Laugh at First Sight

It was a time when people washed across the great planes like the flocks of birds in a fall sky, some on horses, some on foot, all chasing something somewhere.  Men were emboldened and emblazed by the fire of the dragon—the great mother dragon from the yellow river had laid her eggs in its clay banks, roared, and spread her wings, expanding into the curling clouds above, naming all below her children. A wise man dug the eggs free and made flutes with them, wrote the future history in pictures etched on their gravely surface and blew. The silver shimmering note vibrated with light, and then went, traveling further and further outwards like a ripple, becoming invisible yet tangible, like the touch of a feather, until…

Takai had heard them coming. It was another group of outsiders fleeing the wars, their belongings on their backs, on the backs of their livestock, children dragging in the dust, metal clanging from their belts.

They were exhausted, and made no attempt to hide.  The fires they made billowed smoke from the wet wood they’d gathered. Each group that passed had dislodged rocks from the steep valley path, left traces of their grief behind in the blood-smudged soil, shallow children’s graves. Their wheezing caravan sometimes sighed to a stop then moved on again; sometimes chaos broke out in shouts and accusations or violence ending in tears, muffled wailing. This time, however, someone was singing.

Takai had always stayed away. His mother said it was bad luck to see them. “Let them go their way, do not let them know we are here.” So their little farm—with ducks, rabbits, five chickens, two goats and one pig—remained unknown to these strangers.  The farm was hidden in a small ravine, at a spot where it opened up, cleft by one of the sun’s rays so that rice could grow in the little area where the stream widened and frogs and fish came to spawn and feed Takai and his mother.  Buddha-blessed, his mom had said of their little home. Sometimes, however, a hawk came to take a duck or rabbit if Takai fell to daydreaming, so he learned to be vigilant.

This day he had traveled down the body of water to its confluence with the other, larger stream in pursuit of catfish. That’s when he heard the caravan.  He remained on the rock overhanging the deep shadowed pools where he knew the fish hid from him. He let his hand sway in the current, twitching it like a worm so they would come closer, driven by curiosity and hunger. He had just felt the first tentative nibbles on his fingertips when the splashing started. Someone was coming up the stream. He jumped to his feet and shimmied up a tree, hiding in the thick overgrowth.

“Ja Ja, come back! Ja Ja, no!” A toddler splashed, giggled, jumped away on the exposed river rock from his older sister.  The girl, around Takai’s age, was dressed in colorful but tight dress and weighed down with packs and a heavy carved bone necklace.  She held a rope in one hand as she stumbled over the bottom of the stream. The toddler reached the promontory above the deep pool just below Takai and paused to gawk at the fish darting around. This gave the girl enough time to catch up with him.  “Ja Ja! How did you get loose? Daddy showed me how to tie this, but I must have done it wrong.” She proceeded to loop the rope around the child’s body in an attempt to tie a knot, but kept twisting it rather than looping it through. “Was it like this? Or like this?  I can’t remember! Oh gosh, I can never remember…”

The toddler laughed at his sister, who was making a huge mess of the rope. “Shen Shen never remember!” At this the girl threw up the rope in exasperation and it went flying into the pool. She grabbed for it as it flew and dove headfirst into the water.

Takai couldn’t help laughing at the idiocy of the scene until he realized the flailing girl couldn’t swim. The toddler started crying as his sister bobbed up and down. Takai jumped from the tree into the river and rescued the girl.

In the swirling waters, the river spirits playfully wound their souls.

Many things happened next, but the most important was that the forgetful girl ended up staying with Takai and his mother out of gratitude for saving her life. Her family was happy she would have a place to stay. Takai fell in love with the foolish girl and Shen loved clever Takai as well. The wars, migrations and movements of the outside world passed them by and they lived their life happily in their Buddha-blessed nest, raising children, watching them leave with the blossoms on the wind, watching seasons change and the stream flow, chasing the hawk from the ducks and rabbits and tending their plants. One day, when it was snowing and the wind whistled a sweet tune over the open mouths of jars made from river clay, Takai could no longer rise from his bed.  He called Shen to him and told her he was dying. She started to cry, but he wiped her tears and said, “Shen, I have decided what to do in my next life. I think I would like to be a hawk; they always get the better of me, snatching my rabbits and ducks. Promise me you will be a hawk as well. We will soar and hunt together.” She promised him, and he died peacefully in her arms that day.

With Takai gone, Shen did not fare well. She could not remember when to plant things, or how to do much of anything, and this made her anxious which made her more forgetful. She grew thinner and thinner until one day, when the river broke through the ice and sang a bright bubbling song in the sun, she knew she did not have long. So she lay down on their bed and crossed her arms, watching the shadow of the leaves on the wall.

Then she remembered.

She remembered that she had forgotten something.  She couldn’t die without remembering, so she sat up. She walked around her house trying to remember, searching, and then she saw Takai’s wooden sandals.  “Ah yes!” she said to herself. “I made him a promise!” but what was that promise? She knew it had something to do with the next life. She walked around and around the house until she heard the ducks sounding an alarm outside. This jogged her memory.  “That’s it!” she exclaimed. “Something about ducks, hawks, rabbits… ah yes,” she sighed, relieved, “I must come back as a duck.” So finally, feeling at peace, she lay down one last time.

In the spring, a young hawk was born high up on a cliff.  The parents fed him and he grew quickly. One day, flapping his young wings, he leaned into the wind and fell, then caught a draft up and floated for a moment. His wings beat a humming rhythm against the air and whistled as he circled lower. Soon, he was learning to hunt, following his parents and watching as they plunged earthward, pinning some small creature to the ground.  They brought him back pieces until he was ready to try himself.

In the summertime, the river teamed with life and a mother duck brought her ducklings to root along the long grasses of the bank. She had six young ducks. The last always swirled in circles, quacking loudly if it lost sight of the others. Often the mother had to go back to find it.

