June 21, 2011
Dead Man's Motu
It was arranged nicely: surrounded by a ring of coconuts its bones were piled into a mound with its skull perched on top. Angled with its gaze looking out toward the boats anchored in the lagoon's blue water I thought the skeleton had done well for itself--as far as these things go. The only mystery is I was sure that Monica had written about finding only one set of skeletal remains at Fakarava--but as we looked respectfully at some departed soul in his final resting place (contemplating how old bones must be to lose their teeth and grow chalky and rock-like in appearance) it became clear the pile contained not just one skull, but at least one more cranium and jaw, and there were more long leg and arm bones in the pile than it seemed like even two people might need.
As I encouraged Maia to ponder the mystery: cannibalism? shipwreck? burial island? pirates? bad luck? she lost interest and began gathering up hermit crabs to run a race. Which lead me to a second contemplation--is my child in sensory overload? I asked her what self-respecting Nancy Drew/ Trixie Belden book addict can look a mystery like Dead Man's Motu in the, a'hem, empty eye socket and then go play with crabs?
This isn't the first time I've wondered if we've spoiled Maia with life's riches. Earlier in the day (after spending the morning making Evan a breakfast of homemade English Muffins) we dinghied over to Fakarava's south pass so we could drift dive/snorkel. The north side of the pass is a sheer coral wall that starts a foot below the surface then drops down to 80'. The coral is abundant and highly coloured and the reef fish are large and diverse. The real draw though is the pass is swimming with hundreds of docile reef sharks.
As we waited for the current to ease up so we could do our drift, we all swam in at a sheltered area that boasted the highest number of cool things. Maia swam around for a while--looking at this and that, then she and Danielle got cold and lost interest, and spent the rest of the time chatting in the dinghies. When we came up from our dive all the two wanted to do was go check out a new motu. Are you afraid of the sharks I asked Maia. No, she said, she just wanted to play with hermit crabs.
Which is how we found Monica's skeleton.
I don't know about most people, but I've never just stumbled across a skeleton before. Not even one I had a little advanced warning of. Evan saw several when he was in Haida Gwaii when he kayaked there as a teen--though they were in the Haida Burial grounds, not just laid out on a beach--but they still made a huge impact on him. I think finding a skeleton should be like that.
But somehow we're raising a kid for who the extraordinary has become ordinary. Skeletons, sharks, manta rays, endless celebrations with friends, nights so black you feel like you can touch the stars and water so clear you could fly in it--this is the stuff of her childhood.
As the kids ran off and played I said all this to the mound of old bones--searching for answers. Wondering if perhaps wonder should be rationed out in smaller servings. As I spoke (okay thought--I'm not quite at the point of talking out loud to dead people) I followed the old skull's gaze--she seemed to be looking right at our boat, and behind our floating home the sun was dipping into the ocean, and silhouetted in the foreground was Maia. She was holding a crab in her palm, and appeared to be coaxing it to come out of its shell--perhaps whispering softly for it to be brave.
And as its pink-tipped pincers reached out to explore the world Maia set it back down and urged it on its way. And I saw clearly what the skeleton's message was: I can offer Maia the world but she'll only take what she needs, then find her own path.
When you are a nine-year-old girl, hermit crabs are simply way less creepy than sharks and dead people.
PS--to the Fathers (specifically ours...) happy belated fathers day! Messages were written but in my case (Diane) our airmail address book has eaten your addy, Dad, so please send us a note to diane at dianeselkirk so we can add it back in... Otherwise you'll hear from us when we get to Tahiti.
radio email processed by SailMail
for information see: http://www.sailmail.com