Pythian Games

put on your track shoes and write the miles

Archive for April 2009

fishing with frigates / sleeping under sago

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Just back from Morovo. A great, short trip. Left here early yesterday (Saturday). A 3 hour run. Good weather.

My 14 year old son, Paul, has been there for a week. I have had my friends 12 year old son, Mike, since before Cmas. I went to swap sons. This is my second trip to this area. I know the place now. Not a stranger to them not them to me. I took Grace along for the ride. She hates boat trips. Arrived in time for a plate of milked rice. Had a rinse and a snooze. then went out fishing.

We chased skip jacks. I had my 10 lb test rig. Used a feathery lure Rob Guild gave me. The others are using a 150lb hand line with a squid. Got the first hook up. The rod bent double. The line screaming out. 10 minutes later we land a 2.5 – 3 kg S.J. My hand and shoulders were cramped. I had a line burn / cut on my finger. My guts sore from where I had held the rod butt. It was magic. Should have had my gimble belt with me.

Tearing around the water. A brisk wind up. Lots of chop. We race to keep up with the fish. We follow the birds. Dozens of Frigate birds. Show us where to fish. They are right over head. Next to us. Attacking our lures. We watch their antics. We are compatriots in the fishing scene. We are all after the same thing. They are just better than we are. We get another strike. The line burns out. A loud pop. The line snapped. The fish too big. I lost the feathery lure.

Quickly rig another jig. The gang catch another on the hand line. Three young boys work to haul it in. I’m in the water again. Kazzziiinggg! The reel sings. The boat going too fast. The line snaps again. We are racing over the water. Zigging and zagging. Pabulu is driving and hollering at the fish. He does this. Talks to fish. Nothing uncommon… If you know Pabulu.

His two sons, Mike and Jr. with my son, Paul triple team another fish into the boat. The swivel breaks as they go to pull it in. I get another hit. The line screams. I leave the drag off and have Pabulu turn the boat around and chase the line. We idle on the surface as I fight the fish up. It is something like 60 meters below us. My line is alternately being reeled in and being stripped out. I can’t apply too much drag. The rod is bent double. My right hand is cramped up and the butt digs a hole in my sternum. The fish sounds. I let it go then pump and wind. Gaining line. Everyone is laughing. Their hand line is a lot more efficient. Bigger. Badder. I am following Pabulu’s example. I am talking to the fish. I begin to gain on it. The line is coming in. I am actually relaxing between pumps. The line goes slack. The fish spit the hook.

We spend a couple hours chasing the birds. Hooking up on the fish. The end score is humanoids 2 fish 3. We are going back for a rematch soon.

We head home on dusk. The lagoon is a bit choppy but beautiful. We do a slow troll home with swimmers on the lines. We don’t get any bites. We arrive home. Square the boat away. Go sit in the kitchen. They are preparing a big motu. Hot stones do the baking for a Sunday feast. A king size cassava pudding. Fresh mangrove oyster soup. Baked potatoes, the fish we caught. All of in a big oven.

The rain dances on the sago-leaf roof. The smell of the smoke and the baking food makes me drowsy. We eat potatoes, fish and oysters. I swim under a frigid stand-pipe. All cleaned up and ready to sleep we talk and drink a cup of tea. I lay down to sleep. A fire ant bites my right cheek. I try not to scratch it. I think of other things.

The music of nature blends with the dancing of the rain. Like a “river dance” but with less ego and more power. The moon is bright and shines behind the clouds. I drift off to the sound of the others talking in the next room, the rain on the roof and the fire ants crawling around me.

Written by nativeiowan

April 26, 2009 at 11:53 pm

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flying high

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flying high

Its been many years and many miles. From hitchhiking around the Midwest, to the first international fight, to becoming a seasoned traveler to… well, actually to hating travel, long trips and the hassles that goes with air travel. If I had my way I’d board a plane as seldom as possible.

And I’m traveling again.

This trip covers Honiara to Brisbane to Melbourne to Brisbane to Seoul to Singapore to Brisbane to Honiara. It started  18 days ago.

So far I’ve had a bit of time with family members in Brisbane, then a couple days of business in Melbourne then back to Brissie and packing my sons off, back to school in New Zealand, and my wife and a grandson back to Honiara.

So many years of tattered backpacks and tight or nonexistent budgets. So many years of floors and couches, of good fun and great times combined with moments of confusion, anxiety and uncomfortable miles.

I’m not complaining. I’ve had great travels. But I think a combination of age, ability and selfishness has changed me.

So, when it comes to traveling, I’ve been from the neophyte to the well experienced to the resistant to… Business class…

I use to hate the folks in the front of the plane. You walk past them as you moved back to economy class. They’d be sitting in their comfy seats sipping sparkling wine and looking far too comfortable.

I use to shuffle toward the rear section of the plane (the safest section of the plane) hoping like hell there’d be an empty seat next to me. I’d go into “shut-dwon-mode”  and become as comatose as possible for the 10, 12 or 14 hours required.

I often assisted this comatose state with small doses of valium or phenergen.

I rarely ate airline food. Carried my own water or juice. Often boarded inebriated because flying was “a party”. Seldom if ever had the cash for those nifty but expensive little bottles of booze.  I normally had my own hip flask at ready when a stiff drink was required.

Life’s a bit different, thankfully, these days. Today we’re in the air, 10 hours and 40 minutes. And I am quite happy and comfortable.

And so is Pan.

The too slim attendnats have offered to take my jacket (twice), I’m on my second glass of nice fruit juice. They serve the brand of ginseng tea I keep at home. A nice smelling meal is on the way. 

All worth the 4am wakeup call.

If I listen I can hear Pan’s pipes in the wind as it whistles over the shell of this sleek bird. Pan the seducer. Pan the prankster. Pan the inspirer. Pan, my old buddy and partner in crime.

I have no one next to me and have spread out. My jacket and Panama hat are carefully ensconced in the extra seat. My new computer is merrily draining its battery (claims to have over 7 hours of life remaining) as the new “Bond” movie (complete with subtitles) distracts my muse filled attention.

I am an experienced multitasker (or is it I am distracted easily) and work as I listen to the movie. I listen until I hear the whine of fast cars or the cough of speeding bullets. I’m after the action scenes. Of course the ever-present “bond-girls” are worth a casual glance.

But I am only partially engrossed in the movie.

