Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Forbidden Island

“Don’t ever tell anyone I brought you here. And speak softly when we’re by the water’s edge.” With those words, our indigenous friend began to lead us down the steep trail to Forbidden Island, an outcropping off Saipan's eastern shore. It’s called “Forbidden” for a reason. A place of raw beauty, with a butte rising out of the sea, rock formations, tidal pools, and secret cold water caves, the ocean there swallows life. Any local will tell you, talk too loudly and the voracious sea wave will roar up from of the calmest day, like a screaming beast, foaming teeth bared, and snatch bewildered talkers from the shore, pull them deep, wring soul from bone, and maybe burp a broken body back, a floating consolation for family to bury.

And so again this week, the community mourns the death of four. College students out for a hike, a celebration of youth and life, turned tragic as friends watched helpless and stunned.

An island is defined by the sea. Without the sea, it does not exist. Its beauty comes from the sea. Its life comes from the sea. And death, too, comes from the sea. The sea is a life-giver and a life-taker, and when you grow up by the sea, you respect it as such. You fear it as such. You know the names, woven through the tapestry of generations, of those gone into it, never to return.

Learn to swim, and you may have a savior. But learn to swim and you may also have confidence, and cockiness and hubris that will draw you away from the safety of land and air, and into the seductive liquid arms that will grip you and teach you who is master. Learning not to swim is a greater savior, many a local family will tell you.

1 comment:

Mark Gloor said...

It was my understanding that Forbidden Island was so named because the whole Kagman Point area was off-limits to locals, as the military, and specifically the OSS/CIA, had training camps there to train anti-Mao fighters. My family and I lived in one of the four complexes there in the early/mid 1960s.

I learned to swim from one point to another without needing to touch bottom at that pool at the foot of Forbidden Island. on the Saipan side.

I was seven years old.