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Stories by Mike Humfreville

Volcano    ( Posted April 8, 2003 )

It was late August, hot and steamy and they'd been hanging at La Gringa for almost two weeks, fishing every morning early and hiding every afternoon in the shadows of their motor homes and makeshift housing, hoping for a breeze. It was as hot as they'd ever felt the air and the white light reflected off water, sand and stony beach with a savage intensity, tearing through tarps until they felt they couldn't get away for even partial shade. Prisoners in paradise at the wrong time of year.

When the sun angled low, well below its zenith, they moved sand chairs into water, just trying to shake some heat but even the water was hot and not at all soothing. The volcano was ringed with a steamy halo that told them the humidity was over 90 percent and climbing. There was no relief even in evening.

They fixed a simple dinner, ceviche and such, chilled over the little ice that remained. Later, as sun sloped below horizon, too hot for beer or liquor, they threw back bottles of cooling, sweet water and pulled camp chairs together for starwatch.

"Let's climb the volcano tomorrow." The grown son said. So began the simple excursion.

At dawn, before the heat of the day had struck, they shoved off the stony beach, filled the tin boat with as many adventurers from the camp as wanted, fired the small outboard and headed out of the calm waters of the bay and into the open gulf. They headed northward toward the base of the volcano, on the inland side where the waters were quieter, for landing.

Burdened by the number of folks aboard, they lugged heavily past the saddle of Smiths with the sun just peering through drop in crestline there and arrived at the base of the volcano while she was still heavily in shadow. The travelers debarked, pulled the boat onto the stones and set about finding a trail. The western, northern and eastern slopes they had seen from the sea many times. These were too steep to climb safely, too covered with decomposing granite, falling into weathered channels carved by constantly buffeting winds and occasional rains. The southern approach was the gentlest.

The explorers cut an arc across the most likely trailhead and eventually stumbled onto the beginning of a small path that seemed to head upward in the general direction of the summit. They broke from the coast: the son and others continued upward on the path; the father returned to the boat. He could wait for them there. It would be about an hour's hike, maybe two, he concluded.

In the stillnesses of air and water there between the island and the peninsula he could hear the voices of the climbers as they pressed upward into the growing heat and humidity. They cleared the shadeline of the volcano and placed foot in front of foot, working up the steep mountain path in full if early sun. While he couldn't see them, he was carried forward by their voices in the calmness of morning, their climbing, huffing laughter and humor, their observations of cacti and horned toads, voices as trebled and clear as though they were there beside him.

They crossed to the eastern side of the ridge on the volcano. They were climbing and were out of sight for a time and he, situated on the beach below, started the motor to move the boat. He worked north through the narrow channel that cuts deeply between Coronado and Coronadito, and swung east, working into the building breeze of early morning and tide of the moment. The weather was in his face. He passed through darkened waters he knew from fishing there and beaches he had named from his visions of the steep slopes of the volcano and the types of fish they caught. As he rounded the northeastern point of the island the wind and tide shifted, growing rougher. He slowed and drew closer to the rugged shoreline, water thrashing against the jagged lava of the towering volcano where it met, merging with the sea, becoming one and rougher on edge.

Around the point, he faced an angry sea, an influx of currents passing over mean and unforgiving rocks that spoke for the submerged world there, aggressive and swirling in their masses, flowing over the crags and catches of lava thrown by eons from towering cliffs of Smith's steep slopes and into the edges of ocean there.

From his small tin boat he looked above occasionally, knowing that from his current angle he'd lose sight of his son and others. He pushed the outboard from east to south, rounding the point. Here the currents more dramatically reflected the tides that were thrown across the gulf, stirred the floor of the sea, the surface into life and replenishment with the nutrients from the oceans floor. The midriff was filled with life everywhere.

He pushed forward sluggishly through the roiling water and into the small bay on the northeast side of the island. He could see the bait working the surface, driven by larger fish from below. He found his best guess place, shut down and cast into the calm water. He worked his reel upon itself and brought in nothing, no bite, no tease and cast it out again. Again his retrieve. Nothing. He laid his rod along the length of boat and sat in the stillness and listened. Silence...then a slight murmur of voice from above, then conversation.

He was a thousand feet below the troupe traveling upward toward the summit of the volcano. But sitting in a small boat below could hear them, on focus.

Engine shut down, his small boat settled into the calm water of the bay. The only sounds were the quiet lapping of water against siding, a calm breeze and an occasional call from arguing gulls, the periodic shhhh's of small waves rustling against the stony beach 500 yards distant.

The voices from above grew clearer. The climbers crossed the westward steepening trail traversed a backbone to the eastern side and now he could see them from below. He caught the glint of his son's waistlong blond hair off a cast from the sun. He could hear the crunch of their boots on the granity path where they approached the summit. How hot they must be, how sweating, he thought, sitting on water at sea level in the breeze.

It occurred to him at that moment, with no other distractions, how proud he was, how much he respected his son. The boy was now a man and was developing strong character and morals, had passions and loves, hatreds and distastes. He was religious in an unreligious way, as he, the father was. He was absolute in his beliefs and dedicated beyond himself in his friendships. He was wonderfully na´ve and would stay that way the father knew.

