March 4, 1778. On board the Discovery|
Charles Clerke retires from the quarter-deck
in a fit of coughing, while members of his crew
rummage for extra clothing, most of it gone now,
traded in a warmer climate for the favours
of Polynesian ladies. Tonight the gentlemen
in the gun room are dining on rat fricassee,
which they refer to as their venison feast,
and Second Lieutenant John Rickman
records in his journal that the ships
have reached that void space in our maps
which is marked as
At last they glimpse land, but are driven off
in a violent storm that lasts more than a week.
On the 28th of March the two battered ships
sight land again, and finally put into a sound
that henceforth will be known as Nootka.
On both sides of them are high mountains
capped with snow and clothed below
with dense woods that extend almost
to the shoreline. And the land is inhabited.
More than thirty canoes come off to the ships,
which they encircle, the natives singing,
beating their pointed paddles in perfect
unison on the sides of their slender vessels,
every crewman on deck watching the spectacle.
Edward Riou, midshipman, age 17,
sees them as
a set of the dirtiest beings ever beheld,
their faces and hair
being a lump of red and black earth and grease
covered with the skins of animals.
In the leading canoe a chief or some other
principal person is dancing on a platform
at the bow, conducting the song, shaking
rattles, blowing a whistle, covering
and uncovering his face with a carved mask
of an animal or grotesque human visage.
What is the matter with you? Life is messy and you are feeling a
little sad? Don't worry. It's all brain chemistry, and balance. You know, a bit more this or that to mediate the politics of the corpus callosum and achieve reciprocity between left and right hemispheres. But we are considering Cook and the members of his crew
as they approach the North West Coast of America.
Their troubles were much like yours, and mine, until they stepped
on board those ships, though one might say, even then, it was a matter of hemispheres.
The words in the mouths and the minds of these persons are real at the
time they were spoken or spelled out. But now
there is only text, or projection from text in my
imagination, and perhaps in yours.