The hawk family saw this, and let their fledgling go out for the hunt alone.  This would be an easy way to learn. The young hawk circled in quietly, lowering slowly.

The mother duck spotted him and started quacking loudly for her ducklings to come.  Five of them ran under her protecting body and in the reeds. The sixth ran in circles, faster and faster, having forgotten what to do. She looked for her family.  The young hawk plunged. As it came down, however, the confusion and hilarity of the single duckling disoriented and amused it. In lieu of landing on the duck, it landed in front of it, which made the duckling flap and jump as well as running in circles. The hawk was confused, entertained, even delighted.  The dancing duckling was charming and its motions, while alarming, were also expressive and gracefully comic. So he forgot to try to eat it. Instead he flew away, feeling oddly frustrated. He could not stop imagining the circling duck.

The next day he was very hungry, so he went back to try again.

The same thing happened. As soon as the hawk was ready to make the kill, the duckling went in frantic circles, quacking, flapping, spinning, dipping and hopping. Her bright brown eyes—ringed in white fear—met his, and again he softened. So the bewildered hawk gave up again.  Day after day, the hawk went after the same duck. He could not focus on any other duck or animal. Day after day, the hawk went hungry.  Finally, famished, on a cold rainy night, the little hawk fell asleep and did not wake again. The dancing duck, exhausted as well by this continuous attention, passed the same evening.

As they drifted off, both had the same dream: of a stream that flowed to a river and a river that flowed to the sea. The hawk landed on the shore and, frightened by the vastness and missing what it knew not, called out over the sea. The duck did not remember, but its heart was filled with love. The love turned her into a silver-spirit hawk and she rose and flew out over the ocean.

Many dreams came and went: many callings, fallings, and the spiral of life spun around and ‘round, but the yearning burned in a humming bright circle until…

Sergei was always forgetting things his mother told him to do, but when it came to the sea and to boats in particular, he would remember every detail.  He could remember all the boats, the knots, sails, tools parts and hitches.  He did so by singing about them, making up a little melody every time he learned something new.  His song got longer and longer, but his knowledge grew.

He came from a long line of fishermen, and so it could be said it was in his blood.  His father taught him to read the skies and the sea to know what the weather would be, and how the currents would move and change. Yet he didn’t love the hunt for fish so much as swift feel of the wind on water when the boat moved quickly, the spray of white caps and the excitement of riding toward a horizon. So when an opportunity came for him to join a crew in the Russian Navy on a large Frigate headed abroad, he didn’t hesitate, leaving his younger brothers behind to inherit the fishing fleet.

His second assignment was aboard the Frigate Diana. They were sent to relieve a diplomatic mission to Japan which was originally assigned to the Frigate Paladin.  The Paladin had been a very fine vessel for its day, but was proving slower and less armed than necessary.  It was considered important to make a good impression, so the new, better-armed and swifter Diana went to relieve the Paladin of her diplomatic group.

Sergei was ecstatic, running from station to station, hoisting sales, watching the tiers of white billow out above. The massive hull of the vessel rode the wave crests rhythmically, drumming and booming like an enormous sleigh riding across snow.  Sergei’s heart beat in sync and his large frame swung in agile curves around the ship’s deck. He had no fear of the speed nor of the work and this made him a popular crew member. Oddly, he had no thought of where they were headed, so fully possessed was he by the joy of the journey in the vastness of the sea.

They passed a series of islands, still part of Russia. At one they met and were boarded by Commander Putyatin and sailed for Nagasaki in Japan, where he had business. Sergei had hoped to disbar in Nagasaki, but learned that foreign interference and failed negotiations forced Putyatin to sail at once for Edo, the capital.  They arrived in Shimoda, north of Edo. Sergei looked forward to disembarking the next day, but as they lay anchored in the bay preparing to go ashore, a strange wind came up. There was a horrible rattling and groaning from the shore where they saw a building collapse and people screaming, running.  They went to hurry to their boats to go ashore, but the sea then withdrew as in a low tide of extreme measures, exposing the sea bottom where sea creatures retreated and scattered looking for cover.  Some of the sailors thought this a good time to go ashore by foot and did so. Many roamed the exposed sea side grabbing crabs, stranded fish, and other treasures.  But others wanted to help the distressed people.  Sergei climbed up a high hill determined to see the extent of the damage, and understand why the sea had so receded. Once up the hill, what he saw in the distance made his blood run cold.  A wall of water, higher than any he had ever seen, was headed towards them.  He yelled to the other men down by the shore, frantically waving them up, but most did not hear or understand.  Some of his friends came running up, thinking it was a joke, but as they turned and saw their faces turned pale and jaws dropped open.  The wall grew higher and higher as it came closer, dwarfing the ships in the bay with its black massive body, rushing faster than men could run, tossing ships and spinning them around like tops when it came.

Only the Diana was still floating in the end. Barely. The rest of the boats were gone or in pieces. Many of the men were gone, few were found. Putyatin ordered them to sail her south, but she was badly damaged, and when a storm blew up, sank before they could get to Heda, a village they had been sailing to for repair.  They had to leap away her there, and prepare to drown. However, the villagers had seen them in distress, and saved them almost all to the last man.

The Shogunate of Heda  was Kawaji Toshiakira, a compassionate man, and he directed his people to help. Not only did they feed and house the Russian delegation, but they agreed to help them rebuild.  Sergei and his crew stayed for several months, working together with local ship builders.

During this time, Sergei came to appreciate this new country.  Its culture and language were completely different from his own, but lovely and fascinating. Most of the people were warm and welcoming, however, some were wary and threatening, but they did not act against them. So in his free time, Sergei felt safe to wander the streets of this strange but alluring village, absorbing the smells, sounds and views so completely different from his home.

One day when he was exploring on a beautiful summer day, he heard the sad sweet notes of a shamisen being played in a courtyard behind a wall. The instrument plucked at his heart, and the wavering voice of a woman reminded him of the reeling sighs of marsh birds from his homeland. He waited, day after day to hear this same singer; it became his ritual to walk there on his evening outing, and he savored the gentle melody floating on the warm wind.

