Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Chapter Two: Blood in the Water

People have been clambering to find out what happened when I jumped into the ocean, after having my neck sliced open by the captain. Forgive me for not writing sooner. I was a bit traumatized by the event and had much gardening and Spring cleaning to do.

I remember a few more details now.  The captain's name was Captain Cutthroat. One very raggedy, slothful crew member realized I could be worth a fortune as a slave. As Captain Cutthroat turned away to straighten his golden locks of hair (He was vain about his appearance but especially his hair), the ragtag pirate capitalized on the moment to throw me a life preserver. Unfortunately, when he tossed it over, several coils of rope wrapped around his elephantine wrist. More unfortunately, he cried out in fear and Cutthroat spun around with speed of a barracuda. He allowed the pirate to fall overboard. The pirate created a massive wave. This caused the ship to toss and turn. Cutthroat beat the first mate with one glove, once elegant, sadly now filthy, stolen off a very wealthy man from England. It came with the man's hand inside. Now the captain wore the finger bones around his neck, and used the glove to insult his inferiors.

The first mate was hanging onto the wheel, as it spun out of control. He finally got the ship righted. He steered the ship into another of the waves, and the ship disappeared from sight. 

The pirate in the water was struggling with the ropes, trying to cling to the life preserver. Everyone knows pirates can't swim. I wasn't sure if I should rescue him, as I am very justice-oriented.

Finally, as he was bobbing up and down with every wave, I swam closer to him, yet out of reach. I asked him his name. Choking and sputtering, he coughed out "They call me Slimjim." I asked him where his knife was (mine was in my camera bag on board). I knew he would have one on his person. 

"Me knife is in the sock in my boot. Help me! Help me! I can't swim". 

I was bleeding from my wound. The salt water burned the slash severely. So I said to him, "I am going to cut you free with your knife." I swam closer to him and duck-dived the next wave. I propelled my body down into the cooler water. I could see him above. And then, I saw his boots. Beat-up, black leather boots that would probably go up to my thighs. Although I have many kinds of boots, I do not have boots from an honest-to-goodness pirate!

I decided they were found objects, and pulled them off his fungus-infected feet. I came up for air. Slimjim watched as I floated at the surface, putting on one then the other. He was infuriated. "Them is my boots. I had them since I was a lad. I will kill you"! I ignored him, and simply said, "You are drowning. You will have no need for these on the ocean floor". Slimjim remembered he was drowning, and went into histrionics. I have been know as an empathetic soul; I have none for drama queens. He was seriously annoying me. Again, I had a moral struggle with myself about his outcome.

"Slimjim, I called. "I am going back down for your knife. If you kick me, I will come for air, and you will need to make peace with your maker." He was a bit confused, because he replied, "How do I make peace with me dad? He's been dead twenty years".

I determined Slimjim had hit the rum bottle one too many times, and was not a great thinker at this point. I said no more, and dove underwater to retrieve his knife. Slimkim was right about the sock. I pulled a long, curved, bone-handled knife from his sock. Then I took his sock, somewhat stoically, as I presumed he would die. I popped back up in the water behind him, and pressed the knife into his fleshy back.

"Do you mean me harm?", I inquired. He burst out into sobbing. Gritty tears fell from his salt-burned, red eyes. Tears from a pirate are like fool's gold (Pyrite for enthusiasts.) I glared at him a few seconds. I knew he was weak, undisciplined, with less brain cells regenerating than there should have been. I moved my knife (finders keepers) away from his back, and told him to hold still. He was paralyzed with fright, and said nothing. I sawed the rope from his wrist. He immediately began sinking. At this point I realized he could have some value to me. A fatty pirate, alive and kicking, would be a fine meal for a shark. I made a huge slipknot, slid back under the water, and swam around him with the rope until I had the slipknot around his middle. I swam as hard as I could, and we were barely moving. I swam behind him and pinched him very hard. It scared him so much he suddenly was pulling himself up, and then I was able to guide us toward the life preserver. I pulled on the rope while he scrambled to climb on. Then I simply tied him to it. 

I hung to a rope on the life preserver, washing his sock for a long time. The waters around us were brackish when I finally decided the sock would be safe to use. I wrapped it around my cut throat (three times, as it was a huge sock).  The less blood in the water, the better off we would be. The waters around Somalia are warm, and since I am an ocean swimmer, I was not uncomfortable. I was already preparing for what might come. I knew one thing for sure. If push came to shove, Slimjim would be the first to go!

The afternoon was turning to dusk. I knew three things: sharks off Somalia are deadly, dusk is just about their feeding time, and I needed dusk to fall so I could find East and West.

