30 October 2014

The Legend of Sleepy Reef: Waves of Red in the Pacific Northwest

The other day, I re-read Washington Irving's 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,' I also had a copy of Cormac McCarthy's 'Blood Meridian' nearby. The next morning, possessed by dark liquids and unholy music I dove deep into Norse Mythology Natvie American folklore and quite out of my control, came up with the following...

“Gymir's wet-cold Spae-Wife
Wiles the Bear of Twisted Cables
Oft into Ægir's wide jaws,
Where the angry billow breaketh.
And the Sea-Peak's Sleipnir slitteth
The stormy breast rain-driven,
The wave, with red stain running
Out of white Rán's mouth.”-  Refr

Kristport is a sleepy little town along a forgotten stretch of the upper left hand corner of America, with a population of barely a thousand or so. It sits a few miles inland from the sea; surrounded by misty hills, open valleys and a solemn network of murky waterways that make up the wider Salimook watershed. Its population has been in steady decline since the death of the logging and fishing industries. There are more churches per capita than in any other town in this particular state, which is largely made up of Scandinavian descendents and descendents of the native Salimook tribe. Most of these churches are of such scant congregation it boggles the mind as to how they still stand. In actuality, most of them are barely standing at all. Monuments to a more God-fearing era, they are now in real danger of becoming empty sheds devoid of faith where teenagers will get down on their needs for all-sorts of other reasons beyond prayer.

From Kristport, one can follow the pothole-ridden road along the Serpent River, a few miles from Salimook bay and soon be greeted by the mighty Pacific Ocean. It sounds idyllic enough but rest assured these are unfriendly waters on many different levels There is a constant battle that rages between fresh water and salt water, a deathly rage of brine that constantly shapes and re-shapes the surrounding inlets, lagoons and beaches. Save for perhaps a few weeks in late summer, the water is an unwelcoming and unholy tumult. Even on calm days, when the sea is lulled into temporary pacifism, it is usually cloaked in a thick grey fog. On the rare clear summer day, when the sun’s grace is allowed to briefly shine over this cursed coastline, one might even be tempted to enter the ocean for a leisurely bathe but even then the water temperatures remain so deadly low, one can expect the onset of hypothermia within mere minutes.

Just south of where the Serpent River meets the Pacific is a tiny fishing hamlet of Ranstown. Ranstown is rumored to be one of the oldest permanent settlements west of the Mississippi (of white people, that is). Yet, several other fishing and fur-trading towns along this stretch of Pacific also lay such a claim. No one is entirely sure where Ranstown got its name but given the Norwegian heritage of its settlers, it is likely named after the Norse Sea Goddess, Rán. Rán was notorious in Norse mythology for capturing sailors and fishermen and dragging them to their watery deaths. Local historians, of which there have been very few, speculate naming Ranstown was an effort to appease the Norse sea-goddess and an acknowledgement of how, even though potentially fruitful, establishing a town and livelihood along this treacherous coast was not without considerable risk. Legend has it that the native Salimook aboriginals had warned the settling Norwegians that they would be pounded by relentless storms for most the year and that they were also living in a precarious position in terms of Tsunamis or the Great Flood Water as they called it. They warned that the land would shake East to West, the sand would seemingly begin to soften beneath their feet and everything would begin to sink. Men would turn animal. And animal would turn man. The sea would turn blood red, until the great Flood Water would arrive a few hours later and wash everything away and the world would begin aknew. When pressed further the Native tribes people, said that there had not been Great Flood Water within their lifetime or the lifetime of their immediate ancestors but they all knew it was coming.

The settling Norwegians put this down to baseless superstition but they were not without superstition themselves. In fact, the settlers of Ranstown had left Kristport due to their rejection of Christianity in favor of their traditional Norse Gods. They had come to America so they could pursue their own beliefs but when the Kristport townspeople made it clear that the Heathen were not welcome amongst them, the Ranstown settlers had little choice but to keep going West, as far West as possible and virtually into the belly of the beast, so to speak.

What the Salimook tribes did not initially tell the Norwegians was that there were sanctuaries nearby. Safe havens where the Gods and ancestors offered protections to the earthly inhabitants of this hellish region. One such sanctuary is now known as Sleepy Reef. Sleepy reef was on the south side of a huge, mile long cape, Cape Foulweather. Sleepy Reef was tucked away and protected from the giant Northwest seas that hammered the Ranstown settlement and sheltered from the relentless icy Northerly winds that cursed the white man. The local people’s knew it would enrage their animistic protectors, who hid in the woods warding off foul weather, if the white settlers ever caught wind of this sanctuary.

