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Exquisite Corpse - A Journal of Letters and Life

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The Children of the Sea
by Jann Burner ||
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Until the 1980's most kayaks were of the white water variety, fast and maneuverable on a swift moving river but short, low in volume and relatively unable to hold a straight line on the ocean. They offered an exhilarating ride, but little encouragement to travel. The long-distance cruising kayaks that we are so familiar with began to make their appearance in large numbers upon the West Coast of North America around the year 1985. Seemingly overnight, ocean kayaking centers began to spring up and increasing numbers of cruising kayaks were to be seen in and about the bays and estuaries of the West Coast of the United States and Canada. These touring boats were much larger than their brothers of the river, being usually fifteen to twenty feet in length and capable of carrying one, two or even three people with adequate supplies over long distances in safety and relative comfort.
      By 2002, hundreds of men and women were observed cruising the coastal waters between Alaska and the Sea of Cortez. In the summer of the year 2003, U.S. Coast Guard spotters in Northern California observed seven hundred kayaks pass Point Reyes headed South. The emergence of these Sea Gypsies, as described by the media of the day, can be explained in part by the Crash of 02, which drove a failing economy over the edge and sent untold millions to the streets and to the woods in search of work, food and personal freedom. For a lot of people on the coast at this time, the initial step off onto the sea seemed most natural. For a minimal initial investment, they found essentially unlimited freedom. With a well outfitted ocean kayak they were tied to neither gas station, welfare office or complex industrial technology.
      At first the small boats were almost unnoticed upon the bays and inlets of Washington, British Columbia and California; mostly they belonged to day trippers out for a frolic in the sun. But, as their numbers grew, the more adventuresome began to take to the unprotected waters of the coasts, intent upon duplicating and expanding upon the adventures of those early, near legendary cruisers like Romer, Lindemann, Caffyn, Dyson, Gillet and many others too numerous to mention. Eventually some hearty souls began to actually live on the water, travelling the coastal shoals, obtaining their protein from the ocean as well as the coastal forests and the remainder of their nutritional needs from the new seaside gardens.
      The government of the day, ever anxious to break up pockets of poverty or at least keep the poor out of sight, turned a blind eye to the public vegetable gardens which began to spring up along the Pacific Coast from Alaska to Mexico. Soon countless kayakers began to follow the crops south, harvesting apples in Washington and artichokes, asparagus and brussel sprouts, among other items, in California. The route very quickly became known as the Veggie Trek and its boundaries were expanded every year.
      Suddenly there was a new breed of savage. Usually college educated, these kayakers equipped with fish line and snorkeling gear became the gypsies of the sea. With the introduction of cheap water makers in the early nineties and small solar-powered auxiliary motors by '01', many individuals began to complete the entire circuit between Glacier Bay and The Bay of Conception, on the East coast of the Baja peninsula, within a year and a half. This activity was called Coasting and these adventurers referred to themselves as The Children of The Sea.
      By 2003 there would be observed isolated camp fires burning far into the night upon the more remote beaches of the Western coast of the Americas. And seated around these fires would be the most diverse group of individuals ever assembled outside of a war. Mountain trekkers, river runners, campers and back-country specialists of many kinds, gold miners from Alaska, taxi drivers and Dead Heads from San Francisco, poverty stricken musicians, aerobic instructors, hod carriers, college professors, NASA scientists and unemployed computer programmers, brought together by their love of the ocean, kayaking and the quest for personal freedom. Reminiscent of the mountain men of the previous century, these citizens wore suits of rubber instead of leather and had adopted ocean waves and swells instead of mountain ridges or desolate prairies as their roaming grounds. The original voyagers were usually loners and not terribly young, most having reached at least thirty years of age with many in their forties, and more than a few in their fifties as well. But within a few years entire families began to organize and travel, gathering each morning upon the beach beneath vibrantly colored flags denoting clan.
      At first it was thought that the voyagers were merely following the weather patterns on their journey south, but some documents recently discovered in an old magazine point to the fact that they were following or traveling with whales on their path south. It is unknown who made contact first, the kayakers or the whales, but this early journalist states that specific whales and dolphins traveled with specific groups of kayakers, in order, it was thought, to show The Children of The Sea where the birthing grounds were located. In any case, the lesson bore fruit, and the first documented human birth in the sea took place in 2002, near the entrance to Scammon's Lagoon on the Pacific side of the Baja peninsula. The child was the now legendary Mary Tree. As near as can be determined, her mother became pregnant somewhere along the coast of Oregon. Later, many more salt water birth occurrences were reported and it became a matter of great pride to give birth to one's son or daughter in warm salt water while in the presence of whales and dolphins.
