The Secret Sharer by Joseph Conrad
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
One of my all-time favorite authors is Joseph Conrad. His exploration of the human condition as reflected by the men who toil at sea is as profound as any philosophical dissertation by any name philosopher. His theme is man against nature or man against men, His yarns are full of events both in the inner and outer worlds of journeyers at sea or water. "The Heart of Darkness" of course is essential to his success and esteem as an author/adventurer. But he has many other tales that I've read and appreciated. Foremost among them is "The Secret Sharer". This is a tale about a newbie captain who is piloting a ship somewhere in the Far East. He is not very popular with his men. To complicate matters, he willingly shelters a stowaway, a chief mate of another ship, the Sephora. the man is accused of killing an insolent crew member. The captain develops an affinity to him, hides him from search parties, and eventually maneuvers the ship close to an island so that the "secret sharer" could escape. Conrad's language is dense and somewhat wordy, but if you've paid close attention, by the time you've finished reading the tale, you felt like you've been in that ship with the captain and the escapee. What really made this story resonate with me is that the setting, the Gulf of Siam, is a place that I have been to, and the island that the chief mate escapes to thanks to a risky maneuver by the captain, is named Koh-ring, which is similar to islands I've visited such as Koh-Samui. That the captain was willing to risk his ship to get close to the dangerous shoals of a tropical island is something that I would question, but in the context of the story and his alienation from his own crewmembers, one I could understand. Reading this story, I could smell the salt air,feel the warm, damp tropical wind and hear the plashing of the waves against the hull of the ship. As I read the final lines, I told myself: "I've been there. I've been there."
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Tuesday, July 31, 2012
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Saturday, July 7, 2012
Black Canyon, Santa Fe National Forest, New Mexico
July 2, 2012
When you go camping in the wilderness, the meanness of the world runs off you like dirty water off a duck's back.
When you camp, alone, your first concern is to set up your tent for the night. The mechanics of assembling this shelter is enough to distract you from the other petty questions you may have, such as: is there wifi or cellphone reception in the area?
Having set up your tent, you become focused on the basics of existence, such as having enough food and water for the duration of your stay.
When you finally realize that there is no internet, cell phone reception, or electricity in your camp, you have no choice but pay attention to your surroundings. Your senses, dulled by the virtual reality of computers, become sharpened, attuned to the very real forest and its creatures around you. You listen to the sound of the wind through the trees, the rain beating against the roof of your tent, the chirping of the birds, the distant, muffled voices of other campers in other parts of the woods. Those footfalls outside your tent? They were probably made either by a human being, an animal or your imagination. Unaccustomed to the solitude, with your body protected from the outside elements only by the flimsy walls of waterproof nylon, you feel your heart beat a little faster. Imaginary dangers run through your head like little whips of doubt: thieves, serial killers, bears. Eventually, you accept that you can’t spend the night worrying whether a bear will get you, or whether Michael Myers will come dragging you off to his lair. Que sera sera. There is no point in worrying and, with grudging surrender, you allow sleep to steal over you.
You wake up at dawn and are amazed to find yourself intact. You step outside your tent and that's when it hits you: the smell of pine trees wet with last night's rain, the chirping of unseen birds, the visit of a squirrel or two and sunlight starting to filter through the leaves bring you a joy that you will never be able to describe to others without sounding pretentious or corny. At this particular junction in time, in this special part of the world: this is where you wanted to be, and here you are now. This is happiness.
You sit on a bench, watching the fog drift up from the ground like a gauzy curtain. You lie down on your back and look up at the sky, staring at the canopy of fir and pine and wondering at their age and height.
Soon enough, if you allow the forest to speak to you, its stillness becomes your stillness.
You begin to realize that in order to exist, you don’t really need much: just water, food, a tent, a warm sleeping bag, and maybe a fully charged iPod.
Photos and Sketches: A Woodland Diary