The music awakened something in his soul.  He remembered things he had never seen: valleys with rivulets and waterfalls, the earth from above clouds, the blue forms of whales diving and he diving with them, large vast plains with incredible creatures moving over them, absurd as in a tall tale.  Some creatures were as grey and tall as a wall with horns from their mouths and noses that dragged the dirt, others with spotted necks, long faces like big goats with giant eyelashes and even longer tongues.   Yet always always the music was just as alive as the creatures and places, being smilingly elusive, playful and sad.

One time, when listening, he forgot where he was and the music welled up in him so strongly that he joined in the singing, a song he had forgotten but remembered there and then. When his voice lifted and swelled, the music from inside the courtyard stopped abruptly. It did not start again though he waited.  He vowed he would remain silent after that.  So he kept coming, kept waiting.

Then, one night, as he waited, a curious face peeked around the end of the wall, laughed suddenly, then withdrew.  Sergei’s heart skipped a beat.  He stood frozen for an hour, hoping that the shy creature would appear again, but it did not happen.

He came many more times, and only heard the singing.  He waited, hoping.  Sometimes he thought he heard stifled laughter, but saw nothing. He began to give up hope.

The ship, a fine fast schooner built for a speedy return home, was almost built.  Yet instead of being excited, Sergei began to dread the moment he would have to leave, afraid he would never hear his singer again. He intensified his efforts to see her, waiting in the morning before working as well as after work.  As the weather warmed, he found early wild cherry blossoms, and, knowing that they were appreciated there, placed some outside her door.  They were gone each evening.

Then he started carving. He found left over chunks of soft wood from the boat and carved at night.  Sometimes he carved animals, sometimes boats, and then, his finest, a beautiful crane. He left these as gifts outside the door, and was excited when they disappeared.

Finally, one of the last nights, she appeared again.

Without speaking, she approached him and took his hand, and put it on her heart.  “Takako, she said. He did the same, “Sergei”.  She nodded, leading him into her courtyard with a pool in the center.  She had laid out two tatamis and sat on one, indicating he should do the same.  She drew her Shamisen to her and sang; it was more beautiful than ever but sad and eery; Sergei was quickly enraptured by the music.  He did not notice the shadows on the white screens behind him. He only turned when she stopped playing and looked aghast with her mouth open.  A man stood in the open door to the house with a sword in one hand, fury on his face. The woman jumped up, she started shouting at him, Sergei knew she was telling him to go, he lept up and ran, the man started running after but the woman ran to stop him. He did not dare return for several days.

Yet he needed to see her one more time.  Maybe he could tell her he would come back for her. Somehow, he would communicate to her what he felt for her, and find out if she would come with him. So he waited to hear her, to see her, but the woman did not reappear nor sing again. At the high tide he left to return home on the vessel christened “Heda”, named after the village where it was built.

A year later, sick with pneumonia and delirious with fever, Sergei fell into a sleep from which he would not awaken.  He dreamt he went to back to Heda and to Takako’s house. He entered and she was sitting by a pool with her back to him.  The pool at first was black with the reflection of a full moon on the surface. He called her name many times but she did not move.  Finally, she turned without smiling.  Her face was all white and she shook her head no, slowly and surely.  He backed away, and saw the pool again, illuminated from within. He saw that her shamisen lay at the bottom of the pool with a sword through it.  He reached for it and fell in, the sword cut his hand, the water turned brownish red. His soul fled far, far away to the depth of a white cold.

The letter came in the middle of winter, so there was nothing Charlotte could do about it then.  Her sister, Cassie, who had married the eccentric boat builder, was having trouble with her second pregnancy, the Florida climate tropical, and with the leg that remained crippled from her childhood bout with polio.  She determined that she would go to help her as soon as the weather got better. It was the right thing to do, after all.  In truth, she was desperate for an adventure.  Concord was suffocating her. Her parents were awkwardly inviting the available local suitors and all of them were deathly boring. Unfortunately, they were often as determined as boring, so the opportunity for escape couldn’t come too soon.

Her parents were not helpful and seemed desperately to be trying to fit her into a mold. It was hard to imagine that her father had once been good friends with Mr. Thoreau, but that was what her uncle Ralph had told her. She loved her uncle and was devastated when he died. He had always encouraged her to study and follow her curiosities “Be yourself in a world even if it is constantly trying to make you something else. That is a great accomplishment.” He had once told her. She repeated this to herself like a prayer.

She had able to stay the boredom as a child and keep her mind keen becauseher neighbor, Miss Alcott, had loaned her the most interesting books. Thanks to these powerful influences Charlotte and her sister Cassie had ambitions and untamed spirits, she wasn’t like many other people in her safe puritan community and she knew it, she also knew that she would have to leave or be married soon and life would be over before it had ever begun. So the letter from her sister, begging her to come for a while, was an answer to a prayer. Besides, her sister needed her. So she immediately began to prepare for the trip, including writing to the director of the Peabody Museum in Boston. She wanted to familiarize herself with the fauna and flora ahead of time.  “She could also” as she wrote him “assist in collecting new etymological specimens from the wild tropical everglades to send back to the museum”.  He accepted her request and invited her to visit the museum where he supplied her with tools and equipment. She had also studied medicine, and procured some good books, tinctures and instruments to bring in case needed. It was exciting to plan for this new adventure.

Takahiro was of Samurai lineage, and eager to prove his loyalty and talents to the Meiji .  He had distinguished himself as a translator and soldier in the Sino Japanese war and had been made a captain but was eager for greater responsibility.  It was, after all, his heritage. His family had helped build Edo sending volumes of the stones used for the castle and canal walls, and when the Imperial Corps were founded, his father had been made an officer. They did not resist when the samurai class was eliminated by the Imperial Army and had in fact fought against the rebel Samurai, Saigo . Still, the country and classes were divided and unsure of their statuses. So when the call came to come before Yamagata Aritomo’s personal assistant, his family was relieved, deeply honored but also anxious.