He watched his son climb the volcano, a small hurdle in life, and was pleased to stand back from the moment and observe from a distance, his son building reliances with friends and terrain that would carry him through his lifetime, perhaps to be passed on to another generation if fate and desire would have it, to give the son strength when strength was needed and not his alone to command.

The hikers arrived at a small plateau and disappeared from the fathers' view, below. He could still hear the shadows of their voices singing and intertwined with the waves and the wind. Then their silhouettes reappeared on the eastern edge of the plateau. From that vantagepoint they could focus on the sea below. They could just spot the small and fragile boat bobbing in the quiet bay, catch reflections off the bait working the surface there in the afternoon light.

"Hello, down there," son called to father. It echoed off the craggy cliffs, pulling his words seaward.

"Hello, up there," the father returned, "all OK?"

"All's OK," reverberated back, falling seaward through the lava corridors that poured down the volcano's slopes and channels.

The father watched as his son's outstretched arm pointed north from atop the volcano, toward the wide Bahia at Guadalupe ten miles distant and the tiny islet of Alcatraz and the mountains they had used to triangulate the Cabazon hole they frequented there, the points off Angel de la Guardia, the inlets and bays, the reef that Sammy Diaz had introduced him to thirty years before. He saw their focus turn south to the three sharp points of La Gringa that you caught only from the east, the bay just north of La Gringa, Las Cuevitas, where they had spent a summer so many years ago, young and innocent and dependant, father more on family then they on him.

They were older now, the boys, and he also. Had they done a good job, he and his wife, he wondered, in raising their children?

The son's view from his altitude atop the volcano faded from the distant points he knew from childhood, dropped to the tin boat rocking in small swells of the cove below, his father there, looking upward, barely visible.

"Hello, father" he issued, sent spinning down the slopes, vaguely remembering the moments of his childhood and his expectations of his father, some upheld, others ignored.

On the surface of the sea there in the small cove on the northeast point of Smith's island the father received these cascading words and knew all in life was well, after all, that familial bonds would continue.

The hikers turned back and worked down the steep trail that had led them to the summit. The father saw them descending, powered up the small boat in the bay and passed back to the niche on the West Side where he had deposited them earlier. He arrived there well before they did and pulled the boat back onto the stones and looked across to the peninsula. He opened the cooler and then a beer and stoked a smoke and sat on a rock, looking to the west. He knew much of the coastline there, their family had shared so much along the craggy shores, through threats and vast happiness's that they would always carry forward through their lives. Their lives, all four, were formed in many ways by the triumphs and failures along those beaches he was watching now, at this moment, across several miles of rising tide. He turned and started up the path to meet those hiking down. Off the water the temperature rose again to almost unbearable. How had they climbed all that way in this heat, he wondered?

But he knew the answer. One foot in front of the other. Just get the job done.

He could hear their boots digging with gravity-assist into gravel on their approaching downleg, knew they were hot and happy but spent. As they approached he asked how they had enjoyed the view, received a unanimous magnificent. The hikers tore off as many clothes as acceptable in mixed company of varied ages and dove into the waters there beside the boat.

Once all were refreshed and redressed with sopping clothes they were ready for the camp again and shoved the boat off the stony beach and into the water. The son took the return leg, back to La Gringa. Father was elsewhere now, in one of the center seats of the tin boat, talking with others. Time for youth, he thought, correctly.

The boy had handled boats for ages and was capable beyond his years. He knew the waters surface and currents and depths, the winds and where they might strike and threaten and the locations of landmasses, reefs and shallows, the configuration of the peninsula from the sea. He knew how to drive the reunited group home, giving them no concerns regarding their safety and they all talked, loudly and animated in the in-their-face wind from the west, remembering the huff of the hike up the volcano and the view from the plateau. Many of them had never been in Baja before and yet had experienced things most folks had not. They had been led by the son in a sense, he being the most familiar.

Then they were back on their beach at the camp and the sun was working magic and a meal being prepared by willing hands and they are all resettled and those that made the climb are relating the stories to those that didn't. Then, justly, the process reversed itself and those that stayed in camp told the adventures of their day, the heat and the bait working, who'd caught what from the shore and other stories.

Eventually and gradually the day wore down. Many were tired from their expenditures, just ready for bed and another day of the extremes of life along the peninsula.

Late, after all others were asleep amongst their various crude appointments, two chairs were positioned along the shoreline. The stones there rustled under the thin aluminum tubing, weighted by two equal men seated beside each other, distant enough to not wake the others, sleeping. One had a rum and coke, the other a smoke. There was no conversation, just the words of the sea and shore converging and a distant croak from the heron that had grown to tolerate them there on his beach.

The son never new at that moment he had grown, taken charge, and the father never realized he had released control. It was incidental - they were family. Things happen where responsibilities are played out and positions assumed, stances taken and followed through, ages realized from both ends of the spectrum. Their relationship was changing. It was a voluntary action on both of their parts. Both were forever proud and would, after they had grown to understand the moment, look loving backward to the times in their lives where they had shared warm moments with others. Sharing their moments became the times of their lives.

Copyright 2003-2006 Mike Humfreville

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