The Fifth Essence

Trip Start Jun 02, 2007
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of Indonesia  ,
Thursday, August 7, 2008

There is much more to this place than meets the eye. A tremendous undercurrent, a darker side. Maybe it's because of the tsunami, or maybe the tsunami is only one aspect. This is a place where strong currents converge.
 
The sea rolls heavily, whipped up by an all-day wind blowing through the trees with what borders on ferocity. The wind rips across the surface, making itself visible. It builds the sea into foaming white horse heads along the shore. The visibility is lower now; white sand swirls in the currents below my bungalow. At night, I have vivid dreams of the waves carrying my bungalow away to the open sea. The sea has so much power. So many dreams of the sea.
 
Today I began cleaning up the garbage around my bungalow, picking up all the Aqua bottles that have blown over the side, the beer cans, the plastic bags. A book cover, the back ripped off the original book, stamped as sold from the Shaman Bookstore, appeared today, snatched by the wind and spirited along to lay between two rocks:
 
What is the universe made up of? Will the universe continue to expand forever; reverse its expansion and begin to contract; or reach a delicately poised stated where it simply persists forever? The answers depend on the amount and properties of matter in the universe, and that has given rise to one of the greatest paradoxes of modern physics: there is too little visible matter to account for the behaviour we can see in the universe. Over 90% of the universe consists of this 'missing mass' or 'dark matter'-what Lawrence Krauss termed the fifth essence.
 
I would not want to be in this current now. A man in a brightly painted blue and turquoise boat, curved sharp like a horn, waits it out on the other side at Pulau Rubiah. I wonder if there are snorkelers over there wary of the current, as they should be. When I returned on a much calmer day, but also in early evening when the diurnal (twice daily) currents seem strongest, I was swept about 40 metres down. I almost panicked at the strength of it sucking me out to sea.  I calmed myself down and remembered to cut in a straight line toward shore in a side current, as my university oceanography course had taught me.
 
It worked; I was still swept far, but made it to the beach, my heart thumping with the effort of swimming so strongly. I had gone out with Dom to the point, and we had decided to stop swimming against the current there and turn back. It was strong, and swept us toward Pulau Weh so that the scene below moved by like a movie. But it was even better than a movie, and infinitely better than television. This was real life, in all its glorious high-resolution colour sliding by, with fish sporting markings so sharp they look as though they've just come through a laser printer with a fresh colour cartridge in it.  
 
The fierceness of nature can be so beautiful. The pictures of the tsunami were oddly so. The sea is now, roiling and churning, a sombre shade of aquamarine. I wonder where the fish are hiding now, or if they feel the current. Maybe they've gone deeper and are hiding under rocks so they don't feel it.
 
A recently arrrived Italian who looks kind of like Charles Manson (same big eyes), but with dreadlocks under a batik wrap and the name of a sad French clown, said in Mama's Restaurant, "In a western country, there would be a warning out not to swim across the channel. But here, pssht. The locals just say, 'Sure, swim across! No problem!"   We laughed, but it makes me realize that there's a certain recklessness in the Indonesian spirit that unnerves me sometimes. Death sits right alongside life and laughs in its face. Everybody here knows someone or has lost someone close in the tsunami, or the area's 30-year civil war, along with just plain old illness and accidents, the more mundane life-takers. But they can sit and drink coffee, and laugh and laugh and laugh. It conceals deeper things beneath the surface, things I can feel like a sickness in my bones. Dark matter not readily defined.
 
The death of the coral along the bottom of the sea is a reminder of its merciless power; cold white bones litter the sea bed like pine needles on a path in the Canadian forest. But new life springs from leaf litter. In this coral garden, it is also happening; new round growths sprout from the sea bed like flowers of cornflower blue, mauve, baby pink, fresh new spring green. Life is regenerating itself in the wake of the tsunami. The locals are hard at work
 
The sea is calmer as dusk falls, but the wind is still stubborn. It insists on leaving its fingerprints all over the surface, raking and twirling it with sharp fingernails, speaking through the trees of its unease.  
 
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