I Ran Away to Sea

Perhaps there is nowhere left to go where the great shadow does not follow. Not any longer. Now that the way things are going is so clear. Even out there on the ocean, away from the busy land. We were far out yesterday. Beyond the islands for a while with only the endless ahead of us. Out to the fish in a small boat on a choppy sea, my helpless self just ripe for the drowning and a seafaring man whose name is trust and whose soul, if any can be, is still as light as thistle-down.

I wanted away from the taint of knowing. So I took as little as possible on board and amongst my next-to-nothings all the magic charms I could muster. I had tied up the feathers and traces fresh that morning with the silver hooks my grandfather had left me in old tobacco tins, still in the grease-paper, untarnished. They had been protected all these years from corrosion and the news of how things had turned out for us. So that they might still have some luck. I looked for a piece of iron near the jetty and found one that fitted a hand like it was born for it, with a good thump for the killing. A dented flask of rough coffee. An old bucket.

We caught fish easily. Fine pollock. Travelling mackerel on the small side. The biggest fish went back as gently as we could and us scolding them not to be caught again. The small fish went back quickly and away my lads and lasses. We talked, as our species does, but stopped often in the middle of a sentence, for a fish or a bird or just for the stopping, and never picked up where we left off. Shearwaters passed just to seaward.

I try to learn things from him by watching. How his knife respects the backbone and the ribs to make a fillet just so. How he looks and sees and moves on. How he doesn’t mind. How he greets each wave in the infinite ocean as an individual, with its own face and its particular ambition. These and many things I might learn by watching.


But not this closing ceremony. The giving. This is his alone and cannot be replicated, only witnessed. Perhaps each man or woman has their signature way of giving, whether they know it yet or have still to find it. We have stopped fishing because we have enough fish. For our tables and for neighbours’. For the old men who no longer go to the sea. He gives back what we do not require – heads and guts, some livers and tails. He gives to the black-back and the herring gulls. To a young brown gannet down on his luck. But with a hidden smile he raises his arm, looks away as if he is shy, and gives the best and richest to the kittiwakes. The kittiwakes so close and so delicate as if you dreamed you were a bird and took a lover. He knows where the chicks are waiting on the Tory cliffs and imagines them full and fat and lolling asleep tonight. He dreams he is a bird.


Image of Kittiwake by Mmo IWDG / Wikimedia

12 comments on “I Ran Away to Sea

  1. Your posts are beautifully crafted, David. It’s a pleasure to read them. (I’ll be back for another edition of Earthlines as soon as life gets back into line).

    • There is the ocean for you, giving and giving until she has no more to give. They say that a coconut can drift as far as the shores of Donegal.

  2. ‘Whose soul, if any can be, is still as light as thistle-down’. Being fully aware of the Great Shadow with a light soul. It is possible, is it?

    • I still haven’t watched long enough to know how. Not through ignorance or whimsy, for sure. But yes, in some miraculous way.

  3. Thank you David. I can’t quite find the right words to express how moved I felt by this. I imagine that all of us who feel kinship to the ethos of Earthlines are familiar with that desire to escape the great shadow.

  4. Taking just enough for yourself and your friends and then giving back…a lifetime of wisdom in that phrase.

  5. I felt the rise and fall of the waves under me, as I read. And I always feel the same desire to escape the great shadow. Perhaps, now, that has to be a place writings, such as this, takes us. Thank you.

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