Top of the Century
A sea of green palmettos. Piercing the palmettos, above the horizon, a branched stalk wavers in the island's dune heat waves. Atop the century plant, a bird is jumping up and floating down: a mockingbird doing a courtship dance.
The bird rises up, hovers, then puts two feet down and wafts gently back to perch atop the century plant. Once again, the bird flies up ten feet. Comes down, sings loudly, and flies up again. The camera clicks. A trill of bold, rapid notes pours out from the bird after it lands. Its mating song carries over the soft sand beach to the teal shallows and out over the ocean.
Listening to a mockingbird dancing on an island, one can wonder: "Are our courtship dances as persistently choreographed as the one by this mocking bird?"
"The Courage of Every Day Life"
a serendipitous collaboration of Guillaume Rivest, Bentley Smith & Jim Austin.
Photographs courtesy Bentley Smith.
Bentley Smith was walking his dog with his husband on the shore of Robbin Creek on south Cat Island when he found a message in a bottle.
Sailing Salty Paws north from Long Island, the live-aboard couple had not intended to anchor so soon. They stopped early on their passage because the wind began to blow from the north. At about 2 pm on a March afternoon, they dropped the anchor and rowed ashore.
On a rocky shoreline of the creek, enveloped by mangroves, Bentley picked up a clear, shiny bottle with white paper inside. The bottle's cork was loose and fell out as he took the bottle from the sand. A wad of white paper was stuck inside. The sailors took the bottle back to the rowboat, rowed out the mouth of the creek and back to their floating home.
The next day, after a short sail north to Fernandez Bay, Bentley broke open the bottle to remove the paper. Immersing the paper in fresh water, he could discern a few items of French handwriting in pencil. The only line that he could clearly make out was the name, Guillaume Rivest, and the date of 27 Juin 2106.
What happened then? Bentley searched Facebook. Finding 20 matching names, he sent a note to each person using Facebook messenger. In under 10 minutes, at 7 pm that Saturday night, he got a reply.
Four years previously in 2016, Guillaume was part of an historic re-enactment, sailing aboard a square-rigged barq. His voyage was documented in a Canadian film called La Grande Traversée https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6678790/. La Grande Traversée is film about the adventures of six men and four women, ages 23 to 44, who took on the challenge of crossing the North Atlantic by sail aboard L'Espérance in colonial era conditions.
The film shows Guillaume on the bowsprit in period costume, composing his letter, rolling it up, putting it into the bottle, and then launching it into the sea off Madeira Island, 3600 miles away from the Bahamas (https://youtu.be/haOfgf6Wd5Q).
The bottle's message had a hopeful voyage. It began in writing. It drifted 3600 miles across ocean currents. It was captive inside a bottle, abandoned. Finally, the message was transformed and shared digitally. Its hopeful message was empowered by the character of the sailors aboard ship and shore, almost like a rare chemical catalyst prompts life to emerge. You might gather the same materials and order their sequence, but you would duplicate what happened next, as Guillaume added to the story:
Yesterday, something amazing happened to me!
Almost 4 years ago, during La Grande Crossing, I wrote a message in a bottle that I threw off the Madeiras Islands in the Atlantic Ocean.
Yesterday, four years later, by the greatest chance, I get a message from a guy named Bentley Smith telling me he found a bottle with my name inside. No contact in common, I immediately think of a scam, but it sends me in the seconds following a picture of my name, written by myself on a paper in very bad condition.
Bentley found my bottle on the coast of a bay in the Bahamas islands. Living on his sailboat, he had thrown the ink in it to protect himself from the wind. That's when he saw the reflection of the glass on the edge of the water.
The cap had lost its volume and contract letting the water in. The message was in very bad condition only allows Bentley to read one thing: my name. After contacting about twenty Guillaume Rivest, he finally found me.
When they say there's no chance in life! Imagine!!!
The bottle travelled almost 6000 km, for almost four years. She didn't break, she was found and by any miracle, the only thing that was still legible on the message was my name!
Guillaume posted an English translation of his message on Facebook, an enduring message of courage:
Know that this particular bottle you found contains a particular message. A message of courage and hope.
This bottle will have settled in a destination unknown to it at the time of departure. Place where she now delivers her message. His journey is reminiscent of that of the French colonists who left their mother country to settle in America.
In their wooden bottle, push by the wind, these settlers carried a message of hope. Hope for a new life.
Like this message, these settlers did not know their final destination. The unknown, the fear and the doubt had to gnaw them constantly. Despite this, their courage and perseverance have contributed to making the French fact in North America much more than an anecdote.
Newly landed on Aboriginal land, these settlers had much to learn. It is through contact with first nations that they have been able to survive on these hostile and yet, welcoming lands.
I, Guillaume Rivest, one of the 10 colonists of La Grande Traversée, agreed to relive this same journey in the most authentic way possible. This adventure is a tribute to my ancestors, but also a tribute to the First Nations who welcomed us to their land.
The difficulty I have in living this adventure is only a fraction of that experienced by my ancestors.
Wherever you are, know that courage does not only manifest itself in an act of bravery. It is manifested in everyday life, through actions and decisions that sometimes seem trivial, but that will have immense repercussions on the world.
The courage of everyday life is true bravery.
[ Dedicated to the loving memory of sailor Douglas R. Hansen (1945 - 2020) who lived with true bravery ].