Sentinel of the Seas

lighthouse photo

The day is waning. Along the horizon, below the slate-grey bank of cloud, the sash of fiery orange glows brighter. The light orb appears, its white-hot heat ebbing into the cool evening, like the tide receding before me.

The sun sinks further, drawing a coral path over the sea, painting the smooth wet sand with blood red tones that fade to a slumbering violet on the shaded ridges.

Reverberations echo within. The warm being is climbing the steps. Round and round. He reaches the lantern room and pauses. I feel him become small for a moment, and listen to the panting breaths. If I concentrate, I am able to breathe with him as the air grows tight and cold and the stone dissipates the day’s accumulated warmth.

The being stretches tall and moves around; touching here, polishing there. Sounds burst from him, like the tweeting of a bird.

Do not awaken the dawn. Not yet. I draw in to myself, and hear a crack from the wooden railing.

The tweeting ceases. The door opens and the being comes outside. He sniffs. The wooden rail trembles beneath his hand. “Well, my lady, this is it, huh?”


The paint is peeling from my body and soon I will be useless, left for the birds to besmirch; the glass at first chipped, then slowly shattered as rocks are endlessly hurled by the sea. I am no lady, more a battered, disease-ridden crone.

“I’ll light ’er up then.”

I brace myself but he closes the door gently. I will miss the slam that ricochets to the ground and makes me tremble.

The next moment a stunning beam of light hits the waters. This time it’s me splashing a path over the ocean. I am queen when the king of the day sleeps.

Yet no longer; this is my last eventide as the sentinel of the seas.

The sun slips beyond the day, and darkness flows after the path of the beam, only to flee when my light chases back.

I wish for a crashing storm to mark the passing of my significance, a furious tempest; it would be a more fitting rite than the quiescence my eye beholds.

A light fog condenses just before dawn, but the ray cuts through the mist, strong, faithful. The air changes, softens. Birds awaken, and invite Aurora with their songs.

Below, the old wooden door slams shut. A shudder shakes my body; the light wavers a moment, then returns true. The warm being climbs slower today, his steps discrepant. He has lived long, but I, longer.

And now, after a century of exemplary service, my wide beacon will be extinguished, like a candle in a puff of wind.

Black greys into a muffling mist. He flicks the switch.

The world lives on, yet I am neither alive nor dead. I am nothing. Without a purpose. Invisible.

The being steps out and leans on the railing. Warmth curls around the wood. A finger of smoke lifts and snaps the freshness of the air.

“Hnh. Didn’t expect them so early.” He grinds the hot twig into the stone beneath his foot. “Come to watch the whales. That’s our job now, my lady.”

The sun lifts further. For a moment, the drops of moisture sparkle; iridescent rainbow shimmers that hover in the air until they burst, their colours coalescing into a brilliant white.

Warm beings swarm up inside. They lean on the rail, whispering, pointing. Then a squawk. “Look, a whale! There!”

My stone warms and expands; settles.

So this is who I have become.

Still sentinel of the seas.




The Pond

goldfish photo


The pond lay silent, like an open grave that had not been disturbed. Ice filmed the surface, freezing the plants below in a snapshot of life. Vivid green when they captured the sun’s rays, these filaments now stretched like black fingers, as if intending to squeeze the vitality from every life form they encountered.

A goldfish flicked amongst the leaves, a glimpse of fire in a gelid world.
She stepped forward. The snow crunched underfoot, like the sound hard biscuits make when you bite them. Biscuit. The word meant twice-cooked. Like toast. That crunched too. The air around her barely breathed, so she held her own, thinking if she concentrated, she might know what it was to be at one with nature.

She tore her gaze away from the hidden secrets of the water and up to the heavens. The orange sun hovered above the horizon, suspended as if it, too, had forgotten to breathe, had forgotten it lived. Fingers of cloud puffed pink and red streams into the dark sapphire sky. Unable to hold still, she loosed the air from her lungs. White fingers flowed out of her mouth. The Bible said that God had breathed life into Adam and Eve. Did that mean life was in the breath, as well as the blood? Did we breathe out small elements of our spirits every time we exhaled? Maybe that was why the bonding of two people was so precious. Because elements of their spirits, their souls, mingled, became one. So, she mused, did that mean when someone you loved died, small parts of those left alive, those who had breathed with them, also died?

