“Wildness is a Necessity. I am losing precious days. I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains to learn the news.” John Muir.
While there are times I hear the mountains call my name, this weekend I learned the ocean’s news. The news is just as the word predicates: that which is new. The Greek island of Hydra however had something very different to tell us that was not based on the present moments but instead on the passing of time. The island itself deserves a nod to its remarkable preservation of history and process.
In its day, Hydra was one of the few islands not raided by pirates and as a result has maintained its status as one of the wealthiest of islands of Greece. Why did they manage to escape the terror? Because the inhabitants of Hydra were the pirates. Eventually their naval strength became useful for Greek redemption from the oppression of the Ottoman Empire when Greece gained its independence. The culminating battle occurred in the waters around Hydra with the help of Russian, French, and British naval fleets. The three powers were each sent to aid Greece with their revolution against the Turks to drive them out of the Peloponnese.
The history of the island as well as its ability to remain a place with “walking only” paths compelled Alex, Caitlyn and I to travel to Hydra. Our journey there was brief but allowed us nearly two days and one night to take in every inch of the island.
We set out early in the morning to catch the ferry from the port of Piraeus. With coffee in hand to establish our footing so early in the morning, we climbed into the rocking boat and took our seats. As the water met our boat, the ever so gentle ruffling of the sea propelled us onward. Eventually, the rocking of the sea settled and we drifted into the port of Hydra.
We stepped off the boat, sea legs never fully established in the two hour journey, and felt the sea air on our skin. Perhaps it was the novelty of situation or the immense and overwhelming sense of appreciation that caught us off guard, but for a moment the three of us were literally breathless. Not only speechless, but instead that feeling you get when you hold your breath without knowing, because you don’t want the moment to end for fear that it isn’t real.
Luckily for us, the reality did not dissolve as merely a matter of mind. Instead, the island grew into one of the most beautiful places any of us has had the pleasure of seeing. The horses, with their saddles in place (mainly for tourists) lined the docks housing small fishing boats proudly displaying the Greek flag. Behind the small horses, old white houses with colorful window shutters climbed the hills.
We quickly walked the edge of the port to escape the shops capitalizing on the history of Hydra and wallets of tourists to hopefully find our own bit of space. The coastline is lined with a rather dramatic cliff of rock that extends from the walking paths down to the ocean below. The path less traveled doesn’t exist in a place of so much history; the marble stones that create walking paths are smooth (and at times unexpectedly slippery) from the millions of feet that have walked there before. The thought of how many people it has taken to wear down the stones beneath our feet kept us company on our walk about the island.
|Myself, Alex and Caitlyn|
The three of us, Caitlyn, Alex and I each seemed to have had our own moments that culminated in an unknown feeling. Unknown feelings are powerful—you don’t know what they are until you feel it, and then you have no words for it. We are given very little preparation while growing up on how to describe our exact emotions…perhaps it is because even adults are overwhelmed by extreme emotion, or maybe it is because the novelty of the indescribable emotion means more.
Love is an example of this. There is a word for it, which probably helps us know when we are feeling it, but it still is one of those emotions that exist merely as a concept until it is felt. Each of our moments came in waves, mimicking the ocean spray from below the cliff, and each of our moments told us the news.
The moment Caitlyn, the youngest in our trio, felt was the least concrete but one of the boldest: independence. She is a pleasant and artistic soul who distantly notices every detail and is equally as enamored but the little surprises each detail has to offer.
We walked along the edge of the footpath until we swung around a corner and felt the strange comfort of isolation. The three-day weekend we had in our program (for the Fourth of July, strangely) allowed us to travel on a Friday and avoid the masses that travel on weekends. The three of us were alone, and we embraced every second of our uninterrupted time climbing around the fringe of Hydra.
Topographically the most dense and interesting line work of a map is defined by elevation, but contrasting her normal adherence to such detail, Caitlyn’s “moment” came in the simplicity found at sea level.
As Alex and I planned our stay at the hostel, Caitlyn agreed. We rounded up a taxi and she got in. We bought tickets for the ferry and she boarded. We arrived at the island and walked up the coast and she followed. But when we reached the top of the hill, jutting out over the coast like the lifted chin of a proud face, Caitlyn was the first to the rocky edge. She peered over the edge and looked down at the flat topography of the water below, moving as a unit with liquid tendrils reaching out to grab the vertical shore. As the pull of the water drew back into its center, it guided her eyes up to the vast expanse of the open water. The sense of accomplishment she appeared to be feeling was pure and melted an invisible shell of dependence. She eventually looked back at us and we could see she was in her element. Her safety net may have been gone, but for a moment so were the shackles of adolescence.
Photography is Alex’s passion. She sees the world in stills and jumps between moments in the same way her striking photos are taken. She is an admirably capable human being who is half business and half visionary. She is a big-picture person who is, probably for the first time in her life, experiencing not knowing the big picture of her life. With little control over the current end-goal she has fearlessly grabbed the reigns of the little day-to-day things…and if days combine to form weeks, months and years then I have no doubt that she will reach whatever goal she sets her mind to.
The art program we are taking will give her enough credits to graduate from the University of Oregon, so her return to the states leaves her figuratively between waves of life. She is positioned between the sixteen or more years she knows as a student and the few any of us know about adulthood. Alex’s moment came when I saw her between waves, the literal kind. While her comfort zone is self-purported to be behind the Canon Rebel she has carried everywhere, I believe her home is in the ocean. She swam, unafraid, beyond the light edges of the shallow water into the deeper blue far away from the comfort of the shore. After watching her out there for a while, she turned around and looked at Caitlyn and me. The edges of her cheeks were tightened with the sizable smile stretched across her face. Her moment of freedom in the open water seems simple, but her ability to dive below and resurface when waves come was a moment I will never forget for the figurative resonance.
Prison of mind is something many artists suffer from. I have learned this term from a beautiful writer and dear friend as she admirably uses words to explain certain vulnerabilities. The little thoughts and conversations we have in our heads, the overwhelming presence of mind and the inability to “let go” because of it is a daily struggle. However, my release, realization and moment came when I did the unthinkable and let go. Walt Whitman says, “I swear to you, there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell.” I often find this to be true where words just don’t fit a situation or an emotion, but it is rare for my internal conversation to be silenced. The waves that crashed against the cement block that is Avlaki beach washed away more than small stones and bits of sand; the clarity of the water and the loneliness of the beach put my mind on pause and let it experience “just being.” The water, the sun, and the new inexpressible feeling rattled my bones—and it felt right. It is not the comfortable path that I desire, but one of the unknown that shakes, rattles and ignites my bones.
“Wildness is a necessity” and the ocean brought us the news from exactly this moment where we each are. Whatever your escape may be, try to listen to your own news. We should not only be updated by the happenings of the world but also by the happenings of ourselves.