However, the Salimook people could only keep Sleepy Reef secret from Ranstown for so long. The hardy environment birthed an even hardier generation of Ranstown folk and they eventually found the tiny hidden villages that lay in the lee of Cape Foulweather and the safe waters that surrounded Sleepy Reef. The Salimook had seen it coming and knew they had little choice but to share the surrounding beaches and forest with the Ranstowners despite the potentially cantankerous consequences. As, the alternative was the fate that had met all other Northwest tribes, extinction or assimilation into the unfriendly Christian communities inland.

Surprisingly, the Salimook enjoyed a relatively harmonious existence with the Ranstowners for close to a decade, which is more than can be said for their relationship with Kristport. The Ranstowners were not so crude as to move their entire village to other side of Cape Foulweather in one go, instead they moved slowly, family by family and modeled their existence from that of their Native brethren, now that they had been humbled by the harsh nature of the north side of the Cape. They were mostly able to live off the land and sea without too much dependence on Kristport. The shelter of Cape Foulweather made life much more pleasant and tolerable for much of the year although intense storms still hammered them from time to time and then they would disappear into the woods. The result was the occasional intermarriage of the native and the white Heathens but this was largely kept secret from Kristport.

However by now, Kristport was growing by the month and white settlers of all descent and denomination began moving in and establishing their businesses and churches all based on the flourishing fishing, logging and fur trade. If one is familiar with the tragic trajectory of Native American history, one can imagine the fate of the Salimook. Whether intentional or unintentional, Western modes of life soon killed them off or forced them to move on to a more domesticated, sedentary, pitiful and hopeless existence and leave their ancestral gods deep in the woods and under the sea.

Meanwhile, although Ranstown was tolerated, as Kristport grew, its survival became dependent on the discards of their Christian neighbors. So it continued, until too much of the forest was depleted and too many fish were caught leaving Kristport in inevitable decline, which it still going on to this day. Needless to say, there remains scant evidence of Ranstown and the Salimook tribe but Sleepy Reef, in the lee of Cape Foulweather is now well known, much the dismay of its long-dead and undead inhabitants.

For most of the populace, Sleepy Hollow is now regarded as place of outstanding natural beauty. It remains difficult to get to, requiring an arduous hike through old growth forest and scaling down a jagged cliff face but the pay-off in vista and natural wonder far exceeds the cost of entry for the few that actually put in the effort to reach it.  For those that will never make the effort to reach it, Cape Foulweather Sleepy Reef beach make for a spectacular post-card. Lush old growth in the background, golden sands for endless miles populated by no one save the occasional deer or elk. Vertical cliff faces, circled by Eagles in the air and migrating grey whales in the ocean and the occasional feeding frenzy of a Great White feasting on sea lions. For those of a superstitious disposition, Sleepy Reef is an awe-inspiring place. Legends abound, the paradisiacal beach, so tempting on the surface is said to be the gateway to a very real hell. Several unprepared, adventurers have made their untimely doom on the way to Sleepy Reef. From poisonous plants, bear attacks in the woods, snake bites, antler impalement, fatal falls, drownings, shark attacks and several murders have all taken place over the decades,  in the woods and on the beach that surrounds Sleepy Reef.

One such event involves the sordid rape and dismemberment of a Girl Scout. During the autumn of a couple years prior to the events that are about to transpire a Girl Scout troop were on a nature hike when two of them got lost in the woods after they went to relieve themselves in the woods. After an hour of searching the troop leaders called in the coast guard who did not find them until the next day, face down in the water, on the beach, strangled to death by their sashes, bloodied, beaten and violated in the most horrendous way imaginable. The Pacific Ocean gently lapping at their bare white feet. One of the mothers of the slain girls never recovered. Too many horrendous nights alone with thoughts of her daughter until she finally had to escape her haunted mind by jumping out of it and off the cliffs along Cape Foulweather.

