Joan Weiner in tide rip near Golden Gate

© 1997 Mike Higgins,

Sea Kayaking near Golden Gate CA

The Name of the Edge

© 1998 by Ed Ditto (

Emery sat alone on the rocks and watched the gulls peck over the remains of his supper. From where he sat he could see across the harbor to the small strip of beach where he had unloaded his boat from his truck early that morning. It had been a long day, and he relaxed as the sun retreated.

His boat now lay below him, pulled up onto the rocks and away from the beating of the surf. It was a long, slender kayak made of fiberglass and plastic, and it was very swift and strong. Emery was very proud of his boat. He had even named it, but since grown men didn't talk of such things he had kept the name to himself. Alone now, he spoke the secret name of his kayak and found it sweet-tasting. His voice startled the gulls, and they beat their wings a few stuttering flaps.

Emery stood and turned in a slow circle so that he could take in the entire island. It wasn't much, really...just a few broken rocks and a narrow strip of grass and brush littered with the leavings of uncounted seagulls. The wind from the sea was ice-cold, and it whipped about the island and stirred up the stinks of rotten fish and of guano. But the island sat squarely in the middle of the harbor, and Emery relished the view and named the sights in his head.

There by the breakwater at the mouth of the harbor was Eastern Point, where the mansions sat well apart from each other and the long docks fingered out from the million-dollar boathouses. Over there the channel buoys led north to Gloucester, where warehouses, boatyards, and piers stacked with crab pots crowded one another. And across the harbor to the west he could make out Manchester-By-The-Sea, which he had never visited. After his eyes had taken in all of these sights, they lingered on what lay to the south. Emery stood for a long moment and admired the open ocean.

This is a good place, he decided. It is a good place. Men have come here and known their own minds, or have discovered them. Here there are three elements. There is the sky which leads us, there is the wind which drives us, and there is the water which carries us. There are no illusions or pretensions. This is the center. And thinking these things, Emery knew that this would be as good a place as any for him to decide.

And so he brushed the dirt from the seat of his pants and scrambled down the few yards to his kayak. He quickly stowed his thermos and his bag in a compartment in the stern of the boat. He eased his boat into the water, being very careful of the surf and the rocks, and within a few moments he was stroking south across the harbor.

A quartering wind came up into his face and slowed him. It flung salt spray into the right side of his face, and occasionally the chop would soak his right hand as he dipped his paddle. He knew that his kayak would want to weathercock broadside into the wind, and so to compensate he paddled more on his left side than on his right. The muscles of his left shoulder grew tired, and the cold stiffened them into tight aching bands. The lights from the mansions on Eastern Point shone on his sore shoulder as they slipped by.

An hour passed as Emery fought the wind for headway. It's a good fight, he that hasn't changed in the memory of man. On the one hand the three elements (as he now named them), and on the other hand a man's will alone. No recourse to any mercy or fair play; only the force of the wind against the will of the man. Cold water was the consequence of the failure of will, and to fail in will was to die. Emery again tasted the secret name of his kayak and decided that it was still a sweet thing.

Emery reached the narrow finger of breakwater after ninety minutes' work. It was very nearly dark, and he was tired. He noted the time and remembered that the tide would be going out strongly now. He rested for a few minutes, sitting still in his boat and looking up at the small lighthouse on the end of the breakwater.

The winking point of light reminded Emery of his brother, and the weak threads of his self-control frayed and snapped. They had carried his brother out of the canyon after three days of frustration, because the log which had trapped his brother's kayak was well below the angry surface of the floodwater. All of the attempts with rope and hooks had failed to bring him up. Eventually the waters had receded just enough and the strong men in their wetsuits had pulled his brother free. They had left his boat where it was trapped.

They couldn't even bring him home on his shield, Emery thought. He watched the darkness stalk the open ocean to his south while his tears mingled with the salty spray on the deck of his kayak. From nothing, into nothing, he remembered, and he sat hunched over with his sore shoulders shaking.

Eventually the changing of the wind roused Emery from himself, and as he felt it push at his back from the north, he wondered what he should do. The ocean invited him. He knew that he could be well out to sea by morning with the help of the wind and the tide. He straightened his shoulders. Why, he could be twenty-five or thirty miles out by sunrise, and if he were lucky he might have the whales for company. By this time tomorrow evening he would be halfway to wherever he was headed, and the sunrise after that...who knew? What a story that would make! What wonder that would cause!

And then Emery remembered his secret. He remembered the name of his boat. And because Emery was strong, because Emery was a man, he wiped his eyes dry and he looked back over his shoulder to the beach where his truck was parked. But as he paddled back to the beach, once again fighting the wind for headway, the name of his boat tasted very bitter indeed.

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