Slimjim had fallen into a gurgling, sputtering sleep. I very carefully pulled myself up onto his stomach, which actually seemed to help with his breathing. I felt pretty confident I would come through this, but my major concern was drinking water.  Everyone who knows me understands because I am a water drinker, all day long, and into the night. The only thought on my mind was to get out of the ocean, and find the coldest jug of water to chug. I had to control my thought patterns. I could not think about drinking water. That would make me go mad. I had a moment of clarity. Slimjim's odor had not improved at all by being in the water. I wasn't going anywhere if I didn't put that rope over my shoulder, and start swimming.

With determination, I slid off Slimjim's belly, and back in the water. I was more comfortable there anyway! I knotted the rope again, and made a sling for my right shoulder. We began the swim toward the Horn of Africa. When my right shoulder was on fire from pulling, I switched the rope to my left hand. I refused to stop swimming. I was grateful for the hundreds of hours I'd spent bodyboarding at San Clemente, north of the pier. If a swell rose up, I swam harder, so I could catch waves that helped me stay on course. It was very dark now. The Milky Way was in full view, as were Jupiter, Mars, and, of course, the moon. Shooting stars were so vivid, and long-tailed. I prayed for one friend after another, until I was just plain prayed out. I decided to take a rest,  and wrapped my left hand on the life preserver rope. "This is really not that bad", I thought "I can take short breaks, keep on course by following the stars, and maintaining an exact routine." 

I breathed in the sea air, and almost gagged. Slimjim's time in the ocean had created a toxic brew emanating off his body. A sea rat (known to tourists as seagulls) found a respite from a long flight. It perched on Slimjim's nose. Broken so many times during sword play or from tripping on deck after drinking rum, he couldn't remember what the nose had looked like before he chose the life of a pirate. I laughed at our ludicrous plight. I bobbed up and down with the swells, became hypnotized by the ocean's rhythms, and began to nod off.

My eyes had just closed when a powerful force slammed into the life preserver, leaving a gigantic  explosion of water spreading out in all directions. Whatever it was flipped the life preserver over. Slimjim was helpless, face underwater, and no air to breathe. Overturning it had also spun me around, jerked me up and down, until I was disoriented. I struggled with the life preserver, but couldn't get the knife out of my pirate boot. I knew Slimjim would die. I actually felt a bit bad about that. There was not that much time to feel sorry. The moonshine stretched across the water. This time I knew what was coming in for the fatal blow.

I saw that fin, straight up in the water, barreling at us with just incredible speed. As a naturalist, I knew exactly what this was, and that we would not survive. No sane Somali surfs that part of the ocean. It is rife with Zambezi River Sharks (aka the bull shark.) It was not a good day to die, if there is such a thing.

I have to leave you here because my right hand goes numb and tingling because of the neck injury. So...more of this saga later. I actually feel a bit queasy just thinking about what comes next.
Slimjim in 'hot water.' Spelling correction: Illinois;)

Tattoos: Mama, Mom, Ma

Friday, February 20, 2015

Pirates Are A Nefarious Lot.

Chapter One

I was on the last leg of an ocean exploration. I had paid a pretty penny to find a captain who would let a girl on his fishing boat (bad luck and all that nonsense.) Captain Russell (an Englishman) took a well-travelled fishing route off the Somali coastline. I had been photographing him, the crew, and anything with rust. This trip was going to be my money-maker, and the captain eagerly pointed out views he thought would be a good picture. Although I did get some helpful fishing shots from Russell, he seemed to be posing in all of them. He had no idea I could still get amazing shots by pretending to be pointing at him, all the while taking the real picture I wanted instead.

I was exhausted. I insisted on using the winch to help pull nets up, learning how to gut huge fish with even bigger teeth. I swabbed the deck. Actually, nobody else seemed eager to clean blood and guts off the floor.  And I cooked.  A lot! No matter what you read, cooks on working ships are missing fingers, or haven't bathed for months, and their hands were blood-caked and flaking. I need to know I am eating from an immaculate kitchen up to food safety standards. So I took the job. What did I cook? Fish. I did make calamari once, but it was horrible...very rubbery. Captain Russell and the crew liked it very much. Most often, though, I cooked fish recipes.

This day, the ocean was remarkably calm. The men took breaks together when there were no fish to be found. Captain said there would be schools of fish later in the day. The crew relaxed, rolled cigarettes, and passed them around, muttering complaints about the captain, missing their wives, and I thought I heard one say something about bad cooking.