He was in the capital right after the American diplomat left.  There was great optimism, the lieutenant told him, for the future.  However, Japan needed to learn more about the western power called the United States of America. He quoted the governments directive’ ‘Knowledge shall be sought throughout the world so as to strengthen the foundations of Imperial rule.’’. Then Takahiro learned he was to travel to the government in Washington to learn more about it, as well to learn everything about the country that he could. His ship would leave the following day.

Charlotte had also had packed her lace making tools for the voyage. She had always needed something to keep her busy; idle hands were the devils playground, or so it was said.  More than that, keeping her hands busy soothed her. If she could direct her nervous fingers to dance in circles, it allowed her to keep from getting too nervous. So she focused on her dancing fingers, which bobbed and hopped in an ever widening circle, a spiral. Even still, the waves and ship tossing made her nervous. And sick.

Takahiro boarded the immense vessel; he had never seen such a steam ship before. During the war, he’d fought aboard various torpedo ships, but never actually been aboard a ocean traveling steam ship, and this one was huge. The American sailors who crewed the ship were very busy preparing for departure, so Takahiro was left to find his way, dragging his baskets of belongings on behind him. By orders of the Lieutenant, he was to keep to himself, only wearing his regular clothes during the trip, keeping his naval uniform and European suits for when he arrived at the capital. He was not to tell anyone who he was until he reached the capitol city. This way he could observe his surroundings judiciously, while not drawing attention to himself. As far as the captain of the ship knew, he was a businessman from Tokyo going to negotiate trade terms with firms on the East Coast.  His trip was paid for by the Imperial Government, he was to be taken care of but left to himself.

The trip would take many weeks, traversing the ocean and rounding the southern tip of South America, so Takahiro had brought his journal to write, a sextant from his service, maps to study, as well as his newly acquired binoculars. The captain had one of his men lead him to his room to settle in.  Through a small porthole he could see the shapes of seagulls accompanying them as they departed. This comforted him and kept him busy initially, but he soon grew bored.

Still, it was hard to be alone all the time. One day when making a constitutional tour of the decking, Takahiro noticed an older man set to peeling potatoes for the evening meal.  His hands were bandaged with cuts and he was missing a finger. Takahiro smiled in greeting as he passed him and he smiled back.  Half way down the deck he turned back, came and sat down with the old man, took out his small knife and starting peeling alongside him.  They didn’t say much, but enjoyed spending many such moments together after that.

Charlotte circled the deck trying to keep down breakfast. She now cursed the fact that her yacht designing brother-in-law had insisted she come on one. The smaller ship hit the white capped waves hard and each pound heaved her stomach up towards her throat. She envied the gentile passengers aboard each steam ship they passed, leaning in a relaxed fashion over the railing and waving as her vessel shot by, beautiful white sails tautly catching the strong winds. She had her new hat tied tightly with a large ribbon that whipped the side of her head furiously as they went.  One hand gripped her shawl around her shoulders and the other clenched, white knuckled, to the railing. The heavy woolen clothing kept her warm, but also absorbed the spray and remained constantly wet. At first she had returned the cordial waves, releasing the railing for a split second, courteously returning a quick hand gesture with good manners.  However, her ill-temper had grown with her discomfort, and when the most recent steamer’s occupants hailed jubilantly, she had emptied the contents of her lunch over the side in return salutation .Now when passing, she withdrew to the covered area on the deck and glared in green envy at the slower, solidly ballasted ships. Oh to be on such a ship.

Takahiro was awakened by a dreadful sound.  He didn’t think anything could be louder than the rain and wind and the things that flew and crashed around the ship, but this storm off the north western coast of America was the worst he had ever experienced. Until then, the voyage had been relatively uneventful.

The steamer had traversed the Pacific with only a few areas of unsettled weather.  He had watched enchanted as they passed by lone islands wrapped in mist and contemplated the vastness of a sea that swallowed whales whole while sending flying fish raining in an artillery of bright silver. The sailors did not try to talk to him, nor he with them.  He had only spent some time with the old man who assisted the cook.. Aside from that, his focus had remained on his mission; he had not anticipated any obstacles. But somewhere north of San Francisco, their next stop, and within view of a cliff studded and tree tangled shoreline, the ship struck rocks. The hull tore and the boat moaned like the mortally wounded water buffalo he had seen killed as a child, a sound that had haunted his dreams and now was nightmare come-to-life.

Biscayne Bay was warm, calm, and bluer than any water she had ever seen. Now the yacht cut gracefully through the soft ripples with silken speed. Below, she saw a marvel of creatures and plants of all colors. Dolphins followed in the wake of the ship, and when she called singingly to them, they leapt joyfully.  Strange mermaid-like forms of Mantas, mothers and children close, meandered through dark green forests of seaweeds, and strange pulsating pink and orange flowers. Mantas rose and fell and flew, clouds of yellow fish swirled about coral hills and valleys where an animated octopus pursued a crab equal in size, turning pink then red, then squirting ink and jetting off when a shark meandered by. Suddenly, an enormous pelican plunged headlong into the waves towards this flush of fish, and the splash surprised and made her laugh out loud.  She had lost her hat somewhere back at sea, and now had a peeling red burn on her skin; she knew her mother would have been horrified to see her.  Additionally, she had been unable to keep her hair in orderly fashion; it was now amassed in a great untamed hill on her head and she continually pushed errant strands back behind her ears which floated out just as quickly. “We’ll be there within the hour” the Captain had called out to her, and she watched with excitement and apprehension as the dense palm and vine entangled beach came closer and closer.  Somewhere, there, was her sister with her family. Somewhere, there was her new life.

