Writings of Dave Patterson



Aquila's World
by
Dave Patterson


"If Leviathan is allowed to pass, man himself will be belittled and his own claim to genuine humanity be tarnished beyond recall." (Lorne Eiseley)

"We would not be harmed by returning to the roots which once nourished us, which still, unseen, link together all life that lives, and feels, and thinks, and dies, on this, our common planet." (Joan McIntyre)

Chapter 1: Rip Tide

"Jenniferrrr - Mom said not to wade out too far. You never know when the rip tide's going to come in to shore. You know ..."

Cap, squatting on the hot sand examining a piece of washed up sponge, watched the sun reflecting from the bleached-blond hair of his twin sister as she waded in the shallows. They were playing on the beach near their parent's summer home on the banks of the St. Croix River in New Brunswick. It was near the end of the holidays and, truth be told, they were just the slightest bit bored with it all. Which probably had a lot to do with what happened.

Jennifer, older than Cap "by a good five minutes!", so their father often said to people they met, was somewhat more adventurous than her quieter brother, and in no mood for warnings.

"Listen, Smarty," she turned and said, "if I need your advice I'll ask for it, O.K.? Anyway, I'm not too deep and there's no tide at all. And there's all kinds of sand shrimps to see. Why don't you come and have a look?" she finished, relenting a bit from her initial short-tempered response - they really did get along well together, most of the time.

"Mmmmm.. ." was all Cap replied. He had broken his piece of reddish finger-sponge in half and was examining the tiny holes and spaces which made up most of its volume. Both he and Jennifer were fascinated by the many things to be found on the seashore, but he was more inclined to examine and think while Jennifer preferred to watch living things. A hank of his hair, also bleached to a sandy colour, fell over his forehead, and he brushed it back absently.

It was a pretty lazy day. So far.

A Cape Codder fishing boat went by (a Cape Codder is a 10 to 20 meter boat with a very high, pointed bow and a wide, low deck behind the cabin), throwing up waves which made Jennifer jump back to shore. Cap looked up, and saw some of the people he'd met from the Biological Station in nearby Brandy Cove. They waved at him, and he waved back.

"YOooooo, CAAAAPPP!", from the boat.

"YOoooo, FREEEEDDDD!", Cap shouted back, smiling happily at this recognition, and waving even harder. Jennifer was looking at the boat, and then to Cap.

"Wave, Jennifer," said Cap excitedly, "It's Fred from the station, remember?, and the Miss Michelle!" The Miss Michelle was the name of the Cape Codder, painted on the stern and each side of the high bow in large, slightly faded green letters on the white woodwork.

Jennifer looked out at the boat cruising by, and waved with her free hand. Her other hand was balancing her 'window' on the sand, to which she quickly returned her attention. This 'window', made especially for her and Cap by their father, was a shallow wooden box about half a meter square and 20 centis deep, mounted in a piece of styrofoam, with a sealed plexiglass bottom. Their 'window to another world', as their father had first described it, thus the name that stuck, made it possible to see things in the shallow waters of the shore area without the distortion caused by light rays bending when they left the water. It was one of Jennifer's favourite things, and she never went near the beach without it.

Talk around the supper table back at the cottage was often about what strange and wonderful things she had seen that day - sand dollars, sea urchins, seastars and odd-shaped snails being the more common finds.

As the station boat disappeared around the bend and the waves faded away, Jennifer waded along the edge of the water. Cap finished his examination of the sponge and tossed it to the line of seaweed from where he had originally found it. He got to his feet and looked around. He squinted across the river to the other shore of the St. Croix, about a mile distant at that point, where the sun was starting to sink in the sky. Some gulls and crows and shore birds - sandpipers, plovers, a Blue Heron - were beginning to gather as the tide went out. The mud flats around the Bay of Fundy were a great feeding ground for them, and during the spring and fall migrations there were often millions of birds feeding here - now, in late summer, the fall migration was just beginning, and each evening a larger number were seen.

"Almost time to be heading back, eh Jen?" he called; "You know what Mom thinks about us being late."

Jennifer looked up at him, then at the sun, and the birds wheeling in the sky. It was a beautiful, lazy, late summer day, just made for wandering by the shore.

"We've got a few minutes yet," she replied; "Come here and look - there's a huge Moon Snail under the window."

Moon snails were one of Jennifer's favourite finds, common though they were - big, greyish coloured snails, with a foot often almost as large as her own. Much more exciting than the small black periwinkles which left their trails everywhere - and much less dangerous than the rock crabs which usually seemed to be bad-tempered and came chasing sideways after your bare feet, fierce-looking claws waving all over the place. Jennifer had actually been pinched by one of these crabs earlier that summer, when she was walking without watching where she was going, and even though it didn't actually hurt her much she was still cautious of them.

Moon snails didn't bite.

"I've seen thousands of moon snails, Jennifer - maybe even millions!" replied Cap; "What's so special about this one, eh?"

