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Dave and Anke
triloboats swirly gmail daughter com

Friday, December 20, 2019

At Anchor in the Belly of the Beast

Jonah in the Belly of the Fish
By Eugene Ivanov

I was the blood in the water, and Oh!
  It felt so good to run so red.

- From Little Red 
by Ashe Vernon

At Anchor in the Belly of the Beast

There are places where it all comes together. Where sun and moon drag the sea over granite bones of earth, churning it to froth. Where life and death wrestle in an embrace older and more intimate than love. Where we have had the luck to find ourselves.

Where the World Beast may be glimpsed by we, who dwell in her belly.

At such a place. On such a night. We set anchor at the edge of it all.

We'd been trying to round a vast promontory which bends that send of sea into whorl within whorl of turbulent gyre. Nutrients are churned in stately violence to permeate the water column. Life blooms and feasts.

Wind had failed our purpose. A storm was coming, but there was a chance we might sail forward in the rising winds of its advance. We sculled into the growing dark and fog and the lee of the current and set anchor at the fringe of a kelp forest.

And oh - the waters ran red.

The hunters were round about. Whales and porpoise. Sea lions and seals. Otters of both land and sea. These, we could hear by breath and bark and song. And others working the web, inaudible to our ears.

Krill ate plankton who in turn lit the waters in auroral splendor, illuminating the kelp. Fish ate  krill, and were in turn consumed. Each moving thing leaving its trail of fire in the water.

And the birds, awake to this nocturnal gluttony, their excited cries piercing the fog.

We sat on deck in the midst of it all, silenced by Music.

A Music whose bass notes shook us to the core. Whose high notes 'most evade the ear. Whose every voice is sung by the very mouth which feeds. Whose every note choired a harmony unplanned, but resonant beyond human ken.

A Music which calls to our feral selves. To our selves before we sowed the field or built the walls. When we, too, sang our own wild song with our brothers and sisters 'neath the untamed moon.

To our selves before we dreamed we had a self, separate from the World.


But I am a child of civilization, so called. Burdened with the gift of tongues, wagging ceaselessly in my head, I am cut off from direct experience of the World.

A note, or here and there a phrase, are all that is vouchsafed me.

Yet there is a joy in knowing - as perhaps no other animal can - that we are all related. In life. In death. Knowing our own mortality. That predator and prey are but organelles within a greater Beast.

That within our very own guts, legions of flora and fauna are wholly engaged in a microcosm of that give and take of life and death which surged around us that night. In our very cells, predator and prey are merged in symbiotic union. And throughout this ferment - underlying all - life's very cipher flows horizontally, grafting the branches of the Tree of Life.

We may call it struggle, red in tooth and claw. The survival of the fittest and the elimination of the weak. War. Our words hand us only what we know.

We do not yet know that all are One. Always have been.

I, for one, sail to find nights like ours,  in the dark and blood and seethe of Life.

For just a glimpse.


  1. "The Patrician took a sip of beer. 'I have told this to few people, gentlemen, and I suspect never will again, but one day when I was a young boy on holiday in Uberwald I was walking along the bank of a stream when I saw a mother otter with her cubs. A very endearing sight, I'm sure you will agree, and even as I watched, the mother otter dived into the water and came up with a plump salmon, which she subdued and dragged on to a half-submerged log. As she ate it, while of course it was still alive, the body split and I remember to this day the sweet pinkness of its roes as they spilled out, much to the delight of the baby otters who scrambled over themselves to feed on the delicacy. One of nature's wonders, gentlemen: mother and children dining upon mother and children. And that's when I first learned about evil. It's built into the very nature of the universe. Every world spins in pain. If there is any kind of supreme being, I told myself, it is up to all of us to become his moral superior.' " -- from _Unseen_Academicals_, by Terry Pratchett

    I was standing, as were we all, the few of us who had stopped as the many went by. Three days of hard rain and southeasterly storm had lashed the inlet and driven the river to rise brown and roiling just over the top of its high banks.

    It had been a copious Pink Salmon run that year on the lower river, exiting the lake a mile above tidewater. Even with the tide high, stormwater run-off would make the brackish mix of sea and fresh water, almost to the mouth of the river, rush and toss in a way normally seen without a storm in the same spot at ebb tide.

    But the tide at this moment was low. The pressure of current had torn at the rock-strewn gravel river bottom all the way from its mouth at the head of the inlet to the lake. Redds carefully hollowed out and defended and seeded with egg and milt were torn away over and over again, ripped down to the sterile river-bed under-rock --- eggs and alevins thrust out of the protection of gravel into the free current to be lost downstream.

    Thousands of gulls, shearwaters, and terns (three? four?) had been attracted to the scene, wheeling in a great conveyor belt of birds flying on the southerly wind upstream to where a small bridge crossed the river, then diving to the surface of the water to float downstream with the current, feeding upon the floating bounty of eggs and dying baby salmon until they reached a point where the river slowed against the salt water of the inlet, pulling its burden of protein into deeper water and out of reach, at which point each bird would lift off the surface and fly upstream to drop and ride the current again. We stood for a long time, as people came and went, and watched bird after bird ride downstream and fly upstream on this short quarter-mile cycle of life between bridge and estuary edge. Dusk came on as we watched. When the last of us finally turned to go, the air above was still filled with wheeling bodies and cries, over the loud rush of the river's current, carrying well into night.

    What to say of this, except that it was so, and will remain so?

    "What to say of this, god knows?
    Such violence, and such repose."


