White Shell Ocean

We were standing in the center of some ruins in a place that was built upon white shells. Fossils of white: they remained as a reminder of a great ocean—before the trees, before the fresh water, before me—that covered the lands I grounded my feet into.


“An ancient ocean,” he said as we dug for the crumbles of its white clay and rubbed it between our fingers and palms. It stuck like chalk and absolved into the liquid of my blood. There was nowhere to wash. This was the cleansing.


And into the kiln we went. It was stone and brick and only stood in chunks, open to the forest surrounding and lake nearby. Overgrown and so vibrantly green and yellow, the spaces in between were all filled with history. That’s when he told me a story.


He once sat on the north side of a mountain waiting for turkey to hunt. He had layers upon layers, but he couldn’t keep warm. There was no sun, and the land was almost barren. He waited.


After a long period, a pain so unbearably stinging, he decided to give up and leave. He walked over to the south side of the mountain, first through an increase of brush and creature. Here, he saw and felt more: life. The sun could reach these places and minks and turkeys ran rampant, in the sun that glowed and required him to hold only one layer of cloth over. He could hear in every direction.


He laughed to me now. He said it was “funny” as he left his walking stick against the side of the building, saying that maybe it will be mine when I return. To walk or to shew snakes, he left the stick for me in an understanding that I’d go alone. In an understanding that I knew the difference between hot and cold.


Like when I was little, and we’d play these hide-and-seek games of treasured items. Sometimes it was chocolate, and other times, a rope. I’d stroll after being blindfolded, through our backyard in my bare feet, calculating the places he could have stored them all. I’d check the obvious and small, and he’d watch. His only words were of nearness: warm for close and cold for far. He guided me within that compass of temperature and sensing. And it was only in the context of a game that this made sense or was applied.


So, when telling me this story at 22, I wonder, did he understand what he shared or the wisdom when he pointed to the clear lake and its white sandbanks? The stories of him fishing and feeling the air as it was meant to?


I am on the right mountain, I know, but am too longing for that south side—the one with sun and life, and flexible trees. And like a molding, that white clay surrounds my lines to remind me that I have never forgotten who I was; that I should not forget now; I am on the right path.


Through a metaphor he didn’t know held meaning, was he telling me that I am warm?

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