Head Down, Pockets Empty

By August 2, 2013 Blog No Comments
Badcock Dock

Today, the girls and I go hiking. We take a trail that hugs the edge of a large bluff, one side, a wall of black rock, veined in wildflower and native grass, the other side, a steep drop to the dark sea. The trail curves around the tip of a peninsula, rising and falling along the coast for about six kilometers. One section passes through the ruins of a sixteenth century settlement. It weaves around crumbling stone foundations, dank root cellars, an old cemetery, headstones wiped clean by the wind. We stop to rest by a twisted dock, it’s silvered deck stretching out about fifty feet into the water. The girls run to the edge and peer down. “Hey, Mom, you can see all the way to the bottom! And Oh, Oh!! Look at the jellyfish” They hop around, squat down, point, squeal. Then they run back, slip off their shoes and jackets, and dip their feet into the frigid surf. My youngest finds handfuls of treasure, tiny whorled shells, jointed crab legs, striped and speckled stones. I watch her, head bent, examine every stone. Her pockets are always full, trinkets everywhere we go, the familiar thunking of my dryer: coins, shards of sea glass, shiny bolts. Today, she runs toward me, tiny hand open, on the face of her palm a shard of pottery, the corners rubbed smooth by the waves, the blue design still bright, still clear, a puzzle piece of sky, blue and white clouds. I turn it over, and on the back, the stamp of the maker, Davenport. “Maybe it’s a plate from the Titanic,” my older daughter whispers, tilting over my hand in examination. She’s a history buff, who knows the Titanic sunk not far from this very shore. She’s read the books and magazines, seen the images of broken lives resting on the sea floor. “It’s possible,” she shrugs. I guess it is. It’s also possible it’s from any of the ships that lay wrecked and broken under these waters. I glance around and instead of the blue green waves, see six hundred years of sunken boats and sunken men.

I stop by the post office on the way home to grab our mail, and mixed among the grocery ads, and a flyer for lawn service, is a postcard addressed to a Mrs. Badcock. The name reminds me of our hike, the warped dock snaking out to the water from the deserted, overgrown shore. The old, rotting dock, with the words BADCOCK FAMILY DOCK carved into the soft wood. I’d wondered how many seasons that dock had endured, how many cruel winters, how many crashing waves. How many Badcock men had moored their fishing boats there, gutted buckets of cod, how many children had hung their skinny legs over the edge, pointing at jellyfish, how many wives and mothers had waved at retreating boats, gazing down at the yellow seagrass just under the surface. Years of people, years of stories. I wondered if Mrs. Badcock ever walked this trail, traced the outline of her last name under her fingers, felt the familiar ghosts.

We look up Davenport Pottery when we get home. England, 1800’s. We see many pictures of plates, cups and saucers, tureens, serving pieces, all of them that same shade of deep blue, creamy white. Flourishes of flowers crowd their surfaces, paintings of barns and boats, houses, men and women, children, birds, and clouds, like the ones on our piece. The rest of the day I wonder about the pottery piece. What are the odds we find the piece that has the name? The piece that gives us a clue to its story? I prefer the mystery though. I prefer our stories. Our tales of shipwreck, of shattered lives lasting hundreds of years in the rolling waves until a piece lands on that particular beach on that particular day and waits patiently for us to lift it from the shore and carry it home in our pockets. I put it on a shelf by my journal to remind me of possibility, that everything has mystery and an infinite number of stories. I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it long after I leave this island, there’s a deep, deep history here, and it’s alive. There’s a history here and pages and pages of a stories that need telling. So many stories. I need to remember to look around and to listen, to everything, the people, the sea, the stones, the trails, even mistakenly placed mail. I need to remember to stay present, to watch the ground for clues and treasures, and I need to remember to fill my pockets so I don’t forget. My characters are in infancy, but defining themselves a little more everyday. Their histories are beginning to shape themselves, but their voices and their lives are still pretty wavy and distorted, seagrass just under the surface. When the tide goes out, I better be ready. I better be waiting with empty pockets.

 

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