My old fiend and business associate W.E. occupies the seats in front of me. He’s spread out too. It’s still a gas for us to travel together. We both giggle like naughty kids at the farcical sequence of events that led us this far…

Our first international business trip was in 1990. We met up in D.C. We were peddling our services as Pacific specific consultants, targeting US aid/ government money. We shared a hotel room. Put our glad rags on daily and knocked on doors.

We traveled back to the islands together via San Fran. We slept on friends’ floors and couches. We drank as much as possible as cheaply as possible and prepared for reentry to what we  still both agree is “the real world”.

Traveling from “over-there” to the real world is pretty difficult at best. One needs to decompress. To prepare to slow down. Living and working in the land where people go on holiday is a chore.

That trip, after making a stopover in Fiji, where we drank a bottle of cheap rum with our Doctor mate for breakfast the morning we arrived, we limped back to the Solomons where we each took no less than two weeks to recover from our “business trip”.

I do not recall any moneymaking business coming from those expenses and efforts.

So Bond is in a boat now. He somehow left Italy and the flash sports cars and is in some developing, island nation. I am obviously not paying due attention to Bond and his lady…

Pan is making too much noise. Like me he didn’t sleep much last night. Pan sleeps  very little. I heard him in the wee hours of last night as I prepared for my departure. I almost stayed up rather than accepting 4 hours of sleep. I almost stayed up to listen to Pan.

But I crawled into bed about 1am and woke groggy and flustered.  Gave W.E. a wake up call and grabbed a shower and my bags. Loaded up the rental and headed to the airport.

I’m still a bit groggy but this time I won’t let Pan’s call go unheeded.

I was just served the fancy place setting they give you in the front of the plane. I am still perplexed why we pretend that we can’t have a “real” knife on a plane. My lovely, starched napkin contained two silver forks, a silver spoon and two plastic knives. Plastic knives and silver forks… So a knife is a weapon but a fork ain’t? Go figger…

A personal little salt and pepper shaker-set and a dish of perfectly shaped butter came with the English muffin and compliments the feeling of being pampered.

A feeling I like very much.

And just as I think “tomato sauce” to go with my quiche, sausage and spuds an attendant waltzes up with a 2 ounce bottle of “Heinz tomato ketchup”

Life is good.

Bond just dropped a guy off a tall building and I just dripped ketchup on my keyboard…

The muffin was too cold, the sausage sucked, the potatoes were quite good and the quiche was passable, when smothered in ketchup. I could use another cup of tea but will sit back and see what Pan will play next for us. What the song will be as we dance our ways across the clear blue sky.

Bond is now in Spain, or is it Argentina? I’m losing interest with ol’ Bondie. Pan is much more entertaining.

I just went to the loo and was astonished at the array of personal niceties on display; tooth brush-paste kits, combs, razors, makeup (not my color), hairnets (I took three), warm socks, shoe shine cloths, blindfolds, nail files, lipstick, qtips, …  hell, they even have proper terry cloth hand towels. it’s very impressive to say the least.

Returning to a fresh cup of tea (they must be mind readers) and plate of beautifully laid out fruit, I find Bond has a new girl (I must of missed the first one’s demise) and that lunch will be served in 5 hours.

My travel experiences have shown me that Asians do pamper the customer well. Perhaps more so than Westerners. (eeee!!! No, please, not stereotypes) I compare these attendants to those on Qantas or United. With the greatest of respect to my friends that work for both airlines; sorry folks, this is really good.  

Perhaps it’s the fact that Pan is here today.

Everyone has a good time and is at their best when ol’ buddy Pan is around.

They just delivered a little bottle of water and a spray bottle of mineral water. I must have looked perplexed (a look I do real good) so the gal pantomimed spraying her face… way cool…

The first time I flew business I used my frequent flier miles to upgrade from LAX to Nadi. My wife and I were traveling together. She is as bad as a 9 year old on a plane. She’s never comfortable, has to move and shift all the time… it ain’t purtty… Very uncomfortable to be her traveling companion. So I upgraded and had a decent flight, for as change. 

Now a-days, as boss of my own company, I have it policy… if it’s over 3 hours fly-time, its business class. For me and W.E. anyway.

Bond’s bitchy boss lady is giving him a reaming as they gaze at his second dead girl.  My new computer has 5 hours and 56 minutes of battery life left. Man this is a hot machine.

I’m still saddle breaking it. A number of minor and one or two major differences to my old box. I’m still enjoying the glistening shell and unscarred screen. The box is sexy to say at least. The tomato stain suits it.

I’ve put the video machine away. Its a real nifty unit that folds about six times and then slides into a compartment below the arm rest. It would have taken a committee of engineers to design this thing. It took me quite a bit to figger out how to get it back in position.  I banged and bumped W.E.’s seat enough to make him grumble in his sleep.

He looks back and makes a funny face, “sure, go ahead and show off your new, 8 hour battery” he says. I put my thumb on my nose, waggle my fingers and chant “na, na, na, na, na, na”,

He gets a new box in June.

And Pan dances on the back of our seats.

I can hear a baby crying in economy. Here in the front of the plane it is dungeon dark. The other passengers have eaten then prepared for sleep. The attendants walk the cabin as if they were in a temple. I smile at Pan and type merrily away.

I’ve plugged in my earphones and am listening to a favored artist, Greg Brown.

Another native Iowan, Greg was pretending to go to school at Iowa City in the same era as I. I never knew him, may have heard him sing in bars but know we are close contemporaries. His songs describe scenes I was in. His tales of life, youth, interaction, failure and success mirror my own.

Greg has made the big time. If you’re interested in his poetry put to music; Google Greg Brown+, or, red house records.

One song, “Flat Stuff” pretty much describes Iowa.

“Flat stuff, flat stuff,  way out to the, way out to the setting sun…”

An attendant just brought me a cup of tea and 3 very warm and very nice cookies. Reminds me of mama’s.

I listen to Pan, take a nap, eat another 3 cookies. Enjoy the nice tea. And the miles flash past.

And so do the days.

The company we are doing bizzyness with rolls out the red carpet in Korea. They booked a good hotel for us. The food is fantastic. The company eclectic. The pace frenetic.

Pan enjoys it all.

We spend time in Inchon, Seoul and Ulsan. Eat piles of kim chee and, on the last night, drink gallons of beer.

We eventually grab a flight to Singapore, that soulless scene of draconian authority (yes I am from the 60s). Pan chose to not get off the plane when we landed.