Cap had found a piece of an old lobster trap on the washed up seaweed pile, and was walking along the strand-line (the line of seaweed washed up to the high-water line at the top of the beach), poking through the grey-green mass to see if there was anything else interesting. A lot of sand-fleas (not real fleas, but like tiny, jumping shrimp - 'Just amphipods,' his father often said, as if everybody knew what 'amphipods' were) hopped out of the disturbed seaweed, but not much else of interest was to be seen. A bit of a breeze was beginning to ruffle Cap's hair, from the land cooling down as the sun set and the cooler air flowed out towards the sea. It raised little sand-spurts along the shore and ripples in the water. A fishing boat was coming upriver to dock for the night, in from the Passamaquoddy Bay which the St. Croix flowed into.

"Nothing so special," replied Jennifer, "but I bet it's a lot more interesting than that smelly pile of seaweed!" And so saying she returned her attention to the window and the moon snail, as Cap poked into his smelly pile. He slowly wandered a few more yards down the beach, seeing nothing interesting. Finally he turned back to call to Jennifer - "C'mon, eh, Jen? I don't want. .. JEN! ! LOOK OUT!! LOOK OUT! !!" he shouted, for the large waves of the just passed fishing boat were about to come to shore, and Jennifer hadn't seen them - she had wandered out into the water almost up to her waist, following the moon snail, and Cap was sure the waves would mean trouble. He began to run towards her.

Jennifer heard Cap yell, and looked up just in time to see the first and largest wave about to catch her, rising and rising over her waist and almost up to her shoulders. She kept on her feet as it passed, but only just barely - and then the second wave hit, not quite as high as the first, but since she was off balance it was enough to wash her feet out from under her.

"CAAAAPPP! !" she yelled, as she lost her footing, "HEEELLLLPP!!"

- and then she had to take a breath and close her mouth before she went under - but she had had a chance to look back to the shore and see Cap running towards her. She wasn't panicking - her parents had taught her a lot of things about being independent and dealing with things that happen to you, and she was pretty brave to begin with - but she was definitely afraid, as her feet were swept out from under her and she fell beneath the waves.

She kept a firm grip on her window - it was almost as good as a life jacket, and very buoyant, and as her hand felt for and found the sandy bottom she pushed herself towards the surface, kicking with her feet to try to stand again. She got her feet under her, and realised that she had been swept several meters offshore already, for the water was now well over her waist, with the following waves reaching almost to her neck, and making her start to lose her balance again.

Cap was splashing through the surf towards her, shouting "JENNIFER!! JENNIFER!", as she spluttered and gasped trying to get a breath.

Then Cap was there, just a few feet away in shallower water, shouting advice as the waves from the fishing boat kept knocking at her, smaller with each pass but still powerful - "The window! The window! Reach me the window and I'll pull you in!"

All of this happened, of course, much faster than it takes to tell it - and as Jennifer looked at her left hand, there it was - the window; she just hadn't thought of it as a lifeline. Swaying in the waves, almost knocked off her feet again, she tried to get it around in front of her, where Cap could reach it, blinking the salt water from her eyes, spluttering for breath, beginning to get just a little panicked, maybe, although she didn't really have time to think of it like that.

"Just a little more, Jen," Cap was panting, now waist-deep in the waves, eyes wide, reaching towards her, "just a little more. ..there! I've got it! I've. ..aaugghh!!"

Suddenly, with the waves still breaking over her head, and just as she was certain Cap was going to pull her in to safety, Jennifer saw her brother fall, as if his feet had been yanked out from under him. He went right in over his head, only to emerge beside her, still gripping the window, choking and spitting the water from his mouth and nose.

"The rip tide!!" he gasped, looking at her with wide and frightened eyes; "The rip tide is running!"

Then Jennifer felt it herself - a strong, irresistible current flowing along the bottom, as high as her knees, pushing ... pushing ... and then her toes lost the bottom, and she was being swept along the shore, and finally away from it. She still had a grip on the window, which helped her keep afloat, and as she looked to it she could see that Cap also had a hold of it. He looked at her from the other side, wild-eyed.

"KICK!!" he spluttered, spitting water from his mouth as he shouted, "KICK TOWARDS THE SHORE!! MAYBE WE CAN GET BACK IN!!"

And as he shouted, he flattened his body in the water, kicking for all he was worth. Jennifer caught on instantly, and did the same. For a minute they held their own, and thought they might even be going to make it. But they were too far out, with the rip tide pushing them away from shore. The ebbing tide, gathering speed with the pull of mighty Fundy, toyed with them for a bit as the red sun on the horizon sank lower and lower, then snuggled them up and took them out to sea.



Jennifer and Cap are rescued by a whale called Aquila, have some interesting talks with Aquila about whales and the ocean environment, meet some other whales, are attacked by a berserk pilot whale, and finally Aquila takes them back to shore in a terrible storm.

approx. length 19,600 wds, all rights negotiable
© 1991, 2003 by
Dave Patterson



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