Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Easter Island Rainbow
Originally uploaded by goudance03
Nainoa Thompson:
How do we tell direction? We use the best clues that we have. We use the sun when it is low down on the horizon. Mau has names for how wide the sun appears, and for the different colors of the sun path on the water. When the sun is low, the path is tight; when the sun is high, it gets wider and wider. When the sun gets too high, you cannot tell where it has risen. You have to use other clues.

Sunrise is the most important part of the day. At sunrise you start to look at the shape of the ocean -- the character of the sea. You memorize where the wind is coming from. The wind generates the waves. You analyze the character of the waves. When the sun gets too high, you steer by the waves. And then at sunset we repeat the pattern. The sun goes down; you look at the shape of the waves. Did the wind change? Did the swell pattern change? At night we use the stars. We use about 220 by name -- where they come up, where they go down.

When it gets cloudy and you can't use the sun or the stars, all you can do is rely on the ocean waves. That's why Mau said to me, "If you can read the ocean you will never be lost." One of the problems is that when the sky gets black at night under heavy clouds, you cannot see the waves. You cannot even see the bow of the canoe. And that is where people like Mau are so skilled. He can be inside the hull of the canoe and just feel the different wave patterns as they come to the canoe, and he can tell the canoe's direction lying down inside the hull of the canoe.

Mau, who is about 20 years older than me -- my eyes are physically much more powerful than his -- he gets up on the rail of the canoe and says: "The island is right there." And we all stood up and we climbed the mast and everything and we just couldn't see it. Vision is not so much about what you do -- but how you do it. It's experience. Mau had seen in the beak of the bird a little fish. He knew that the birds were nesting, and they were taking food back before they fed themselves.

The more the weather gets up, the more the navigator needs to be awake, the less he can leave the crew on their own. We estimate that our navigators stay up between 21 and 22 hours a day. We sleep in a series of catnaps. Mau says the mind doesn't need much rest. But the physical body does. …When you are tired, you close your eyes. He always said that for him maybe his eyes were closed but inside here, inside your heart, you are always awake.

I just dreaded the doldrums, because I had no confidence that I could get through it. …I limited myself to thinking that I could only really accurately navigate with visual celestial clues. And getting into the doldrums, where there's 100 percent cloud cover all of a sudden … I would be blind. And that's what happened.

We got in the doldrums, and it was just a mess. It was 100 percent cloud cover, the wind was switching around, it was about 25 knots, and we're going fast, and that's the worst thing you want to do -- go anywhere and not know where you're going. And I was just fighting it to search in this kind of black. It was nighttime, and it was black -- the sky, everything was black -- and I couldn't find anything with my eyes. It was like I just got so exhausted that I just backed up against the rail and - and it was almost as if …there was something that allowed me to understand where the direction was, without seeing it… I just gave up fighting to try to find something with my eyes, I just settled down, and then all of a sudden, it was like this warmth came over me. It was just solid rain… you couldn't see the moon, it was so black. And then I directed the canoe with all this total confidence at a time when I had already convinced myself prior to the voyage that I would have no confidence in knowing where to go. And I turned the canoe to this particular direction, got things lined up, felt very, very comfortable in this cold, wet, rough environment, and then there was a break in the clouds and the moon was there…

And those are the things that I chase now. It's not like I can do that any old time…Internally I have to be at a certain state to be able to get into this kind of special realm. And so those experiences, I just can't conjure them up consciously. But they do come, and they're coming more and more often now. And it has a lot to do with this kind of internal relaxation.

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