The first sight of land is my favourite: the way it rises from the ocean first as a mirage, then as something solid, exactly where the GPS said it would be, but different. It’s a mysterious thing—looking at shore, trying to sort out what you are seeing, as the ocean distorts the angles, and the land ahead looks flat and confusing when compared to a chart.
It’s not like flying into a place when you look down and can pick out the park at a bend in a river or the shape of a church on a hill. Making landfall is perplexing, it’s an unfolding story that only makes sense as you sail closer and the hills separate from plains, and the uncharted straight lines give way to the expected curves.
I thought of this as we flew into the Whitsundays. Out in the distance I saw the pearl-necklace shaped reef. Below me were velvet islands and shifting blue-shaded water dotted with stationary sailboats. From our boat I could never see this all at once. I would only learn the shape of shore as I earned it—by sailing around each point: turning a map into a landscape and then into a memory. But flying is like being given all your Christmas gifts at once, unwrapped.
Once we landed we jumped on a high speed boat—and cruised through the islands seeing more in two days boat travel than we would see in a week of sailing. Maybe more—because we’re inclined to find a place we like and stay, savouring it.
There is something odd about travelling at this quick a pace. A sense of when you’ve seen a place—if only from a distance and at high speed—you’ve experienced it. You’ve done it. And how could it change?
But when you sail the landscape constantly remakes itself around you. One moment it is bright in the sun, or there is a bird singing in that tree, or a friend waving from that boat. And, even if you stayed forever, you know you could never fully know a place.
I thought of this as we flew away from the reef and the islands: feeling ready to check the Whitsundays from my list as “done”.
Then I reconsidered when I imagined the view from the little stationary sailboats far below—the view without answers, the one steeped in mystery and questions.