A Novel Expedition
A fractal is a way of seeing infinity.
The final scene of our voyage might look to you, from your comfortable reading nook, impossible and grim. To look at it, you might think the whole island was a lifeless iceberg, frozen straight through.
White fog in a black night. That would be the first thing you notice.
On our final stop, the island of Sirena, frost frosted each surface. Everything braced itself, held itself frozen against the wind. Tendrils of rime ice carpeted the leeward side of each tree.
Obviously, if you want to see anything in those conditions, you’ve got to look mighty close.
It's true, our days on Sirena were not like sailing through the Perkinses. There, dips in the tropical turquoise waters had been a warm bath. Every morning brought an explosion of ripe fruits from every tree. There, every swim led us through underwater gardens of animal flowers in full bloom and sway. Colorful birds dove beneath the surface. Fish leapt out from it. Colors and bubbles and drops and spray crisscrossed in dotted lines. The Perkinses were a dynamic diagram of themselves, a kinetic archipelago.
And, it's true, Sirena was the opposite. Nonetheless, in our frozen encampment we typically brimmed with cheer. We had food for days. We slept restful hours in tight corners, bundled in the vibrant parkas we had made for ourselves. A warren of tunnels, translucent caves, created the labyrinth where we sheltered from the howling bluster above.
On Sirena, we spent long nights working things out by candlelight. Most importantly, we determined the way home, and would see our family soon. We had maps . . . even if the maps and the landscape had become practically the same thing, the pages locked in a palimpsest of ice.
Do you know that word? Palimpsest? Only poets use it. In fact, they use the word too much. But there is no other way to say this.
It begins when someone writes something. That thing becomes a palimpsest when another layer of writing is somehow added over that. Eventually, there may be many layers. And the layers blur. You can see words from all of the layers, all at once. That is a palimpsest. Reading any of it gets tough. Especially by candlelight, in the white fog of a black night.
In the caves of Sirena, as we peered through the sheets of ice that had built up on the table, the layers formed new patterns, new maps over the old. To study these maps was more like cloud-gazing than reading.
You could say we that's how we worked things out. That we studied. By candlelight. In caves. With frozen maps and icy palimpsests. We did do that. But the bigger truth is, we spent those long hours half-asleep and dreaming, playing games.
For example, “I’m thinking of an island,” Rose might say.
“Is it a place we’ve been?” Emit might ask.
“Do dragonflies live there?” Maribeth would then ask.
If Rose answered yes, then Rudy might go on to ask, specifically about those dragonflies: “Were they the kind whose tails light up like a match?”
And so the game continued, until and our memories lined up perfectly, and we all recognized in our mind's eye the same scene, the island where the insects had buzzed everywhere pleasantly, with their bodies mysteriously on fire.
Of course, we can only imagine how confusing and backwards and unbelievable this may be for you. But please believe us when we say that, on Sirena, we finally realized, over the course of our voyage, that we had learned to play in a way that -- if you did it all-in, and you did it together -- the playing would get you where you wanted to go. And that, dear reader, is, in the end, what brought us back home.
The port city of Shelf
The Isthmus Road, Clarapolonia