She thought so. When her baby had died a few months ago, part of her had died. Or else lay frozen, like the plants under the ice, waiting for the sun’s heat to reinvigorate them. The long winter of her soul had just begun, yet where in nature there was the promise of new life, regeneration, she had no such reassurance. What if that part of her remained lifeless? She had never realised how much energy it took to maintain lifelessness. How long could the plants live under water without the sun’s heat and energy?

Crouched down, her bottom brushing the snow, she removed her glove and stuck her little finger through the ice. Cracks fled from the hole and she blew gently on the surface. The thin sheets of ice were forced further apart and she exulted in her small victory. The shadowy tendrils waved at her, acknowledging her kinship with them. It’s fine to sleep now, they seemed to say, conserve energy for re-growth. The plants might grow in another direction once the sun’s warmth coated the earth. Could her spirit grow in another direction?

Grief was a form of death. It silenced laughter, swallowed appetite and screwed all that was good down into a ball of frozen horror inside your stomach. They never told you about the livid scars, the living fingers of death like anxiety and hopelessness.


Her son’s piping voice wound through the air, a river of love melting the glacial walls a drop at a time. Yes, she could grow in another direction. Yes, there was her reassurance of life. Yes, there was her goldfish.

goldfish photo

The Canyon



The twisted layers of pinks, oranges and browns, the flashes of red and green hypnotize me, pull me forward. Vaguely aware of murmurs behind, I step nearer, closer.

‘Stop!’ Someone, a man, calls out, but I ignore him and soon human noise melds seamlessly with nature’s hush.
I stare to the right, down the canyon. The Colorado river is but a distant hiss on the edges of my awareness. All I am is concentrated on the yawning space below.

The Chasm. Was it really formed over thousands, nay, millions of years by the thin brown snake now languishing beneath? It must have been a much larger river at some point to create this yaw, this immensity. I slowly ease cross-legged on to the smooth ledge that juts from under the rim.

The Rim. What a perfect way to describe the edge of mortality.

For a moment or two, I close my eyes and listen. Emptiness isn’t silent. It breathes, this canyon, from the tugging whispers of the wind to the headlong rush of the river. I am alone here. Alone with nothingness; alone in beauty.

The clatter of stones into the abyss is an ugly intrusion, like a screech mid-sentence, a whiff of unpleasance amidst perfumes of rose and jasmine. Motionless with regret for a moment, I hold my breath to see if I would hear them arrive at their eternal rest, but any rattle is swallowed by the susurration of stillness.

I shift again, sending more pebbles down through the layers of time, and wonder what those ancients thought when they beheld this gaping wound in the land. Perhaps the red rocks are the canyon’s blood, draining to the river that sliced ever deeper.

This is not my first time here, but this is the first time I have obeyed the crushing whim to seek the truth of this ravine, to find the answer to the eternal question.

My heart beats faster as I contemplate what I wish, nay, need to do. Inhaling deeply of heat and pine, I open my eyes and look down. The Emptiness weighs heavy, like something trying to suffocate me. I lean forward and breathe the beckoning call of allure, the draw of desire. Would I float? I think I might.

Vertigo crashes over me and I’m falling, flying. A scream burdens my lungs, pushing to escape. Am I up? Am I down?
Instead of a harsh, strident shriek, there are only whispers – flutterings of sound that kiss.

My legs grow numb and I smile, for now I am flying. I can no longer feel the rock digging into my bottom. I can float, after all. With the deep blue stretched above me, the rich, pastel hues and striations below, I am part of God’s painting.

Me. Only me.



The Oak Tree



A snowflake lands on the old, cracked knot that is my nose. It sits there a moment then fizzes away, leaving my nose tingling from the not-unpleasant brush with winter. Would this be my last?