    For beings such as ourselves able to so reflect--and there are probably only two or three other Kinds besides ourselves on Earth able to--there are necessary questions to ask, even if no answer ever comes. In observing all of this, I would presume that it cannot be sufficient to only say "we are One, we are part of the One," as though in prayer.

    (To carry Mind is to carry Question, and not just Story.)

    1. Hi Peter,

      Beautifully written, and I agree that wonder is a large part of who we are.

      But... to deny death, it seems to me, is to deny life.

      If it's all evil, can there be any good?

      Dave Z

  2. It's not a claim that either is paramount, but to deny that sentience rightly hears and feels a call to question something at the heart of things (and consider what it might do or think or feel in response) is to do as much harm, as I see it, as to fail to accept and to deny death.

    As to good and evil, undoubtedly the mother and baby otters thought that the situation was good, and the salmon certainly was in a position to consider the outcome evil.

    I'm not so much of a abstract absolute category man, though, myself. I tend not to find such mental devices particularly useful in the moment of consideration or action. And, if or when I am tempted to categorize, I tend to resort to terms like "compassionate," "ruthless," "useful," "apt," "pointless," etc.

    And, certainly, I'm not without inconsistency in this, with my Warning label "Does Not Suffer Fools Gladly."

    (Though I believe we have a right to many things that Authority of all kind endlessly strives to take away, I do not think we have a right to be stupid... even as Being Stupid proves all to easy.)

    1. Mmm. I DO doubt (that otters and salmon are thinking in terms of good and evil). Yum and yuk? Om and Ow? Hum and HEY!

      I rather doubt that they think, even, in terms of life and death. I consider it likely that the notion of death is very nearly a human concept, on this planet. And life is simply the what-it-is of it all.

      All of this is part of my ongoing feeling that evolution, far from producing a biosphere of Hobbesian misery, is actually working toward the happiness of all.

      Yes, death is a part of that. Yes, we ponder its role, without any hope of verifying our answers.

      If you're interested, here is an earlier post on that intuition, which I struggle to share in words that must remain ever inadequate.

      Dave Z

  3. There's quite a lot of informative research out there to suggest that our fellow beings--particularly the more complex mammals and many birds--cogitate in a far more aware state than our present (somewhat dogmatic) belief system allows.

    Even if it's "merely" yuk v. yum, two things:

    1) a good number of human beings themselves get no further than this, and

    2) if only yuk and yum is the whole of it for most, that hardly affects the original point.

    I tend to believe that the cosmos (and evolution) works neither toward a (higher) good, nor an evil end. (In this I would depart somewhat from Lord Vetinari's point of view, even as I agree that very much is up to us.)

    I think that whatever might be construed good or right or just or compassionate or beautifully done is ours to do. (Terry Pratchett, by the way, has Death himself make this point in the concluding chapter of _Hogfather_.)

    If god has eyes, they are our eyes. We are all godseyes.

    I'll check out the post.

    (Again, in practice, I'm hardly consistent in all of this, but I'm working on it.)

    1. You might be interested in panpsychism, the notion that consciousness pervades the universe in that all matter (and possibly energy) is, at some level, conscious.

      And, if consistancy is a hobgoblin of small minds, that hurdle is one I've well surpassed!

      Dave Z


  4. Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing?
    And one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.
    (Matthew 10:29, RSV)

    With eyes as two high deserts...
    With eyes as two high deserts...
    Across what face, tracks in frozen mud mark the distant passage of hooves?
    What breath is the ice-fine wind which brings the gale?
    What head turns unblinking without saying anything?
    What eyes are two eye deserts?

    What eyes are two high still deserts?
    What eyes are two high deserts in the last weeks of bone dry winter?

    In the shadow of the mountain, in the shadow of the feverish people,
    Their coming and going, what is waiting?
    What eyes are two high deserts?

    In the shadow of the people—
    Winged and walking, hopping and crawling, dwelling fixed, and floating free—
    Wide and unblinking in the shadow, in the shout of their wanting and needing
    What eyes are two high deserts?

    What heart is a stone bowl?

    From the strangling strand of death on a rising longline, what eyes do not untwist?
    The stray bullet finds the innocent and what eyes are fixed?
    When the grizzly’s paw smashes the head of the caribou calf silently shaking, what is not?
    Flotsam grass is sown on a gravel bar and what marks its drowning?
    Ants crackle and curl on a stick of wood thrust into the campfire and what sits in its light?
    A mountain explodes, leaving nothing but sterile rock from what then is rising?
    What eyes are two high deserts?

    Within the rim of stone what pool is forming?

  5. For some time now I've been aware of the panpsychism philosophico-religious viewpoint. As with many things of the kind, there is much there of value, but I remain as I have been since the dawn of my own intellectual maturity--strongly influence about equally by the classical Greek Skeptical school and philosophical (as opposed to ritual) Taoism. (It probably doesn't need pointing out that the Greek Skeptical school attaches a significantly different approach and emphasis to the term "skeptic" than would typically be to the word in our era.

  6. In other words my favorite forms of discourse consist mostly of either questions or if-then statements.

  7. Hi Dave. I've thoroughly enjoyed your Triloboats blog, having come to it through an interest in simple, functional plywood boatbuilding.

    The Jonah in the Whale pic looks very much as if it might be by our local Perth artist Stormie Mills, although I've been unable to verify that. Regardless, if it's a style you like it might be worth checking out Stormie's work.

    1. Hi Pat,

      Thanks for the lead!

      I checked Stormie out and really like his artwork. I doubt he's the artist of this Jonah, but I can sure see why one might think so.

      But you never know... lot's of artists work in wider media than they're most known for.

      Dave Z