I stood at the edge of the boat, on a stool, leaning over the rail to take close-ups of the barnacle colonies on Captain Russell's boat. I had my Canon long lens on, and as I scanned the horizon, I saw the ship. It was far in the distance. I called out to the captain, and pointed. He picked up his binoculars, and looked where I was pointing. He immediately shouted out orders to the crew. "A pirate ship, coming fast. Get yourselves ready." The crew jumped up immediately, as they had never heard of such a thing, except in story books at school. "There ain't no pirates nowadays, captain," one crew member yelled. 

The ship was almost upon us. Captain Russell had one advantage, and that was the ability to maneuver quickly, as his boat was very small. He took one evasive counter-measure. I was thrown across the deck, and my forehead hit a barrel of beer, which was secured tightly with lots of square knots. I grabbed onto its ropes. I felt my survival instincts kick in immediately.

It was too late. The pirate ship was in perfect position, and cannons were at the ready. Our situation appeared to be quite grim. I cautiously used my long lens to observe the attackers. I counted twenty, all holding weapons (knives, guns, and very rusty swords.)

Captain Russell showed his true colors, when he realized the horrific danger we were all in. He handed his First Mate a crisp white flag, and quickly started hacking at the ropes holding the life boat. When the flag was raised, a cannon blew a hole right through it. Shreds of white fabric floated in the air around us. I guess that was our shot across the bow. Cannons were going off everywhere, guns were shredding the deck. Our small boat began listing. I knew it would be moments before we sank.

Russell , the First Mate,  and the four crewmen threw the life boat over the side. They jumped ship. I was to face the pirates alone.

The pirates came aboard. I curled up small, hoping to be undetected. It was a hopeless situation. A pirate snatched me right up, and bashed my head with the butt of his gun.

When I came to, I was on the pirates' ship. I tried not to move,  and carefully squinted my eyes open a crack. I assessed the crew members, and I had miscounted before. There were twenty-five, all armed to the teeth. Actually they had more weapons than teeth. Everyone knows pirates never brush their teeth. The pirates' teeth were beyond repair. Snaggle Tooth, Vampire Boy, and Rotten Mouth were just a few nicknames I used to identify them.

One pirate in particular stood out from the others. He was beyond infuriated, using salty language his parrot refused to repeat. (I tried to pick up a few words for later use, but forgot them due to stress.) I strained to hear the verbal bashing he was giving to his crew. After a minute, I realized he was ranting about his crew's failure to find anything of value on the overtaken boat that was sinking surprisingly fast. There were several wooden crates bobbing in the waves. When the boxes were hauled up and opened, they were filled with root vegetables: beets, rutabagas, and turnips.

The crew backed away from their captain. He had fire in his eyes. His mouth was clenched, partly open, his teeth were grinding, and it sounded as if he were growling. I stood up, using stealth techniques I taught myself as a child. One skinny, odorous pirate dropped his sword to the deck, not even knowing he had done so. I ran up and snatched it up. I loved it immediately. It was the perfect swashbuckler's weapon, very light, a thin, albeit rusty, blade, perfectly balanced, and sharp enough to run the captain through. What was there not to like?

The poor pirate carefully backed up, his head down, hoping to get away from his captain, who was out for blood. He knew the captain could kill a crew member on a whim. Unfortunately, I was whipping my sword, cutting through the air, and and practicing a few jabs I knew. I swear upon all things holy what happened next was not my fault. The smelly pirate, whom I had just nicknamed Odor Eater, moved backward right into the sword's path. I am sure you can imagine the consequences when he screamed, dropped to the deck, and bled out slowly from a gut wound. He was in a pool of his own black blood, (Oh! You didn't know all pirates have black blood because the blood pumped through their very evil hearts? True fact! Google it!)

The captain became still. He scrutinized each pirate, reading their visage. The pirates moved to make a path for him so he could see what I had done to Odor Eater for himself. He looked down at the dead pirate. Then he slowly lifted his head, and I glared at him. He wanted to give me the stink-eye, but I gave him my death ray eye stare. (My kids know what that looks like...) 

"I knew you was gonna be trouble as soon as we boarded that boat." I retorted, "Yeh? Let's see now. The boat is gone, thanks to your incompetent leadership. You will be eating cabbages for month. Oh, and this dead deckhand needs to be tossed overboard, or he will leave a stench even you can't imagine."

The tip of a sword was under my chin, with my throat exposed. I had antagonized him beyond the point of no return. With nothing to lose, I swiftly spun around, and my sword was swinging, as I began to fight.

A few of the pirates were too slow to get out of the way. One deckhand, sword in hand, felt nothing when I accidentally sliced off his leg at the knee as I ducked swords meant for me. From that point, I only recall snippets of what occurred. The injured pirate scrambled like a crab to his missing limb. No one came to his aid because, as I am sure you are aware, no pirate is altruistic.  He crawled into a corner, clutching his limb, and was sorry he had taken his legs for granted before. He clutched the cut-off leg to his chest, as if it were a precious jewel. He began screaming, "Captain! Captain! Me leg. Me Leg!"

