Skerries we called them back on Scotland’s black and jagged coastline, these far-ranging rows of age-old rock stretching parallel to the shore and descending, sharp and menacing, to the water’s edge, and then beyond, emerging now and then from the green and ever mobile to and fro with a seething flash of white and an exploring colony of gulls, brown ducks, or a motley clutch of gossiping eiders. Far to the left, where stone is overcome by sand, Higgins Beach begins and a bobbing batch of black-clad surfers paddle off still searching for their perfect wave. Out there, farther than eye can scan, lies Europe. “On a clear day,” Mhairi and I will claim, “you can see Portugal.” And there are conditions when a bank of cloud on the horizon, or some faint mirage shaped on the distant gleam can seem the cliffs and headlands of Iberia. Time was when, sitting here, I might conjure up John Keats, seeing myself as bold, intrepid Cortez, silent, wondering on his peak in Darien. These latter days it’s old Ulysses comes to mind, as Tennyson has him, scanning beneath, beyond the arch of rich experience, yearning to launch one final expedition, to claim whatever still remains, set sail for distant Portugal.
Gun metal gray the sky this morning and along the shore at dead low tide an on-shore wind blows spume across the wave tops. Rain before dark, they say, and even some late snow to dash our dawning dreams of green and blossoming. Undaunted, a new pair of mallards— splendid headed male and female—inaugurate the new-thawed pool beside the dog run of our ocean-front retirement home. Silent, they move across, now venturing among the reeds to break their long migrating fast, and seek a secure nesting place to lay the future. Blessing their ancient quest, I call to mind one week ago, on this same daybreak dog walk, I was surprised, almost alarmed, by one great, stately snow white egret, with his mate, also foraging among the weeds, as the larger of them rose, spread his quite angelic wings, and wafted a bright unexpected blessing to my aging head, as he moved on in search of richer waters.
So Jesus’ wealthy friends did prove useful in the end. All four narratives seem to agree on this. Joseph, after all—the one from Arimathea, not his Dad— Joseph pulled strings with Pilate. Did he have to call in a few favors earned in questionable ways so he could claim possession of the corpse? Old Nicodemus too, Jesus’ night-shift friend from the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus makes his own fleeting reprise, carting along a ton—almost—of fragrant spices, nard and myrrh (again!), for preservation purposes. Although where he got such pricey stuff, late on a holiday Friday afternoon, is never quite explained. And that convenient, fresh-hewn, garden tomb; even back in the day, sepulchres such as those did not come ten-a-penny! Add in all the hired help they must have needed to get stuff from here to there and, of course, to roll and seal that massive rock . . . Whole thing makes you wonder—doesn’t it?— wonder if that narrow needle’s eye got prized wide open— camel-size, at least—to accommodate these late allies.
We practiced at “The Decontam”— clumsy name for an ugly place—bare concrete rooms buried beneath a protective pyramid mound of soil, turf, and God knows what, designated sanctuary nonetheless for any unlucky enough “in the event of nuclear attack” to survive the initial blast and burn to reach this subterranean space of hollow refuge. The Station Decontamination Centre—to rhyme the place in full, an—as yet—unfrequented location (praises be . . .) where, Tuesday nights, an ill-assorted crew of horns and woodwinds—sackbuts, cornets, clarinets, even the occasional bassoon—would fumble-stumble along through “Colonel Bogey,” “The RAF March Past,” old favorites from Gilbert and Sullivan, “Chu Chin Chow,” and Noel Coward, rehearsing for the CO’s garden party, full-dress dinner evenings at the Mess. They echoed so, those naked rooms and sounding corridors, as if our music might drown out—yes, decontaminate—the cold, blind fury cradled tight beneath the wings of our sleek avenging bombers; full squadrons perched above in laden readiness, paying no heed to our hapless melodies and marches.