature impressed herself upon his being. Perhaps we have just forgotten. I hope this season is a time for me to remember the old names. And in the midst of the remembering I hope to also find the word for the gratitude of sharing these heartfelt moments of awe with a friend. And if we don't stumble upon the words or find them sequestered deep in our oldest wisest selves, perhaps we will just have to make something up. Because if our language is to stay as alive as we are, it will need to evolve to a new level. That might be fun too!
A few more days and The Rose will be ready to splash and the page will turn onto a new adventure -or should I say the ongoing adventure of life continues¬....
Much love, Pat and John S/V The Rose still in the cyclone pit at Vuda Point Marina, Viti Levu, Fiji