the rarest mettle
by tobias crabtree
yesterday there was some atmospheric phenomenon that made the air look like silver. one of my buddies told me it was from the surf and it’s size. the waves have been huge and crushing and i heard that the rollers out at sea have been unusually large. it makes sense to me that it would affect the air. all that water pushing and smashing, eventually floating in tiny particles that diffuse the sunlight. i don’t need it to be a scientific fact for me to know that there’s a different look to the world, i like the wonder.
in the silver light, just after dawn, i went for a walk down to the sea. on a small block of wood, along a fence, i found a hummingbird. the life was gone but the iridescence of the feathers was still glowing. it was just lying there with it’s tiny wings folded perfectly, it’s delicate feet curled into fists. i picked it up and carried it with me on the walk. i couldn’t stop looking at it. it was like a gem or a crystal, something precious. when i would look up, i couldn’t even feel it’s weight in my hand. i laid it down on a piece of driftwood. the wood was so polished and brown that it made the bird shine even more under the strange light. i thought about where that chunk of wood began, from what tree it was cut and hewn. that wood that was once a tree and became a shaped piece that was used by a carpenter to create some form. and then broken off and discarded and down to the sea where it traveled on the currents, maybe far out, and then tossed in the waves where the sand polished it smooth. at some point it was moved into the dunes where i found it. i laid the colored bird against it. both objects are the husk of something that once lived. the journey isn’t over, i guess. both will continue until they are dust and particle, mixed and blown and indecipherable.
with the thoughts of the bird and the wood and the mixing of life, i went to swim. china cove. above the cove where i like to swim there is a warning sign saying that people have been pulled out to sea in the rip currents. there aren’t life guards at this beach so it’s swim at your own risk. i’m by no means the only one that swims here. there is a collection of eclectics that haunt the upper deck. they brown themselves in the filtered sun and they have the same kind of look in their eye as the sea lions that haunt the beaches of distant islands. they are folks of the sea. on this day, this particular silver day, i was alone. there is no set time for the swimmers to show, but i am usually early. i swam out. 51 degrees fahrenheit, 10 celsius. it felt cold and achey against my head, i wear a thermal swim cap, but still, it’s tough. to eagle point and back and as i swam to shore i noticed a figure on the beach. the man watched me emerge from the surf and he was smiling and shouting. he was a japanese man and spoke broken english but it didn’t matter, i understood. he was excited that i was out in that cold and he was talking about hearts and health and the sea. i smiled with a rubbery face and stumbled with words from frozen lips. a short exchange, but good. both smiling. i waved and ran to my gear. up on the deck the sun was thinking about coming out, just a hint. as i was sitting down, i heard something from the beach below. i looked down and the man who had greeted me in was standing where the waves came just to the tips of his shoes. he was laughing, with both arms stretched in front of him, he was laughing out to the horizon. and laughing and laughing. i walked from the deck and out to one side as he continued to laugh. i didn’t want to bother him or get too close but as he turned i could see that he was laughing to tears. it was a practice, pure and simple. he was probably early sixties, but his smile made him look 30. he saw me watching and he laughed and so did i. we laughed at the sea and life and the sky. we laughed against the heavy. we laughed against the broken. we laughed under the silvery light and found our mettle with which to withstand the furies to come.
rare moments do live. they do.