Takahiro only remembered that the old man gave him a life vest and then Takahiro jumped in to the ship sized walls of water. Sometime later he would realize that the old man had had only had the one life vest and feel pain, but also thanks. He did not remember much from that time, though. Just the surreal peace he felt at first being deep down inside the giant wave of water which moved in a swell with great speed away from the ship spinning downward. Men near to the ship swirled around, caught like leaves in the downward drag of the heavy metal form, arms flailing, legs kicking. Useless, he thought, and then remembered to swim. He remembered to go upwards.

The people who found him on the shore knew he was not one of the ‘White Men’.  They had seen Chinese Men, men who wore beautiful and colorful vining on their clothes, who braided their hair like horses in the back, and who were also mistreated by the ‘White Men’. Sometimes the Chinese had come to stay and shared stories spoken with hand signs of lands over the water. However, he was somehow different from that too. His hair was short and he was small and strong, like them. They took him from the beach and back to their village.  He had a bad fever, and slept for many days. The medicine woman said he was on a spirit journey; she had had a sign from the owl, so they took care of him.

Florida beguiled her, bewitched her, and now owned her. She loved her sister and family, the gay company of neighboring friends who came to visit, and the salty spray of sail boat rides on the Bay, but now, more than anything, she loved the scream of parrots ahead of the storms that swept through, the swift little lizards that scattered ahead like tiny bolts of lightning, and the heady scents, dense hues of broad leafed plants and flowers that saturated the jungle around them. Like the life she had left behind, her New England clothing was heavy, moist and suffocating in the clime.

Fortunately, their unusual home was tucked away from the rest of the community down a secret drive (the Commodore, her sister’s charming albeit loquacious husband didn’t like modern things such as cars and refused them entrance) and the family could live in immodest fashion, donning the light breezy clothes she sewed for them. These resembled undergarments and they wore them while they enjoyed the endless summer around the vast property, playing croquet, exploring, taking dips in the water’s edge.  It was heaven, so she thought, and she would never go back North. She knew she had to write her parents to let them know, but a sort of lackadaisical lethargy had set in upon her, days flowing like water one into the other and no bothersome suitors with agendas to impose.  She felt truly free.  She imagined that they had found the idyllic life Thoreau had written of, or Rousseau’s heaven on earth, but in far greater degree.

When Takahiro regained strength he thanked the Pomo people and prepared to set off to find the leader of the American people, as he had been charged.  He was good at languages, and quickly learned many words along with a form of sign language that the Indigenous people had used when communicating with him; he came to understand that this sign language was used between tribes and would be useful in his journey East should he encounter more indigenous people. However, he knew that the European Americans possessed carriages and trains so determined he should set out to make contact with them and somehow procure this transportation. He would head south, to where he knew a large city was located on a Bay of water, where there was a big port and many people that had come during a gold rush recently, a place called San Francisco.  He gratefully took the clothing and provisions provided him by the Pomos, wrapping his own clothes to keep presentable when he would visit the commander in chief, and set out on foot.

One day Charlotte set out early on a solitary walk, she had her etymological equipment with her; she was determined to collect some specimens for the Museum while the world was still somewhat still and before it set to wing.  By the shore, Charlotte stopped to admire the rising sun over the water piercing through the clouds like God reaching through. It reminded her of the vast landscapes she had seen in the Museum of Art in Boston and she suddenly longed for an easel and paints to capture the perfection.  At that moment, she felt a hand on her shoulder and jumped, surprised to see her husband’s sister who had quietly come up behind her.

“Oh!” she laughed putting her hand over her mouth, blushing with embarrassment,

“You startled me! I didn’t expect anyone else up this early!”  She confessed.

“I often return at dawn from the club but rarely meet anyone along the way.

Today, however, I saw a vision of an angel slipping down the trail to the seaside and had to follow!” The Commodore’s breath smelled of Brandy.

He smiled slowly and let his hand slip down to her waist. Charlotte became nervous and stepped back.  “I love to see the sunrise- it is beautiful, isn’t it?” She gestured out towards the sea, where the cloud had now covered the ray, and the sky had turned steel grey instead.

“It is beautiful, very beautiful,” said the commodore, stepping closer and putting his hands on her wrists in tight grip.

“Sir, you are hurting me,” Charlotte tried protesting, but his mouth was suddenly on hers. He slammed her to the ground just as suddenly, the rain came down in cold sheets, flooding the path with slippery mud, pelting her eyes, blurring everything, stinging, striking like hail.

When Takahiro finally found the Europeans they shot at him.  This happened repeatedly.  The first time, he had come down a hill towards several men in a field, waving. He tried doing the sign language he had learned as well as some English words, but they hadn’t understood or tried to listen.  They barked some guttural words, picked up a gun, and started firing.  It was clear his plan to get East was not working the way he’d hoped.

Charlotte’s excuse to her sister when she’d come back that day soaking wet and muddy was that she’d slipped down an embankment. She drew a bath and spent the rest of the day in her room, claiming illness.

Takahiro went from tribe to tribe; many were hidden away in valleys, caves, secret places in dense woods, hiding from the Europeans.  They were kind, for the most part, but also suffering, sick, and frightened.  He felt badly for these people who had lost so much. Yet they shared what they had with him. One tribe even gave him a horse to travel with.  He told stories about his people, and they sat and watched the stars move across the sky at night together. The landscape was a traveler, like him, in wilderness on the earth’s dance, always moving towards the rising sun.

Charlotte did her best to hide the feeling of terror and dread that now inhabited her.  She felt empty, except for these shadows, and when she felt empty she felt, at least, a sense of peace.  When the dread came, she wanted to flee, run off into the jungle and keep going.  But she knew she couldn’t do that.  Still, she packed a sack of bare essentials, a knife, a flint, extra clothes, a water canteen and kept it under her bed.

Takahiro moved as in a dream, always East.  He met a few lone Europeans who accepted him but couldn’t help him with his quest. This country was larger than he’d ever imagined. For months he walked across wide plains with the sky as big as a sea. He skirted a mountain range to the south, found he weather favorable in that direction, and so determined he would stay south but keep heading east. He couldn’t remember where the Capitol was exactly, but knew if he kept going east, he should find it.  The Indians told him of where different settlements were along the way; he avoided these and the carriages he saw in the distance. He did not want to be shot at again.