I have seen countless seasons come and go.  Gentle spring breezes and rains ease me into growth. Leaves soak in the sun’s hot rays to turn lushly verdant before autumn’s winds blew hard, tearing them from my twigs, throwing them to the ground and trampling upon them with violent drops of rain or hail. But they had done their job, providing food enough to sustain me through bleak, harsh winters. Now they would merge with the soil, relinquishing their parts to nourish the earth. Always the cycle. Reassuring. Unending. In years to come, perhaps my rotting bark would nourish the young oaks already growing around me, jostling for space in the busy undergrowth, reaching for light hidden by my long, stretching limbs.

Ungrateful youths, they attacked my strong, deep roots with their twisting tendrils of  seekers, oblivious to the protection afforded by my greatness. Another snowflake. Another. Soon my brown, gnarled, twisted ropes will be clothed with soft white as hoary frosts drench me with their damp, frozen fingers. An echo of sadness filters through with the cold. This was just the beginning of the season and already I longed for the leaf buds that always reassured me another year of crowning the forest with my glory would ripen.

A squirrel comes dancing and tripping along a bough, perfect imprints of its feet compressing the new ice crystals. It was a pattern interrupting my spartanism, a brief moment of life lacerating the veil of death. The squirrel continued its hunt through my upper branches. I drooped, certain it would find nothing of value. There was a time when acorns strained my branches with their abundance, and squirrels would flood over me, tiny hands tickling as they rooted around for the choicest morsels.

Dusk falls swiftly, cloaking first my ungainly protruding great roots, gathering my spreading trunk in its embrace, disguising the deep fissure at the base splitting my body into two, hiding the imperfections of age. The clouds drift and a new moon rises, illuminating my snow-laden branches, laughing at the darkness. I no longer feel the squirrel. Perhaps he sleeps now, the cold breath of a winter’s night lulling him into hibernation.

A noise. I listen. It comes again and I recognize the sound of man. Over the centuries I have learned both to fear and love man. I have watched neighbours felled by the teeth of something they call a saw. The only thing I saw, as my sap bled for my companions, was destruction of life. Later, I learned to appreciate the new life that sprang in place of old. I wondered why I was left. Was I too big? I remember one man patting my trunk and calling me ‘grandfather’. A grand father. I grew proud that year, adding to my girth, increasing my grandness.

The man who called me ‘grandfather’ also reached his hand into the division of my trunk, I could feel the air moving, refreshing, as he waved around. What was he looking for? He tried to push his body in but I defeated him. I didn’t want this man, who had just stolen my companion’s heart, to come near my own.

I see him now. Shoulders hunched against the cold. Long, brown hair disguising his face. His boots crunch over the snow; I cannot help but compare the size of his imprints with that of my squirrel friend. He pauses at my base. Coughs. Looks up into my essence. Putting his hand on my trunk, he calls to me. ‘Remember me, grandfather? I have come to seek shelter within you, I have lost everything I hold dear, but not yet life.’

His hand is cold. Colder than my trunk. I perceive that under his ancient coat he is thin. I relax, every fibre stretching, widening the hole that he now pokes around in. ‘Well, well,’ I hear him mutter. ‘My memory serves me correctly. This will do for tonight. Not such a tight squeeze anymore.’

I feel him fitting himself inside me, the cold, dank air warms, and soon he is breathing evenly. Asleep. Was it time for me too?

Not yet. I recognize the familiar scuttle of the squirrel. He has come to pick over my body again. Do I have anything left to give you? I draw deep within myself, calling every ounce of nourishment from every root, every branch, every twig. Sap flows, startling me with its living ooze. The squirrel pauses in its restless wandering. Digs with its hands. Success! He scampers back down my trunk with his bounty, tucking it away in his den. Comes back a second time. A third. There is no fourth.

The man rests within me. The squirrel rests in his den.

Weary, I relax into the cold and, finally, rest.


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