So I sit and think of my buddy, Pan. The fun we’ve just had. I miss his company. But I’ll see him soon… another day, two more meetings and 15 hours of flying through 2 countries and I’ll be home in the Islands.

Life is good.

Written by nativeiowan

April 26, 2009 at 12:14 pm

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Good Byes

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Prologue: This was written and sent over 3 years ago when my father was dying. Interesting thing is he recovered and is still well and kicking today… I found this whilst looking for another piece. I choose to publish it as it raises challenges to modern, western, modalities that I, obviously, disagree with.

… I know you’re going through so much right now. Being separated by something like 12,000 miles can make communicating and offering support in times of need difficult. I do wish that I could drop what I am doing and rush over to help. Good or bad, the situation I am in does not lend itself to a quick get-away right now. By this communication I wish to touch you both with my life, from this long distance, and to reassert and reconcile our relationship and friendship in the face of a pending departure.

One thing my 25 years in these islands has taught me to revere and to respect the process of both birth and death.

These occurrences are still the most dramatic and important parts of the life I lead here in this glorious land. It may appear stupid to discuss this but I firmly feel that our western world has lost the reverence and the respect that both birth and death holds for us individually, communally, spiritually, intellectually and practically.

In these islands… knowing, loving hands meet all who are born. It is so rare here to find an “unwanted” child. Also, in these islands, all who die do so with knowing and loving hands touching, caressing and assisting.

I am of a firm belief that it was/ is painful to leave the world of water breathing life we knew in the womb, to be “born” into the world of light and air.

I am of an opinion that the transitions from this life to the next… That the simple act of dying… is indeed as painful or traumatic as was birth.

I feel that the love, or lack there of,  we meet in the hands that “catch” us as we enter the world makes one hell of a difference in our transition from one life to the next. Just as the love in the hands that “touch” us as we depart this world assists in softening the transitions from here and now to the great and glorious beyond.

Life is a rich pageant. Yet, our western world, tends to forget the magic of it all. The simple arts. The important parts.

My time in these islands has seen me lay many people in the ground.

I learned much from Gracie’s fathers death. I still feel honoured to have been with him and to have assisted with his departure. Gracie’s mother was another one I feel honoured to have been apart of it all. (Shit, man, would not want the old lady we called the “Cyclone” after me, after the fact!) Of course the death of Gracie’s oldest brother over a long period, from debilitating cancer, was hard on us all due to the idea of it not being timely. Yet Barbara’s wasting death through cancer was even more untimely as was the infant death of Annie’s son, Aden, at the age of one month.

I have helped bury indigent white men who shared our lives and I put a Chinese shop keeper I knew for over 20 years in his coffin. All of these are stories I have discussed and written about. All of these are stories that have helped me grow and mature.

Here in the islands we touch death. Just as we hold our hands out to welcome and to hold the new born infant, we use our hands, the familiar hands of friends and family, to assist with those preparing to depart.

Words fall short in a scenario like this. And now I gotta get a bit emotional. I’m not real good at this…

To my Father who is my Friend…

I must say thanks for the many things I learned from you…
* Very importantly ,the lesson that a right handed guy and a left handed guy have little or no chance of working together, in any form of harmony. Honestly… It’s not just you… I am all but incapable of watching a left handed person swing a hammer. And I know every time you watch me, a right handed guy, do anything it looks wrong. It is universal… Not just you and I.
* The art of bartending has served me well all my life. Perhaps I should have been more like you (and less like your father?) and learned to stay on the serving side of the bar but the skill of tending bar taught me at a young age to do the hours, be good at something and to always have an arrow in my quiver that would make me a buck when times got rough.
* My strict and possibly dour Germanic moral code and work ethic, I know, has served me well in the success of my life. I also know the slow burning German fuse, when combined with the volatile Mediterranean blood, oft times creates a scary cocktail.
* The ability to be good at many things. You are still a better electrician than I’ll ever be but I’ve learned to shovel shit, plant and tend gardens, fix roofs, paint houses, service vehicles, lift, carry, tote, move, clean and enjoy it all, from your many examples.
* My sense of maths is potentially my most marketable talent. I am great with numbers. I see them upside down, sideways, in fractions or decimals, squares, circles and straight lines… Numbers are easy. Thanks to you. But… Do you recall… I was in about 4th grade. They were teaching long division? You told me to forget all that crap and showed my a hand full of simple short cuts that could be applied to all forms of mental arithmetic. I understood you to say “screw the paper work and learn to do it in your head”. I can now look at a room, size it up and give you dimensions from the work I do mentally. But in the 4th, 5th and 6th grade they wanted to see my work. I could never (still cant!) figure the long division out. I failed math and developed a hate for it through those years. Luckily by the time we hit 7th and 8th grade we were taught short division and your lessons were acceptable. But I do use it daily and owe you much for your gift of numbers.
* As I am in debt to you for your gift of words. Remember all the books in the hallway selves in the 412 house? I read most of them. I was looking for something forbidden I guess. Sex, profanity… Who knows. When I first read Ulysses I thought it was about mythology. Hard bound volumes recounting history and modern novels stretching the limits of our minds. You never forbad me to read these and it has been one of my greatest assets… The use of words in an articulate and logical pattern.
* One of the most amazing things both you and Mom gave all of us was the “open door’ policy. I never, ever recall returning home to a locked door. No matter how unacceptable or embarrassing. The door was always open. What more can I say about this…

There are many more items I should list. The prankster in me… The volcanic temper… The cast iron determination… I will never be as calm as you have been. That Mediterranean blood does flow strong and hot but I see so much of you in me. The way I interact with my kids. The way I quietly view the foolish antics of others… Don’t know if it’s good or bad but I do thank you for what ever parts of me are you.

To my Friend that is my father…

I feel so very fortunate here. After all those hard, jaded years, we got to become friends. This is a rare gift that I am carrying forward to my kids. No doubt that I’m their father but I want to ensure that I am their life long friend as well. I think you and I got lucky here. You guys coming to the islands made it happen. It is one of my most treasured possessions… My friendship with my parents. The mutual friendship we have shared with the universal family from here… Jenny and Steve, Willis and Suellen, Rob and Diana, Ian, Teddy form Texas, all of them are your friends too. We can talk about people like my Gilbertese friend Paul and you know who I am talking about.