Charlotte lived now for small moments in each day, spending most time with her sister and the children, no longer venturing off alone. She carefully tried to avoid being left in a room or any situation alone with the Commodore.  However, there came another time when her sister and the children left on an errand unexpectedly, leaving her unknowingly alone in the house with the Commodore. He caught her alone in the library

On occasion, the Seminole and Miccosukee came to visit.  They would come out of a jungle, winding their way up the path.  This was an exciting event, and Charlotte and the family made cookies to give them.  Often, they just took the cookies, sat eating them on the porch, then left. Sometimes an elder would come who spoke some English and sit and drink with the Commodore. They regarded him as another chief. Charlotte loved these moments; not only was she free of the Commodore’s attentions at those times, but she found the costumes and customs of these people fascinating.  They were free to roam the jungles and forests, and they lived simply and lovingly with the nature.  When they left, she would imagine she was one, leaving down the path into the unknown, the free unknown.

Takahiro was fighting a low fever.  For weeks now, he had been trekking through swamp lands, in the direction described to him by the Cherokee he had met.  They had assured him that the capitol was this way, and to turn south once he came to the Ocean. He finally had turned south, but the lands became more and more hot, humid, and covered in dense foliage. He had to avoid gigantic snapping lizards in the waters and large snakes in the undergrowth. Once he had come upon a black lion with no mane.   They met each other’s stare, and the lion finally screamed and bounded away. Eventually, he met groups of natives who lived in these lands, more colorful than any he’d seen before with more beads, shells and feathers.  These were Indigenous people who had not lost their land, who proudly declared war on the Europeans, and who were a mix of African and Native people, having sheltered and adopted slaves that ran away.  When he asked them about the commander in chief of the European people, they assured him, despite his doubts, that the “Commodore” lived further south, they knew him well, and they would bring him there.

Life had settled now, for Charlotte, into tedious and terror. So when the Indians came that day it was with a jolt that she noticed a very strange looking Indian indeed. He had many of the beads and feathers that Indians wore, was small and dark skinned with longish (though roughly cut) black hair, but his face was quite different, more like the Chinamen she had seen one time in South Boston working on the ships. Furthermore, he was wearing unusual clothes, like a long robe wrapped at the waste. They were torn but seemed made of silk and very good quality. It was his eyes, however, that completely took Charlotte by surprise.  They darted about intelligently, assessing the house, the scene, and he bowed deeply to the family who came out with a platter of cookies. When he stood back up, his eyes looked straight into Charlotte’s and her heart did a leap. She felt like he’d seen her, knew her, but this was ridiculous. She laughed out loud, and then knowing this was rude, she ran into the house.

There had been such a commotion at the house about this new Indian, that the Commodore was called. Charlotte ran into him as he’d come to the door.  “There is this most unusual Indian here!” She exclaimed. For once he completely disregarded her, and strode to the door and out.  “That’s not an Indian at all!” He said.  “If my impression is correct, and I believe it is, I ascertain that this here fellow is, in fact, from Japan!”

The Commodore learned from the Indians that the man was indeed from Japan and was a diplomat, so accorded him the honor of hospitality. The family put him in a room and tended to his fever.  Charlotte got to spend time with him, which was a relief because it kept the Commodore away and also she found the visitor entertaining as well as fascinating. They quickly figured out a system of signals to communicate with, and she learned about his journey and life as much as was possible by this means, and he about hers.

Their communications were funny and enlightening. Charlotte learned that Japanese regarded Europeans as having noses like mountains and skin like a dogs because of the hair all over.  Takahiro burst out laughing when she managed to convey to him how she’d thought he was the weirdest looking Indian she’d ever seen.  He was refreshingly honest, genuine, and extremely kind.

Takahiro, thought he had found the Commander in Chief at the capital of the United States and was greatly relieved to have so gracious a diplomat as Charlotte to explain things for him.  He was finally fulfilling his mission of finding out about the country, although it was not at all what he expected and in fact he found the whole situation quite bizarre for a president of a great and modern country. Takahiro was also glad to have someone to converse with.  Charlotte was eager to understand what Takahiro had been through and slowly came to understand about his journey cross country with the various tribes and how he had traveled from West to East.  She couldn’t understand why coming all that way to meet the Commodore was so important, and when she tried to inquire about it, Takahiro also seemed unsure. Charlotte thought the Commodore was important, at least he thought so and enjoyed having other people think that, but it was hard to believe his reputation could have reached across the sea.

Takahiro spent a lot of time with the Commodore as well, who was happy to elaborate on all things whether he understood them or not. Truthfully, he was a brilliant man but even more brilliant at convincing others he knew more than he did.  It didn’t take Takahiro long to figure this out. Takahiro also figured out his linguistic mistake.  The Chief Commodore was not a Commander in Chief.  But from what he gleaned, he was nonetheless important and representative of a similar class in that society. So, somewhat disappointed in his mission gone awry, yet fortified by the realization that he had indeed learned about the country, much more, in some ways, than if he had simply gone directly to Washington, he decided he should return home.

In the coming days he set about preparing for his departure. The Commodore was incredibly generous and helpful, giving Takahiro money, a horse, clothes, and provisions for the journey. Takahiro found, however, a resistance welling within. It was sadness at leaving this dear friend, a woman he had grown very fond of. He found himself looking for her at all times.

The next time they spent time together, he told her of his plan to return home, and how beautiful his home was, how he had no one waiting for him there, but longed to be married.  She nodded sadly, accepting his decision and yet suddenly inundated with despair and the knowledge that she would be left alone again, vulnerable and in constant fear. She would again be trapped. A tear rolled down her cheek.

Takahiro was surprised and realized his proposition was being misunderstood so he reached out and touched her gently on the cheek.  Charlotte jumped electrified.

