New Year's Day, Alone on Big Lagoon
“everything here / seems to need us” — Rainer Maria Rilke
Paddling in fog this morning, I think, is this what Pablo entered or what he left behind?
I can see barely to either end of my kayak, but I keep gliding forward—this fog making the visible world small, but also the unseeable oddly palpable and more real.
I’m not quite in the center of the lagoon. From above, I’d appear off kilter, tracking slightly seaward. The bar of sand between me and open ocean is a tawny smudge at the corner of my eye, allowing me the comfortable illusion that I’m contained within boundaries, my body being the first.
New Year’s Day. I’m here. Pablo is not. No, he is, by the mere recalling of his name. Pablo.
Dense, the fog moves little, behaves like another ocean, murky and dim. Somewhere, scientists say, are entire planets covered in ocean. Kepler-22b, a lousy name for a planet, may be a watery earth orbiting its own sun, floating along in the Milky Way, in the constellation Cyngus, that is, The Swan. But would such a world need wings, or only fins, tentacles, a single sticky foot? How is it to never know land? What if you lived so deeply you never saw your own sun?
A loon lets loose his eerie song, a tangled arc of shrill tones. He’s invisible. He exists now only as music. I don’t need to see him to believe in him. He calls again, as if expecting an answer that doesn’t come. Namaste, I whisper, wondering if he hears me. The word comes out as fog blending with fog.
Tiny beads of water hang from my eye lashes, and if I look straight up, they become strange lenses. A bright white stain spreads radially in one spot of the sky. The sun, muted. It’s good to know it’s out there doing its fusion, 600 billion tons of hydrogen turned helium every half a breath or so. Atoms colliding, rearranging, giving light and heat. Walt Whitman said, “For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.” Who invited him here? I’ll add, every human, and all that is not human, is a sack of recycled stuff. We not only belong to each other, Walt, we are each other.
Earlier, at the put-in, one river otter waited. A dripping comma on the bank, she paused to watch me launch my gaudy, orange ‘yak, then back to grooming tail and flanks. As I drifted away, she stood up in the mud and golden stubble, slipping to water like a sliver of time, all silk and glitter, quick and gone.
Now enveloped in mist, I see a subtle waking of the water toward me, a bubbling, then stillness. The water ripples again, a path of bubbles coming toward me and disappearing beneath me. She went under my boat! The water becomes slack and almost black. Then again, the otter inside in a ridge of water approaching, a living torpedo, the bubbles of her breathing presence slipping under my kayak then popping up on the other side.
Her shimmering, whiskered face, like a wet, wide-faced dog, bobs at the water’s surface so close I can touch her, but don't. I freeze, as we look at each other. Memorize her! Droplets are suspended from her eyelashes. The oily fur on her forehead is neatly combed into rows thanks to the force of pushing her face through the lagoon.
What does she make of me? Our eyes connect for what seems like an eternity but also quick as a wink. We exist in a rare moment outside of time. Finally, she drops into the oblivion of the lagoon. She’s followed me and moved on.
I look hard through the grey for her, but there is no seeing beyond a few yards, and the water is a near-perfect reflection of what’s above—more grey, a cormorant skimming by, a colorful knit hat, my eyes a blue iridescence, blinking.
It dawns on me that I knew Pablo only a bit better than this otter. How often do we look at ‘other’ and see the impenetrable, or worse, only ourselves? Young and the son of friends, he’s been gone less than a week. I try to conjure his face, but beyond a lighter version of his father’s curly hair, I can’t. Instead, I hear his voice talking about his two little dogs and his fiancé who sings opera, how far she travels and how he waits for her to come home. Held by a plastic boat, in no one’s sight, absent, I get it. I barely knew Pablo, but feel how much he loved his opera singer and those two little dogs. Perhaps we never know people, but feel them, like another form of gravity, a tidal force shifting inside us, through us.
I sit for a long time in the quiet of a pied-billed grebe diving and bobbing up, buffleheads running on water to lift away from me, occasional traffic on the hidden highway, ocean grinding shore with its stamping and applause, and the synthetic rubbing of my life jacket as it follows my breathing in and out.
Time to move on. To propel this kayak across Big Lagoon, is to push and pull simultaneously—one paddle edge coaxed through water while the other vaults through air. Now the dark depth of loss, now the bright possibility of living. Each time, just before I tip the paddle to break the surface, there is a subtle pause, and for a moment, I’m suspended between wet earth and wet sky.