The fact that you made the effort to come and share my life here sealed that friendship. Both the life you live in the states and the life I live here is known and understood by each of us.

One of my favourite videos to watch is “Lonesome Dove”. You ever see it? Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Curtis are crusty old cowboys in Texas. The world is changing. Leaving them behind so the decide to steal a bunch of cattle and horses and drive them to Montana where it is still “wild”. It is a poignant and hilarious movie. If you don’t know it please.. Rush out, right now. It’s four hours long. Has great scenery and a lovely allegory. Do it now… Go buy and watch it… Please…

Not to spoil the flick but in one part Robert Duval ends up with some arrows in his leg. All dramas require one of the most favourite characters to depart. As Robert Duvall is on his death bed he looks up to Tommy Lee Curtis and says…

“ … Been one hell of  party, ain’t it… “

I know it sounds irreverent, but it is sometimes harder to say good bye to a friend, than a family member.

I have been saying good bye for many years. When I left in 1981 I said good bye to my Grandmother, your Mother. Every time I ever left the states I said good bye to you. Not knowing what is yet to come it is essential to have your good byes said. Every time I send my kids away I say good bye…  I say good bye  hundreds of times a year.

Perhaps it is the Germanic reserve I inherited from you but I have never been good at being mushy. My kids are oft confused. My lack of endearments may bother them at times. I know it bothers Grace. But I’m no damn good at saying “I love you”.

It may be just words but our modern society is such that a a person can expound on their love for chocolates, a new TV show or a brand of automobile. They can gush about “… Loving the new corvette…” or about how much they “…love their job…”.

I will not demean the emotion I feel for those close to me with foolish and inadequate words.  

I have tried to rationalise this with my family by explaining all of this to them. I find it hard to say “I love you” but I will state with all seriousness that I would kill for each and everyone of you. I am still a barbarian. I don’t like the idea of loving chocolate and comparing that to loving my kids. But I do know that I will defend and protect those that I hold dear.

Such it is. From the guy who says good bye too much. From the guy who never says “I love you”. From the guy that is usually aloof, distant and too damned busy to be available. From the guy who acknowledges deep respect and filial duty.

All I can say is…

More Later

Written by nativeiowan

April 26, 2009 at 10:04 am

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Sum Like It Hot

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Some love em. Others hate em. Some have yet to be initiated into the fold. Some think they can. Try real hard. Run with the big guns. Then bail. A burning ring of ignoble glory. They’re good for your blood steam. Heal stomach ulcers. Grow wild as weeds. In some countries, are used as currency

Hot chili peepers. I love ‘em. Am addicted to ‘em. Eat ‘em on everything. Make my own: Sauces. Chutneys. Powders. You name it. If’n it’s got chili. I make it. I invented chili coffee. I season martinis with chili soaked olives and onions. If you cain’t eat it with chili. It ain’t fit to be et.

If that’s true why’s my head spinning? My mouth burning? I was going to have a simple meal. Green salad. A handful of fresh, bird’s eye chilies. Crush the chilies up with a spoon. Mix ‘em: With a bit of olive oil. Brown vinegar. Mayonnaise. Shake it up real good. Pour it on. Rich. Creamy.

Throw on a can of chili tuna… For good measure. Mix it all. Fresh greens. Tomatoes. Bell peppers. Onions. Spring onions. Ginger. Garlic… enough… Don’t wanna over do it. Mix ‘em up. Stir it good. Smash up the big chilies that come in the tuna. Break up the big chunks of fish. One more stir…

Looks fantastic. Fit for a picture. A culinary treat. Various shades of green. Red, juicy slices of tomato. White slices of onion. Tiny slivers of red chili. Creamy white dressing. Could rival any fancy – schmancy cooking. MMMM… looks great. Smells better… Take a forkful. Chew it slowly. Savor the flavors. And watch your head explode.

Boy. That’s good. Hot. Reminds of being in Thailand. Love Thai cooking. Love it hot. Thought I’d impress the folks at the restaurant. Ordered my favorite… Tum Yum soup. Told ‘em to make it “Thai” Spicy. A big bowl comes out. Filled with juicy prawns. A red, viscous, oily tinge to it. Loaded with chilies.

I was sweating bullets… just touching the spoon. It was soooo gooood. The Thais stood, watching. One asked me if I really liked it. My wife explained that I was crazy. It was a big bowl. I enjoyed it but had trouble staying conscience. The staff brought out cold, wet towels. Wrapped my sweating head.

My wife was embarrassed. Was very angry with me. Sitting there. The staff wringing towels out in bowels of ice. Wrapping them, like a turban, around my head. Me slurping away on my bowl of soup. My clothes soaked with sweat. My young son, loving the attention. I couldn’t talk real well. She wasn’t happy.

To make it worse. We were at an outside, beer garden type place. I think a crowd was gathering. I couldn’t focus too well. They may have been looking at, gawking at, something else. I’m not sure. I think I heard, through the buzzing in my ears, someone making book on my chances of survival.

A couple Thai fellows came over. Bought me beers. One had driven us around. Spoke English. Knew my son. Was friendly. I gave him a bowl of soup. He said it was good. Didn’t sweat. Didn’t need an icy turban. This made my wife angrier. She appeared to think that I was faking it all.

My salad reminds me. That soup. Bangkok. Having fun… Musta drank a dozen beers. But it sure was good. I suffered the next day. My son enjoyed the story. My wife enjoyed it too. Though she did have to pretend to be angry. Just another one of those many stories. Collected. Stored. Told. Now written.

Written by nativeiowan

April 26, 2009 at 9:15 am

Posted in Uncategorized


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His name was Yapo. Born “before time blo missionary”. His home was the wild eastern Solomons. The island of Santa Cruz was his birth place.

It was on these islands that Alvero de’Mendana eventually died. Long before the other islands of the Solomons saw a “white-man” the Eastern Islanders had not only seen but had defeated and eaten these new comers. They found both the killing and the eating to their liking.

Yapo’s tribal affiliations were harsh and demanding. Before memories of her were formed, his mother had been carried off and murdered by marauding tribal enemies. She did though, before her unfortunate disappearance, carry out the ritual piercing of his ears and nose. Such were the signs of a warrior.

Yapo had been “traded” around the tribe’s available wet nurses and by the time he was 5 years old he lived in the house of Kapu, a respected and powerful chief-of-chiefs.