“Terribly sorry!” he tried to calm her “I want to be with you” He searched for the words but could not remember them. Charlotte jumped up, bad memories rushing back, and fled the room.

Takahiro knew he had been misunderstood and had to make things right.  So he set about searching for the Commodore who was out at the time, and ran into Charlotte’s sister Cassie. When Cassie explained the Commodore was not at home, Takahiro slumped into a chair, his head in his hands. Cassie was worried and got Takahiro to explain the trouble to her. She did not fully understand at first, but she had noticed the rapport between her sister and this man and knew, even if her sister did not, that they were in love.

Being able to talk to a kind person without his heart in his throat allowed him to remember the words he had forgotten.  “Marry”. Cassie’s eyes went big and she sat down slowly.  Her sister had been so sad recently until he’d come.  Now she contemplated this crazy idea from a strange foreigner. It was weird and wildly wonderful. It was good. “The Commodore will be home soon. Wait in the Library.”

When the Commodore returned Cassie greeted him with the news. He strode directly into the library. Takahiro, half asleep from the wait, leapt to his feet. “What is this I hear? After all we’ve done for you?  You think you can marry Charlotte? The audacity!” His face was red from anger and drink. “It is absolutely preposterous”. He slammed the table. Takahiro had anticipated some objection, but nothing quite so violent. Nonetheless, he spoke. “Please, if you will ask Charlotte I think she may be in agreement. I have just said things quite in a wrong way, but I think she has feelings too to marry.”

The commodore was momentarily speechless, and then exploded angrily “Charlotte has no feeling to marry, she cannot marry, she is mine!”  Takahiro’s mouth dropped open disbelieving what he had heard, unsure he had understood. “I mean she belongs here. “ Besides” the Commodore continued, realizing his transgression “Besides, Asians and Europeans cannot interbreed- it’s not natural. It’s utterly repulsive! I suggest you take your leave of this premises immediately!”

This Takahiro understood.

After Cassie had told the commodore the good news, she hurried as quickly as her one good leg would allow up to her sister’s room.  She found Charlotte feigning sleep. She sat down in the dark next to her. “He wants to marry you, that’s what he was trying to tell you.” Charlotte rolled over, wide awake, towards her sister. “What?” She was stunned.

“Takahiro wants to marry you! He’s talking to Robert right now.” Cassie replied.

“Oh my!” She sat up in bed “Oh my! I don’t know what to say, this is so… unexpected”.

“Well do you or don’t you?” her sister leaned into her teasingly.

Charlotte sat for a moment, awash in emotions; suddenly realizing that she had mistook what he had said earlier.  He really was a genuine, kind man. He wanted to be with her… in a most honorable way. She felt as if suddenly, the universe had come to her rescue and a miracle had happened.

“Yes! I do”

The two women hugged and talked about what it might be like, how it would work out.

“I really like him, Charlotte. He’s very different, but he’s really good.” Said Cassie.

“And clever and smart! And funny!” added Charlotte.

That night no adults in that house slept, no one, except the Commodore, with his empty brandy bottle by his chair on the side table.

The cranes flew up from the great waterways ahead of him as he paddled west now, their wings wide and full.  He wished they would pull his heart out of his body and fly away with it.  It was so heavy, he feared it would sink the canoe. He would return home now.  Having gained something, then lost it, now emptier than ever. He knew what he would tell the Emperor about these people.  He did not, however, know what he would tell himself about her. He felt incomplete, angry, betrayed, vexed, and most of all he missed her laugh and shy smile.

The quail burst suddenly in a brilliant beating of wings from behind the bushes as she strode forward. She had her sack looped over her shoulder, a hat tied under her chin, her best boots on and an excellent walking stick.  She had made these special clothes, half pants half skirt, after she had learned what he had done. The clothing was styled after Takahiro’s own, and was cool or warm as needed, and very functional. She waited patiently for the right timing and then, when the family went on an outing she stayed home “ill”. She followed his footprints; she could still see them, though the rains had washed them mostly away.  She did not know what she would do when she lost them, and she would.  She only knew she would follow the trace of them West.

Takahiro came again at last, to the edge of the big ocean. He boarded a merchant ship bound for Japan and returned to his country.

Charlotte took long to cross the country because she helped people along the way, her nursing skills became invaluable and she couldn’t leave her patients. A few times she woke up thinking she heard his voice and ran to it, but it was words on wind.  In the end, she was a different person by the time she reached the Pacific.  San Francisco did not suit her, and she was too fragile to board a vessel, so she found a mountain across the mouth of the bay to the North.  There were giant trees and sparkling lakes where she could live with the hiding people, and where she could climb and look out over the Pacific Ocean, hoping to see something in the distance.

One day, when she could no longer climb, she took her owl rattles down to the cliff by the sea. She was tired, and felt broken.  She wondered why she had come all this way, and hadn’t found home.  She thought maybe she should start over. She wished for the safe life she’d left behind.  She felt so alone.

So she danced, and called out one last time.  In his sleep, Takahiro heard, rolled his white haired head on the tatami, and called back. He woke for a minute, got up and looked at the moon, his heart full of longing. Some strange music filled him, pulled him, and he wished he could follow.

Sharon was born in Sudbury.  When people asked her where that was (and they did) she told them Concord, because it was one town over, and everybody knew where Concord was because that was where the revolutionary war had started. She was born on Concord Road, after all, at a historic house. They found papers in the walls from the Revolutionary days, and watched a re-enactment of Washington’s march every year. Everything was safe and predictable. She resented being anchored by history and tradition, so when long-haired Paul came with his 60’s free ideas, she was ready for the flower power of love.

Sharon came to California with her boyfriend Paul in their Hippy Van, traveling across Colorado and Death Valley, swimming naked in streams, dancing with deers,  and sleeping under the stars, then landing in Los Angeles.