The captain was now in a blind fury. He moved over to the poor pirate, "What are you blithering about, you baby. Give me that dead leg. Ain't a one of us here can put it back on." He leaned over, and pried the leg from the man's tight grip. He grabbed it as if it were a frisbee,  and flung it far out into the ocean. (I was actually impressed.) The captain slowly, very intentionally, turned around, his sword slightly loose in his hand.

"Ya get one chance to live, girly. Get down on that deck and clean up this blood. It is gonna stain me ship."

I knew pirates are never found to be trustworthy. He would kill me anyway.  So I did what was necessary. I used a few salty words of my own (some of which I had learned in my foreign language classes in high school.) I may have said something about his mom. I went a little too far. I confess my ethics are predicated on the situation at hand.

The captain came out swinging, but so did I. I went for his throat. I missed, and cut off the top of his hat, and maybe a bit of hair. I watched the wind snatch up that hat, and in less than a second I felt a very sharp point on my chest, right over my heart.

He backed me up, and applied more pressure with his sword. "I ain't done this in a good, long while," he said in a gravelly, intense voice. I knew then there was no point in fighting. He said, "Turn around. Drop the sword (which disappointed me a bit because I liked it.) "Get up on that there gang plank, and start walking', missy."

The other pirates looked stunned. Then they rushed to the rail and watched as the captain, his sword still pressed precisely over my heart. He had complete control. His sword was pushing me backward. He asked, "You ain't afraid of no sharks, is you?" I said, "Not really. They are very important to the entire ocean ecosystem." I was going to give him lots more facts about sharks but his sword was pushing even harder.

It seemed like a long march to the end of the gang plank. Suddenly, I knew I had the advantage.  As he drew closer and closer, I insulted him intentionally (something about dead brain cells possibly.) I stood on the end of the plank, and carefully tested it for bounce. The captain was mesmerized by testing. On my third bounce, I was high in the sky, setting my body in perfect position for the back dive (my favorite, yet scariest dive I can do.) On the way back down, as I corrected the arch in my spine, my neck was briefly exposed. Humiliated in front of his crew compelled him to grip his sword, and swing. He sliced my neck right open.

I was instantly petrified when I hit the water. I had blood gushing from the wound; blood, ocean, and sharks are not the best words you want to hear together.  I calmed my fear. If I wanted to stay alive, I needed to be in my special zone I had relied on many times before.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


Every single word of this story is true.


The Unintended Wildly Dangerous Adventure on the High Seas.

Dedicated to Some Amazing Children Who Have Touched My Soul:

To Josh: Explorer, Brother, Grandson, Friend to Many, and Son. I spent many nights under the stars praying for you to get well. You had such a gentle, sweet soul. You were not in this world long enough; in life, you changed lives for the better. In death, we learned what sudden loss of a beautiful soul felt like. You are not physically here any more; your impact is. I am grateful for that.

To my oldest grandson, Brady: For nine years, we have been companions in curiosity. We have learned about tide pools by studying them first-hand for so long. You are my favorite kid to take to the ocean. Your risk-taking (and mine) has taught both of us there are some boundaries we should not cross. Your understanding of creating habitats, and being blessed with many delightful creatures because of it was a gift from me to you. You gifted me back when you showed such compassion for stranded starfish. Remember the mourning dove fledgling you took away from some kids who were going to kill it? You tended it at our house until it flew away. We have had some amazing adventures. I will never forget having to slide down a cacti-filled dirt rut because you just had to pick the hardest mountain trail at Hart park. And perhaps the coolest thing about you is all the 'found objects" you bring to my house to save because your mom calls them "junk."

To my very favorite second grandson, Callum: I wish I could write down every word you have said. Your naughtiness is ten times worse than your mom's. I am so glad for that. You have such a delightful perspective on life. Your heart is filled with such love for your family and friends. You keep papa and me entertained almost every day, because we quote something you said. And then we burst into laughter. I hope you and I will have some adventures of our own. I want to teach you to build a dam that really makes a deep pool for swimming. I want your hands in the tide pools. I love that you pick up almost every rock you see! Take care of that collection I started for you. Not many kids have a squid fossil!

To my new granddaughter, Calliope: Too soon. You are growing too soon. But that is good. I have lots of plans for you as well. We will walk every day, and Amos will come too. We will make up stories with my art blocks, Hot Wheels, and painted rocks. You will be an explorer, and have a curious mind. I just can't wait for our journey together to begin.

Brady and Amos meet for the first time.
Callum in his Minecraft gear.

Callie: My little diva!