It was at this age when he was “given” away as intertribal collateral or security and it is here that our story begins…

In “island custom” there are times when one tribe may hold claim over another. Such claims my be for minor  (or major) transgressions. Basically, the tribal party of the first part lays a claim against the tribal party of the second part. They would seek “compensation” for the perceived wrong. In lieu of payments as demanded and to be negotiated, collateral, in this case Yapo, was often sent to the aggrieved tribe. The aggrieved tribe could not dare harm or even inconvenience such collateral. Until the “due-date, that is. If they did, a counter claim would quickly be laid against them.

And perhaps the ancestors would become displeased.

In Yapo’s case his tribal benefactor had “one moon” to make a payment of acceptable value or, sadly, young Yapo’s life would be forfeit.

In the Eastern Islands of the Solomons payment could be in the form of pigs, garden produce, human currency (preferably young females) or the prized and rare belts of red-feather money, “Twau”.

Twau is unique to the Eastern Solomons and is a story unto it’s self.

Made of woven bush-materials and the breast feathers of the male “Mzgza” bird. Each Twau takes years to make. Birds are trapped, the desired feathers removed, then  it is released. The feathers are cunningly glued to the belt to make a lush, brilliant red coil of feathers and string. Measuring up to 5 meters in length, each single belt is a masterpiece of singular beauty. Each belt possesses a story of provenance stretching from the time of its inception, through the many years of its development and use. Each Twau is tribally important and to hand one over to “another tribe” is both a disgrace and a financial set back.

It was feather money, not pigs or women that Yapo’s captors were waiting for. Feather money, or blood…

As is the case throughout the Melanesian archipelago: Each region has it own unique peculiarities. In the Savage western islands the tribes traveled in  massive war canoes. Paddled by over 40 warriors, these dreadnaughts of the islands ferried the blood feuds from island to island. These warriors favored long shafted fighting axes with strong, woven shields for defensive aggression. Malaitan warriors favored a strangely shaped wooden club, which could double as both a spear, a shield and at times even a paddle. The eastern warriors were multi hulled sailors and favored bows and arrows to close-hand fighting. For hand-to-hand combat they preferred  spears or heavy “iron-wood” clubs…

Old chief Kapu was terribly unhappy about the claims being levied against his tribe.

One of the younger males had been caught on the wrong side of the tribal boundary. He was of course caught with a young maiden and as such the transgression was compounded. Rather than standing and fighting like a true warrior, this young fool ran when he was found-out. And he ran straight to Kapu. Begging for protection he had led the perusing warriors to Kapu’s village.

As a respected leader, a well known warrior and a chief-of-chiefs Kapu found the armed entry into his compound terribly hard to accept. Yet, with the cringing youth at his feet he could do little. He could not lie. He could not laugh or bluff. He had to stand tall. He felt lucky that he had his feathers of station standing proud in his nose holes. His carved bone piece was held level in the hole between his nostrils. As he stood he new he cut an imposing image.

He collected his war club, stood to his full height and cast a baleful eye on those entering his home, unwelcome. His stare slowed them down but, and it was unfortunate, the eldest son of his friendliest enemy, Maena, had led the group. Maena’s son was no callow youth. He was being trained to replace his father and knew the custom ways well.

Ensuring he broke no rules of etiquette the young chief stated his claim, stated the deadline and demanded security on the claim then walked out of Kapu’s village without a backwards glance. The security would be delivered within one day or the deal of one month’s grace was off. It would be full tribal war. War until suitable retribution was reached. And in times of war, retribution has a way of adding up; each act of injurious warfare added to the list of retribution required.

This encounter had left old Kapu both shaken and invigorated…

Kapu had a great reputation as a warrior and raid leader. In these islands there were no real battles. There were never enough men to stage a head-to-head fight. Rather the warring parties would stage “raids”. Small numbers of warriors would attack a work party in the gardens. Or steal a few women or children who were too far from male protection. Seldom would a raid be carried out on a village. Such would be much to costly in terms of killed, maimed or injured warriors.

Kapu had been shaken because young Maena had addressed him as an equal. He knew that his strength was no match for these younger men. His blood boiled when he knew he could not curse the young warriors for trespassing. Could not order his young warriors to snarl and dance with war promised frenzy.

Age was a burden that sat heavy on Kapu’s shoulders that day. He was frustrated. Frustrated by the impediment of age. Frustrated that his relaxed life had been disrupted. Frustrated that his young clan member had been stupid enough to get caught with the maiden. Frustrated that the young clan member had run to him for protection rather than be dealt an honorable beating if not an honorable death.

Kapu had also been invigorated by the prospect of war. It had been many years since he and Maena had come to terms and settled generation-old disputes. They had traded pigs and taro. Maena had received a handful of young maidens and in return Kapu had received the same from Maena’s blood lines.

Each tribe had exchanged one belt of feather money. The symbolism here was that each tribe held a singularly valuable item of importance to the other tribe. The history, provenance of each belt was given with the belt ,making each tribe a caretaker to part of the other tribes’ past.

Kapu had seen into the situation clearly: This incident was a chance for Maena to either have his original belt of feather money returned or to gain one more belt from Kapu’s treasury.

Kapu found this proposition unacceptable and, with the taste of the slight he’d endured fresh in his month, experienced the warmth of the flow of war-juices in is veins.

Being a wiley and wise leader Kapu chose to sleep on the situation and decide what would come, tomorrow.

Before he slept Kapu sent word to the head of the clan of the young fool who had caused the problem. He wished to see him first thing in the morning.

That next morning was so lovely Kapu almost forgot he had problems. His youngest wife made such a pleasing sight, child on hip, breasts full and bouncing as she boiled yams for the morning meal. He had been content and even pleased with life.

Then Maneiapi, his kinsman, arrived as he had been ordered. He approached Kapu’s cook-house politely and scratched quietly at the door. He bowed low and entered with great respect after Kapu had gruffly acknowledged his presence.

It was obvious Maneiapi had been up all night. His eyes were red with smoke and lack of sleep. Being older than Kapu he was less excited than frightened by the prospects of war. He was beyond his raiding years and could only lose from the situation that had transpired. The perpetrator herein was a foolish, least favored nephew and Maneiapi had spent the night in an apoplectic rage. He was now, answering Kapu’s summons, drained and quite uncertain.