Venice beach swarmed with self-absorbed skaters and wanna-be starlets high on cocaine and yogic spirituality when she worked as a waitress in a side walk café. On weekends, she and Paul did art shows where they sold Paul’s phallic ceramics and macramé sculptures by Sharon. They were madly in love when Paul was diagnosed. “6 months tops” his doctor had said of his Hodgkin’s. So they got married and went to Mexico for Laetrile treatment. This was an alternative treatment using an arsenic based extract from almond pits; fanatical users swore it worked. However, Sharon nearly died from gastrointestinal parasites and Paul didn’t heal miraculously so they went back to Los Angeles. She kept working at waitressing, art, and He kept doing herbal treatments, chemotherapy and art.

When Sharon had been little she’d had a dream that she was a bird.  It was a very real dream. In the dream, she was flying very very high up over clouds. She could feel the wind, the sun.  When the clouds broke, she could see a mountain, rimmed in giant pines, jeweled with lakes.  On one side was the ocean, and on the other a bay.  Her heart sang “I am home!” as she circled to meet the shining water.

So, when they traveled North to do an art show and had just crossed the Golden Gate bridge, she had a jolt of recognition as the marine fog layer pulled back like floating silk, revealing the silhouette of a tree-rimmed Mountain.  “I am home” she whispered, and they moved there.

They lived in a studio apartment where it rained all winter. It rained so hard and long the banana slugs slid across their window shields when they drove, shuttled out of center by the wipers they kept gliding from the front of the car to the back down the freeway. Most of the time they were stuck inside the small apartment together with the cat who insisted on meowing at the front door until it was opened and it realized once again, staring into the pouring deluge, that there was no out.  Paul had wanted to learn Saxophone but he couldn’t afford one, so he played clarinet because it was the same fingering.  It was not the same sound, and he played non-stop.

She never imagined she would miss that sound.

Paul had been a mountain climber.  A week before he died, she dreamt he climbed the mountain, and then kept going. After he died, she wanted to follow him.

For a long time she was alone.  Sometimes she would hear a saxophone in the ethosphere, and then she knew Paul was okay. But she wasn’t. She missed him at night, mostly.

After a few years her friends told her she should date. So she got into a relationship. It was abusive.  She left, and decided she didn’t need one.  She was good by herself.  But she loved her friends. And she loved the saxophone. It reminded her of what it meant to truly love and to hope.

Her friend Lucia came to visit from Spain and Sharon wanted her to stay; she didn’t want to be alone anymore. So she devised a plan inspired by the “parent fix” to keep Lucia with her.  She would show Lucia the best of San Francisco Bay Area and Lucia would want to stay..

When Lucia came to visit, she told her to they were going out to a club, but Lucia only had jeans and a blouse so Sharon forced her into her poofy and colorful tango dress.  Lucia didn’t like the dress, but she loved her friend. So she put it on.

They went to the club ‘Bezerkley’ in the East Bay where Joe Higgs was head-lining. He was famous and had taught Bob Marley how to play and the club was packed.

Then it happened.

The door opened, and a magical sound burst outwards upon them..  There was a head-lining band called Rastah-roots, but the sound that greeted them was beyond that.  A single saxophone was solo-ing. It was deep and ocean wide.  It dove like a whale and then lifted up in a rush. It flew and sang. It was serene and sad, big and blue, strong yet infinitely gentle.

Sharon was entranced, and, dragging her dear friend, poofy party dress and all, pushed through the dense crowded room to find the musician.  She could already see the other players from afar, tall African or Jamaican or Caribi artists with guitars, trumpets and mikes, but not yet the Sax player that entranced her. She realized he must be seated, so she could not see him yet. Yet she knew instinctively who she was looking for- a tall black man, clean shaven, maybe bald, wide as a river, with an intense but gentle face.  She finally broke through to the front of the stage.

And there he was. She arrived just as he finished his solo. Their eyes locked, and—

She burst out laughing.

The saxophonist was barely larger than his instrument.  He was a small, thin Asian man who barely looked big enough to hold up the cumbersome sax, let alone wale like a whale on it.  She was riveted by him and the delightful joke he’d played on her by being him.

He looked Chinese, and she found it fitting that the poster behind him on the wall was Wang Wei Ling, the “Tank Man,” who had stopped a line of tanks in Beijing just by standing up to them and holding up his hand.  It had happened during the Chinese government’s oppression of the Tiananmen Square protest earlier that year.

Lucia and she found their way to the back where there were couches for both audience and players.  In true Bezerkly style, there was no separation of the classes, and people from all countries, walks of life and ages came. Later, when he passed by her where she and Lucia were sitting on a couch, she complimented his playing.  All he said was “yeah, thanks” and walked by.

“Yer welcome,” Sharon whispered sarcastically to Lucia.  They both rolled their eyes.

But later he came back. She was translating between Lucia and a Russian defector and the player leaned in from behind.

“Translator, eh?”

“Oh you came back,” she said, now non-plussed.

However, she found he was charming, funny, clever, and interesting. His name was Tadeo,he was from Japan, but had wanted to learn Jazz, so arranged to go to school in the States.  She translated everything he said to her for Lucia.  It occurred to her that he might be a perfect match for Lucia. She was little and dark and foreign. He was little and dark and foreign.  They were both wonderful and she wanted to keep them both.  If she could hook them up perhaps Lucia would not go back to Spain at the end of her stay.

“Ask him to dance!” she whispered in Spanish. Lucia turned and stared at her incredulously.

“You really are a dope, aren’t you!  First the dress that makes me look like a piñata and now this…” she hissed back.

“Don’t you like him?” Sharon insisted. “He’s wonderful”

“Dopey girl!” Lucia’s eyes were popping out of her head now.

Lucia then spat in her ear. “You are the one who likes him!”

And she was right. Sharon suddenly knew it was true. Her head protested but her heart knew.

She remembered. She finally remembered.

And for the first time in a long time, she reached out her hand to him, and they moved to the dance floor, circling round together, following in sync what the stream spirits wove so many years ago.