      I remember my great-grandfather taking me aside when I was a boy, to confide in me that he had been born in the Bay of Conception, in the shadow of a grey whale. My mother told me later that he had lied. Nonetheless, when he died he left me a strange artifact, which he referred to as his Spirit Caller. It was a piece of rippled tube about three feet long, said to be made from the intestine of a sea mammal and which, when swung about the head emitted an eerie sound. It was used (or so I was told) to signal to whales that a human birth was about to take place. The father would swing the spirit caller throughout the birthing process so that this might be the first sound heard by the newborn. The instrument would then be presented to the child as his or her very first earthly object. The child would carry it with him throughout his life to signal the birth of his own children and if all went well, eventually it's sound would be heard one last time to signal to the whales that a brother was leaving this earthly frame and he would be buried with his original Spirit Caller.
      Because my great-grandfather realized that he no longer lived among "free" men, he designated me as heir to his Spirit Caller. My parents smiled indulgently as he placed it in my young hand upon his death bed. But I have kept it all these years and it hangs now on the wall above my desk as I write. Someday perhaps I shall have the opportunity to summon a whale using my great-grandfather's instrument.
      One might wonder how these unemployed gypsies found money to pay for their essential needs, such as solar batteries, fish hooks and expensive boats. It is known that here again the government of the day unwittingly came to the rescue. After the Crash of '02', the Federal Government, ever alert to potential revolution, undertook to break up pockets of the severest poverty by offering travel money and relocation grants to the unemployed and the destitute. An individual without work or money would be offered a $1,000 one time grant to travel on to another, less depressed location in hopes of finding suitable work; similarly, an individual with a permanent address was eligible to file for a low interest relocation loan which would give him or her up to five thousand dollars with which to relocate to a more economically active area.
      With this government money, a neophyte adventurer could purchase a perfectly fine seventeen foot ocean cruising kayak with separate bulkheads and a surface composed of fourth-generation solar cells with which to power his stereo, GPS unit or VHF transceiver. Many options were available. Later, of course, when the new child of the sea became more proficient, he or she would devise the means to obtain one of the new-generation clear glass kayaks. These were called Crystal Ships. Totally clear and essentially invisible in the water, they were made of a high strength but very light glass developed by NASA and turned into kayaks by a group of disgruntled space scientists after the massive lay-offs of 2001. These boats were utterly indestructible; one could land them on rocks without the risk of a scratch, and they had a secondary quality which endeared them to their owner:; they emitted a tone when struck with a solid object. Because each boat's sound was entirely unique, one lone kayaker could hail another over a long distance by merely striking the side of his boat with the handle of his paddle. Even in a dense fog a lone voyager could keep track of his fellow travelers by merely striking the side of his cockpit with his paddle while completing a stroke. In this way, one always knew where everyone was. Often a family or clan would order their boats tuned to specific tones and on long cruises, groups would click their cockpit combings in unison and send out a clear musical chord far across the water. Later on, the ritual of "thumping the hull" became very complex and individual clans would actually create their own music. One of my most prized possessions is an extremely rare CD of a kayaking clan celebrating a sunrise over Isla Espirtu Santo in the Sea of Cortez.
      The Crystal Ships were very beautiful. Their decks, fitted with the newest transparent solar panels, featured miniaturized GPS-VHF-Stereo modules which were removable with a mere snap of the fingers and quite useful for overland travel. The government of course knew very little about these latter refinements because to own a crystal ship meant that you were a committed child of the sea and frequented none of the places populated by government types.
      Since many of the children possessed gifts of spirituality and imagination, it was no surprise when hyperbolic tales began to emerge from around the glowing fires of these hi-tech aborigines. Through the process of speech they would share their ideas, concepts, mind pictures and fears as well as the random musings which come and go in the mind of the lone cruiser. The more interesting anecdotes were saved, reconsidered from time to time and embroidered upon, or edited and tightened much like fine short stories to be shared later with new friends on even more isolated beaches.
      This pattern of speech, referred to as "Speak" or more usually "Intuitalk", was a technique whereby these sea gypsy's attempted to bypass the labyrinth of the intellect and speak directly and extemporaneously from the richness of what they called the mind ground. They even had a curious custom where they began to interview their children as soon as the child began to speak.