Kapu had every right to disown Maneiapi and his kinsmen. To pull his protection away, leaving Maneiapi and his small clan unprotected and at the mercy of Maena’s tribe. With no real wealth in Twau and little land he could bargain with, Maena could easily devour Maneiapi’s tribe, assimilate it into his own. It could well be the end of his “line”.

He needed Kapu’s good graces for the survival of his clan. He needed the backup of his Twau. The strength of the numerous warriors Kapu could command.

And Kapu had chose to show compassion. Maneiapi was an old and dear friend. Unhappy as he was, he could not disown Maneiapi. He was though unsure what he would do.

It was at this moment that Yapo stumbled onto scene. Literally. He had been sitting quietly by the fire but, being impatient for his breakfast and jealous of the baby at the teat Yapo had inadvertently overturned the stone pot of boiling yams.

Thus it was that Maneiapi was taxed with delivering Yapo to Maena’s village…

And the moon had passed quickly.

Old Kapu had paid little attention to the Yapo case. He was a busy man. He was not young any more. He had many wives. Many children. And had basically forgotten about Yapo.

He had given Maneiapi the chore of coming up with a solution. He had made it clear he would not part with another belt of feather money. Maneiapi would have to decide what could be done, offer a number of pigs and some of his line’s land or entice old Maena, perhaps, with a couple nice young maidens.

But Maneiapi had fallen ill after his night of aggravation and anger. The walk to Maena’s village (a fair hike for an elderly gentleman) had done little good. He was distraught and unwell. And nothing had been done about Yapo.

Until word had been sent to Kapu from Maena.

The moon had passed and a feast would be held in the honor of Yapo’s death. The pigs Maneiapi had sent would be cooked with his yams and taro. These would be prepared by his maidens. Next eve, Maena’s warriors would feast and dance. Dance themselves into a killing frenzy and young Yap’s blood would be spilt on the ground as Maena’s spears and clubs drank deeply.

As the words of death were carried to him by Maena’s emissaries Kapu felt his fondness for Yapo.

Yapo was a finely knit youngster. Engaging and animated. Broad of shoulder and healthy of wind and muscle. With no blemishes he had often entertained Kapu as he played or assisted the women in their work. Kapu had seen in Yapo a fine warrior and potentially a strong leader.

It was at this moment that Kapu decided to save Yapo. If he could.

Technically he was almost out of time. The attempts of restitution made had been rejected. No single measure or action on Maena’s part had been contrary to custom. He had every right to take anything offered to him but he alone stood to judge as what he deemed as fair compensation for the crime committed.

It was then that Kapu decide what he would do…

Yapo had initially been angered then frightened by the situation which he could not understand. He was sitting merrily by the fire, had made a minor mistake and upset the breakfast pot but had not expected to be lifted bodily by his hair and chased out of the village. Upsetting the pot was worth a good whipping but the resulting anger and violence had left him confused and frightened.

Kapu had grabbed him by the hair and handed him to Maena. Maena being too old to lift the stout child had snatched up a sago palm switch and started whipping the child, driving him ahead of him as he walked out of Kapu’s Village.

Yapo had screamed for help but understood quickly, by a single glance at Kapu, that no help was forthcoming. Instead he had attempted to stay out of range of the switch and was summarily marched through the jungle until he arrived at Maena’s village.

Old Maneiapi was unhappy with the situation, with Kapu’s reaction and even more with the long walk to Maena’s village. In his anger he employed the switch ruthlessly. Only once had Yapo attempted to run back, dodging around Maneiapi only to be grabbed by the hair, thrown to the ground and whipped until he scurried out of the old man’s reach.

Upon entering the strange village Yapo had been frightened beyond all possibilities. The warriors of Maena’s tribe had known of Maneiapi’s arrival and had lined the path leading to the Chief’s  house. In full regalia the warriors were imposing with their polished earplugs jiggling, their nose feathers swaying and their feet stamping as they performed their aggressive dance. As they brandished their spears and clubs and screamed ferociously.

Even old Maneiapi was frightened for his life. There was no telling how well these young warriors would control his blood lust once danced into frenzy. Maena and Maneiapi had never been friendly. Maneiapi was jealous of Maena and had laughed at him when he could. He was far from certain that Maena would let him leave unharmed.

Then everything changed…

The imposing figure of Maena was waiting outside his house. The double line of warriors led to him. He stood tall, composed and imposing. As those near him danced, stamped and screamed, Maena stood with a distant look on his face.

Maneiapi had changed. He held Yapo close to him, protectively, knowing that the warriors would be less inclined to club him if he was close to the child. His self-preservation was misinterpreted by Yapo as affection. He clung to Maneiapi, and cried with fear.

With an unseen sign from Maena all noise stopped. He looked long at the sky then slowly lowered his gaze to Maneiapi and the child. His face was full of contempt as he gazed at the cowering old man. This was not the way for an honored elder to act. He should hold his head high and show no fear of death. To cling to the shell of life as the body became weak was disgusting. He glared at Maneiapi for a long moment as the old man groveled with the child in his arms.

Maena’s countenance changed as he surveyed the child being sent to him. A fine, strapping young male. Wide of shoulder and attractive in the face. His skin the color of a young coconut and his hair as bright as beach sand in the sun. His teeth were white and straight. He would make a good sacrifice and would ensure the loyally of warriors gone too long without blood. It would actually be a shame to allow such a fine child to be given to the ancestors. But a fine sacrifice would ensure happiness and prosperity for Maena and his tribe. He was well pleased.

Maena knelt slowly and with great kindness he reached out to the frightened child. He gently removed Maneiapi’s grasp from around Yapo and brushed dirt from his face as he drew him near. He held the child away from him and surveyed him closely. His face showed his pleasure and Yapo, with the skill of an orphan, read the pleasure in the stranger and gave a shy but teary smile in exchange.

With a word a woman appeared and swept Yapo into her arms. As Maena’s senior wife it would be her honor to care for this child, this sacrifice to the ancestors. She smothered him with kind words and caresses. He was promptly cleaned and fed. Such kindness was lavished upon him that he smiled and entertained his crowd of doting women and interested warriors. No children were allowed near him. He would be carried every where he went. He would be given the choicest foods. The next month would be some of the happiest times of his life.

Maneiapi was summarily chased like a cur out of the village…

And the Moon passed. Old Kapu had initially paid little attention to Yapo’s case. He was a busy man. He was not young any more. He had many wives. Many children. And had basically forgotten about Yapo.

