Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Leif - Waves on Hawaii's North Shore

Leif spent a lot of his life in proximity to the sea, at least close enough to get there by car or train in an hour or so, and we always had a beach vacation every year. He loved the waves and water, the huge dome of the sky over the sea, and yet, living here in Florida he took little advantage of it. I think it's because nothing is as enjoyable if you have to do it alone, and once a person is depressed, things that normally would have been enjoyable don't sound attractive.

But all the years Leif was with us, he loved the sea, and loved the two cruises we too, him on, and most especially, the three weeks of sailing I wrote about yesterday.

We lived in Hawaii for three years, from the summer of 1983 to the summer of 1986, when Leif was 8 to 11 years old.

On rare occasions, huge waves roll in on the north shore of Oahu, those incredible waves you sometimes see surfers risking their lives to ride. This happened one winter and we went to see them. They were awesome! There's no way a small photograph can begin to reveal their size, power, sound, and beauty. You'd need an OmniMax theater! These waves were 40 feet high.

At one area where we were taking pictures, there was a shallow beach with coral reef formations that were slightly above the water both because of low tide and because when the giant waves receded, they left a shallower water level on the beach.

Leif, who made a "career" of escaping from me all over the world, decided to run out over the coral and head for the sea! I was terrified! In the first place, if a huge wave had come in, it could have quite literally carried him out to sea and he would have immediately drowned in the churning power of those waves, and probably been dashed to pieces on the very sharp coral. Secondly, there was no way I could get to him fast enough, and to do so would have meant endangering myself in the same way. And thirdly, I wasn't being very successful at navigating the coral rocks.

I started after him, shouting at the top of my lungs, but of course he couldn't hear me over the pounding of the surf. At the point I gave up trying to catch him and just prayed he would come back, I took this photo with a telephoto lens. He looks much closer to me than he actually was. You can just see his tiny figure at left.

I was so thankful when he came back, just in time, as a large wave poured over the rocks where he had just been! He didn't seem to have a clue why I was worried or upset and insisted he had been safe.

Leif always seemed to be telling me that, throughout his life, whether it was about riding his motorcycle too fast, driving his car like he was in the Grand Prix, or owning a dozen guns. He loved the rush of adventure and speed.

When we found that we could have him inurned at Bay Pines National Cemetery near the sea in St. Petersburg, a city where he hoped to live one day, it seemed fitting, though sad he would only be there in death. At his inurnment service, I read this poem, and I feel its sentiment fits well.


If Death is Kind

Perhaps if death is kind, and there can be returning,
We will come back to earth some fragrant night,
And take these lanes to find the sea, and bending
Breathe the same honeysuckle, low and white.

We will come down at night to these resounding beaches
And the long gentle thunder of the sea,
Here for a single hour in the wide starlight
We shall be happy, for the dead are free.

~Sara Teasdale
Sara Teasdale (August 8, 1884 – January 29, 1933), was an American lyrical poet. She was born Sarah Trevor Teasdale in St. Louis, Missouri. Like Leif, she took her own life.

I hope both Sara and Leif are free.

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