      They would ask the young human such things as "Where did you live before you came here?", "What caused you to pass over in your last life?", "What did you do in your other life?" and "How do you know me?" Apparently the parents were trying to establish a sense of serial continuity in the mind of the child so as to reduce the sense of alienation so common in their city brothers and sisters. These little intuitalk dialogues would of course be tape recorded and given to the child to become part of his or her Earth Kit along with other important items like the previously mentioned Spirit Caller. This tape was intended eventually to be played beside the person's death-bed in the hope that listening to his or her own child voice describing the other side and another life would ease the transition for the now aged entity about to cross over. This entire taping process was referred to around their fires as the Return to Earth Ceremony. It would seem that we are all immortal light beings and everyone on Earth is an imperfect model striving towards perfection. This is a secret which we all hold in common.
      Within the extended cruising family clan, citizen anthropologists have been able to isolate six specific levels of archetypal entities. First we have what we might call the simple Thirty-Day-Adventurer or tourist. These people usually traveled in a group under the watchful eye of a professional guide and the mere prospect of sleeping on the ground was viewed as an exotic event.
      Second in this hierarchy was the Writer-of-Words, the individual who went on extended trips with the group and then sold his words and images to the societal herd through articles in books and magazines in order to finance his next adventure. It is this second level voyager that has proven to be our prime source of information. This particular type of vagabond was, often as not, a wolf of the steppes; too wild to ever be completely domesticated, somewhat alienated and unable to fit into normal society and yet too fearful to ever break completely free. This person was far too much of an addict to the fringe attractions of the urban scene like clean sheets, television, single's bars and good restaurants.
      The third level of this anthropological stratification was typified by the Cruising Jeweler. This, our scientists now believe, was the first individual to totally break with the land and the mainland culture of the day. These individuals took a lesson from the Hopi and the Navajo of the 19th Century and turned bits and pieces of silver and ivory and bone into items of personal adornment. They carried a minimum of supplies but still managed to turn out attractive as well as valuable works of art that we have all seen in museums. They traded their creations to the writer-of-words and sometimes to the thirty-day-adventurer and thus obtained the small funds they needed to survive.
      The fourth level constituted the beginning of the Shaman class. Here we find the famous Scrimshaw Artist who recorded legends and other magically significant images upon bone, ivory and tusk. The scrimshaw man (or woman) usually traveled alone for a good portion of the year and could be described as a co-creator and certainly a prime designer of the life fable, which is how the Children of The Sea viewed their earthly sojourn.
      The fifth level of Coaster was the Teller-of-Tales, the shape-shift, the true guru of the water. Sometimes this type of individual was referred to in legend as Orca Man because it is said that he was able to transform himself into Ornicus Orca--the killer whale, or as some people thought, he was an Orca who was able to transform himself into a man. The teller-of-tales or "stalker of words", or "word-catcher" always lived alone but sometimes came to the fires of traveling clan groups late at night to tell his stories and weave his magic. Some would accompany their stories with music or song, but often as not they would simply rely upon the power and the magic of the spoken word. A teller-of-tales would recount strange and wonderful things to those gathered around the edge of the fire's glow.
      The sixth and most obscure level of coastal cruiser was occupied by the entity known as the Selkie. This was reported to be a female presence only viewed dimly at sunrise or sunset. Never seen directly but only spotted from time to time in the fog or in the distance gliding away. To have encountered a Selkie was to have one's life transformed! The Selkie was a truly magical creature spending part of its life as a seal (which ironically was food for the Orca) and part as a human, and when in human form it was said to be a female of such incredible beauty that all who chanced across her path fell in love in the deepest recesses of their being. The Selkie was said to often reside in the deep fjords of South East Alaska, and she was sometimes referred to as Shadow because that is usually the form in which she has been reported: a mere shadow slipping across a rock face deep in a glaciated canyon. The Selkie was--and some say still is--the link between this world of three dimensions and the world of the original Children of The Sea. She is said to come to certain men, like the Teller-of-Tales, in their sleep and from that moment on, their life fable unfolds in a most magical fashion.
      Over a period of years and thousands of combined miles of travel, a series of catch words, phrases, metaphors and analogies were built up between Coasters, creating a unifying mythos most generally referred to presently as Tales from the Children of The Sea. Sometimes these were true stories; sometimes they were magic lessons designed to educate those seated around the place of fire. Sometimes they were just meant to humor and to entertain. These creations were shared in so many different ways, in so many different places that today one can no longer separate the imaginative fabrication from the kernel of truth. Some say that all the tales spoken and later recorded concerning The Children of The Sea were utter lies. These are the people who would have us believe that no group was ever that free. Others disagree and believe that the intuitive mind of these perimeter men and women had somehow managed to tap into nothing less than the true story of human kind; of how it was, and how it will be again.

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