He now called his senior warriors. Instructing them to scout the trails and boundaries joining Maena’s territory. He required to know who was watching. Was the message of death a cunning ploy or was Yapo to die?

He then paid a visit to Maneiapi. In exchange for his planned actions Maneiapi would “give” him the youth who had caused the problems. This coward would become a “slave” in Kapu’s house. Kapu had every intention of working this fool to near death before he married him to a minor niece in his household. But first he would travel with him to Maena’s village. With luck one of Maena’s warriors would be provoked into violence at the sight of the perpetrator. This could only serve to assist Kapu’s position.

Lastly Kapu went to his cookhouse and removed Maena’s Twau. He was loath to part with any of his wealth but returning this single piece would potentially be perceived as an insult and would protect the tribe from losing more of their history. He would act as though he cared little for Maena’s Twau. Once again, if his actions were reacted to, he would gain and possibly lay a claim of his own against Maena…

It was a feast day and everyone was excited.

Yapo had woke early. His Matron washed him thoroughly and dressed him in a beautifully made “tapa” loincloth. A finely engraved bone was placed in his nose-hole. Magnificent feathers were placed, two on each side, into the small holes on the side of each nostril. Small “gold-lip” plugs were placed in his ear holes. A chiefly breastplate of the same gold shell was hung around his neck. A headband of string, petrified clamshell and turtle shell was woven into his hair.

Yapo danced and played but was gently controlled by his matron. A finely woven pandanas mat was laid in front of Maena’s house and Yapo placed upon it. As Maena’s tribal members arrived for the proceedings they deposited gifts of fine delicacies and valuable trinkets on the mat in front of Yapo.

He tasted all the foods and played with all the trinkets.

The day passed quickly. Yapo sat with his Matron on the mat. Alternately eating, playing or napping. He was touched and patted by all. Everyone seeking good luck from the ancestors who was manifest in this young sacrifice. The gifts of food would make the sacrifice more pleasing to the ancestors. The trinkets were a show of respect.

The atmosphere was gay and festive. Everyone was happy.

Except the warriors chosen to do honor to the sacrifice. These men stood aloof. Lining, in social ranking, from most important to least; They were a guard of honor stretching from Maena’s house, where Yapo sat, through the center of the village and spreading our to create a picket around the village.

They stood tall and proud. Their feathers and bones creating an imposing visage. Their breastplates and headpieces gleaming in the sun. Their weapons held motionless yet at ready.

When the food had been cooked and distributed to each clan according to custom. When the entire tribe was gathered. The elders of each clan drew near to Yapo’s mat. The youthful males stood close behind. The women and girls gathered on the fringes. The warriors stood statuesque and frightening. Casting their protective stares over the masses of expectant spectators. No one fidgeted. Not a sound was heard.

When all was in readiness Maena appeared behind Yapo and raised his voice in greeting to the ancestors.

He called upon them by name. Welcoming them to this feast. Enquiring upon their well being and bestowing praise and honor on each, from the most to least important.

With the mention of each Ancient’s name the warriors would stamp and shout. With a loud “GHWAA” the earth would shake. For each of the names, spanning over fifteen generations, this salute was offered. And with each offering the warriors’ blood grew hotter.

The heat increased and the warriors were soon ‘dancing”. Stamping and brandishing their weapons. They were working themselves into a frenzy. A frenzy of religious zeal, pent-up energy and promised bloodletting.

There was blood in the air as Maena offered Yapo, by name, to the Ancestors.  There was a palatable energy as Maena beseeched the Ancestors to protect the tribe from malevolent spirits, sickness, pestilence, bad weather, strong enemies, poor harvests, barren women, cowardly warriors and a long list of other potential woes.

Maena stood tall and erect. His voice trembled with passion. Tear streamed down his face. He stamped and shouted with the warriors and felt the juices of war flow through his veins. He raised his arms to the sky above, raising his voice proudly to the Ancestors he sincerely offered the sacrifice to the honor of those who had gone before.

The warriors were dancing into position to be part of the blood letting. Everyone was crowding forward. This was a fine sacrifice. One that would become part of their tribal history. It was important for each warrior to be part of the kill. To wet their weapons. To do honor to the Ancestors and to their clans. It was important for all present to actually witness the sacrifice. To be part of the bloodletting, even if only to view that magical movement when the suffice would become one with the Ancestors…

A loud and demanding cry was heard from the jungle path leading to the village.

All gathered had been so intent on the proceedings that none saw or heard Kapu’s approaching party. It startled and angered Maena’s tribe.

Kapu shouted again.

Calling out that he had, according to custom, come to redeem the crime of his clansman. That he came in peace and expected nothing less.

He entered the village standing tall. Dressed in his finest he carried Maena’s Twau on a stick over his shoulder. The Twau was exposed for all to see. To be recognized as the Twau of their tribe.

Behind Kapu walked his frightened clansman. Dressed as a warrior he had been warned that any show of fear or cowardice could possibly mean death, on the spot, by Maena’s warriors but would definitely mean death, once they returned home, by Kapu’s own hand. He stood firm but privately was shaken to his core.

Kapu strode directly to where Maena stood. He looked neither right nor left. He paid no attention to the shouts or taunts of the warriors on either side. His eyes were locked on Meana’s and he enjoyed what he saw.

Meana was visibly shaken. Kapu had timed his entrance perfectly. His intrusion would cost Maena dearly. The Ancestors do not like being called upon. And, once called upon, they would not like going without the promised sacrifice.

Kapu Stood before Maena as an equal. He shifted the Twau in the direction of the senior warrior on Maena’s right. With a simple movement he shrugged the load off his shoudler and toward the warrior. Caught off guard the warrior had to either accept the burden or let it fall.

Once accepted it could not be returned, without insult.

He then cast his eye toward Yapo. He smiled inwardly as he saw the finery and valuable items on and around Yapo. He had forgotten how much pleasure the sight of Yapo gave him. He was well pleased.

He glared hard at the Matron who cowered low, hiding her head with her hands. With a grunt from Kapu she crawled from Yapo’s side and off the mat.

With a swift movement Kapu collected Yapo and slung him high onto his shoulders, leaving his hands free. He then turned to survey the gathering. He looked each warrior in the eye until each looked away. He stared with recognition at each of the elders and reveled as they lowered their gaze to the ground. At last he returned his eye to Maena.

Maena looked like an old woman. The teary eyes and the dry lips. He did not look away but his gaze was weak and compliant.

With a curt nod Kapu motioned his companion to collect the mat containing the various offerings. With quick movements each corner was gathered and the entire mat was pickup, sack like. He looked tentatively at Kapu but, feeling the advantage, raised himself high and proud and turned to leave.

Kapu followed slowly. Savoring the victory. Savoring the submissive attitude. Savoring the damage he singularly had inflicted on Maena and his tribe. It was a great victory that would be talked about for generations… 

Yapo lived a long and fruitful life. His story was and is recounted often. And many times  over his long life, by himself, for the benefit of his large and eclectic family.

Yapo died in 1996. He was a respected member of the Anglican Church. He was buried with all church rights and tribal honors. He is buried at Lata, Temotu Province, Solomon Islands. His family lives near by and still passes his tale to the “next” generations.

Written by nativeiowan

April 21, 2009 at 10:26 am

Posted in Uncategorized

A Cyclonic Night

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You can hear it coming… It’s very hard to describe. The first time (for the several first few times) it’s scary as hell to hear. It starts kinda quiet. A back ground kinda sound. Like rollers pounding the beach. You hear it. But have to pause to identify what you hear. Far away. Silent. Coming.

It’s the Doppler effect that throws you. The red shift as they call it. It has to do with sound moving slower as it comes towards you but moving faster as it meets and passes you. Or some such bullshit I failed to learn in Astronomy 101. It’s coming. Quietly. At first. Then louder… louder.

If you had to describe it… An army of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions. On the move. An air borne army. Wingless yet flying. Borne by the air. Carried by the wind. Bearing down. Directly in it’s path. You sit. Listening. Waiting. Wondering. If only it was. An army of thousands. If only it was.

The sound gets louder. Clearer. The ocean is a drum. A drum having the shit beat out of it. The wind is the alto and tenor to the drums’ booming bass and baritone. More sounds appear. Voices in the air. Airborne voices belonging to the faceless army. Wind competing with the drum. Alto versus Bass.

Or, is it alto and bass coming after you? The wind and the sea? Air and water. Two of the four original elements. Coming. Just for you. Where is fire and earth? Are they on your side? Lurking somewhere behind the other two? No time to run. No time to hide. It’s coming. Coming fast.

Wind hits first. A tremendous blow. Shaking the dwelling. Feel it lift? Strain to hold the earth? Is earth on your side? Will it let go? Let you, your dwelling go blowing away? Like Dorothy in the twister? Not a single blow. You realize. But a sustained effort to evict you from your rooted stance.

You hold on. Hold your dwelling to the earth. With your toes. Your eyes, ears… your will. Another strong gust. The dwelling rocks. The roof screams. Strains to hold. The walls shiver. Twist. Your bed shakes. Get up? Run? Where to? Outside? Into the wind? The fury. The fury trying to move you? Destroy you?

Feel it weaken? Gusts subside. Move on. You sigh. Relief. Then the noise. The army of thousands… millions. Upon you. A single blow. A million single blows. You are the drum. A drum hammered by a million pellets. Pellets of water. Not rain drops. Not these. Drops are little. Little and meek. These, big and fierce.

Your equilibrium has been damaged. You thought it was over. Or ending. Almost ready to relax. Roll over. Pull the sheets up. Dream a sweet dream. Forget about the wind. The noise. Forget about the sea thundering and the wind howling. No chance of standing now. Running… out of the question. Lie tight. Hang on.

The rain beats you. Driving into the earth what the wind could not uproot. The sound deafens. The tin roof now the drum. You’re inside. The windows rattle. You wish you’d ran outside. Into the Wind. The rain. Away from the dwelling. The dwelling has no chance. No chance in hell. Against such a force.

It’s a long, long night. Tiring Sleepless. Frightening. Lonely. Alone with the wind. The rain. Alone with the sounds. The noise. The dwelling moving. Being moved. Being twisted. Being torn. Brutalized. Abused. Vandalized. Victimized. Whipped and beaten. You console yourself. Stupid thoughts, really. But, at least, it could be worse; you could be at sea.

Written by nativeiowan

April 19, 2009 at 12:31 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The Box

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He gave me a box, that day, when first he told me he loved me. He did not let me open the box while he stood there. He bid me wait til after he had gone away, gone back to his home, to his other world, the one without me. I could do nothing more than obey, so deep was my love for him. How was I to know what I held in my own two hands?

I was not used to being trusted. Then again, I was not used to being genuinely loved or cared for or enjoyed. Here was a man who took my breath away, with every moment, with just a smile, and the leprechaun light a twinkle in his eye. This is the man who saved my life, more times than I care to remember. It was for him, although unbeknownst to me at the time, that I shifted my path and my direction. I chose him, much earlier than when the future had deemed appropriate, but much later than Spirit would have had us together.

I turned my back on a world that would have given me, after much work and determination, everything I had ever asked for from it. But then again, I had asked for so little in the grand scheme of things. In this man, I was given my heart’s truest desire: honest true love. How could I turn away from that?

So, there I was, with that small golden brown box clasped between my two hands, my breath too fast, my head a little achy. I worried my palms might be too sweaty to carry the thing. I stood in awe, looking at the intricate carvings over the top, along the sides. There was a patch of green velvety felt along the bottom, to protect it when I set it down. I fingered the edges tenderly. What could he have possibly given me?

I went inside, curled up in my chair against the wall so the sun’s light could tumble in, burnishing the chair and me, enshrining the contents now sitting on my knees. I knew where he was, on his journey home. I knew in my heart, so deeply connected we were. I sat patient, allowing him the time to arrive at his home, to greet his dogs, so start going along with his other business, the business that would never include me, but at its conclusion would never again bother me nor raise its weary head.

I took very slow very deep breaths, practicing my meditation in the space of the few minutes I needed to feel him calm down once he was inside his house. With intrepid fingertips, I caressed the glossy wood, stroking it as I often stroked his cheek, his arm, with utmost attention to truly feeling him with all my being, not just my skin. There was no lock. There was no calamity. I tilted the top back upon its hidden hinges. The heady scent of roses greeted me.

Inside there was a note, written in his hand. “Within this box you will find my heart. I leave it in your care as it has always belonged to you.”

I knew right then I would marry him. I have never looked back. I have never wavered. And I never will.

Prompt Found At The Chocolate Box

Written By Tabitha K

Written by Tabitha Low

April 14, 2009 at 2:53 pm