The Sleepy Reef was also legendary in Pacific Northwest surfing folklore. The reef itself on a very rare occasion but usually the months leading away from summer and into early winter, can provide one of the better, if not the best surfing experiences on this challenging coastline. Most surfers, worth the crusty salt on their faces have given it a go but few have caught the reef producing the waves they hear it can and dream it could. Most traveling surfers will never catch it under the correct conditions as the variables are too high and efforts are too demanding. Many local surfers even give up after several miss-attempts.  Some surfers paddle out anyway and get themselves into trouble. Unforeseen riptides and currents make positioning challenging, often dangerous and sometimes deadly. And then there are those that are successful. Those that score Sleepy Reef in all its glory. And when they do, they never really leave and will spend most of the rest of their surfing lives trying to recapture the waves they have ridden down there.

For the Waves, wow, let me tell you about the waves. A good wave creates, form out of emptiness, briefly transporting planetary energy across an aquatic medium. Riding them is a mystical experience at the best of times. But surfing Sleepy Reef is an all-together different level of experience. It is said; the surfer forgets all sense of time and space when catching the right wave on Sleepy Reef. All of his or her anxieties about the future and past regrets, wash away. They embark on an eternal ride of the present moment and their very being unites with the whole universe. They lose their selves in the most wonderful way. It is said, any surfer who has surfed Sleepy Reef does not fear death but at the same time has an incredibly hard time moving on and doing anything else with their lives, as all they want to do, is catch the reef working properly again, which they rarely, if ever get to do again.

Which brings us to the “hero” of this sordid tale. His name is Kristian Porter. Kristian Porter is a rather ugly fellow. Ugly in appearance and character but not without potential redemption. He was known for being long-limbed but not excessively tall, somewhat skinny and frail in appearance but he was actually quiet strong. Kristian was a young man who never really knew what he wanted to do with his life and so, sort of, fell into teaching. Growing up in the suburbs of Vanport, a bustling city, inland from the coast of our current concerns, he always had a vague interest in science.  However, he never really had the aptitude or drive to pursue a doctorate and so after his initial degree settled on becoming a high-school science teacher. Krisitan was young for a teacher at age of twenty-five without much worldly experience. His loneliness confused him. He felt he was a relatively stable young man with a steady job but he remained unmarried and how shall we say, unloved. In truth his primary objective in life was to connect with a woman and this became increasingly more frustrating for him. Unhealthily so. Eventually, Kristian came to the conclusion that being a ‘solid dependable nice guy’ with a steady job was simply not enough despite current societal mythology.

Kristian tried everything to make himself more attractive to women with ever-increasing ferocity and he slowly began to lose site of why he wanted a partner in life. He worked on his looks, worked out, beefed himself up, got dental work done, learned jokes, purchased a nice car, a house, signed up for dating-services but he remained isolated and alone. His only connection with the female kind was with his students. Meanwhile, Kristian had taken up surfing after reading about it in a local hip adventure magazine. He thought it would make him more interesting and it seemed to becoming increasingly fashionable to young urban-dwellers to pursue rugged outdoors pursuits when they worked locked into their city jobs. Lo and behold out of all the things Kristian had tried to better himself, surfing was something he actually genuinely started to enjoy and believe in.

Then his life took a turn for the worst. Kristian was teaching sexual reproduction to high school freshman. It was not really that awkward for him, despite never having sexual relations himself, or for his students as he largely taught the mechanics of it all. Cell by cell, what made up what, how the eggs were fertilized and what happened from there, on a very molecular scientific level. But one day, while showing microscopic slides of live male sperm in class, one of the female students asked him where he got the sample. As it turns out Kristian used his own sample and told them so. He really did not see anything wrong in this. Then they asked him how he got his sample and well; let us just say that was the end of Kristian’s career in the Vanport school district. Desperate and jobless, he moved to the coast and took a job with the even more desperate teacher-short school district of Kristport.

Life at the coast was even lonelier for Kristian than in the big city. In Vanport he could at least be around strangers at a bar or club but in Kristport everyone knew who he was and that he was alone. And they knew he was strange, perhaps even a tad ungodly, not unlike themselves. Before long, Kristian felt as though this was the course his miserable life had always been destined to follow and shame on him for not taking more control when he had the chance to do so. But at least he had solace in surfing.

Kristian spent all his free time surfing within fifty miles up and down the coast. He got to know the popular spots and even explored a few lesser-frequented surf spots by himself. He never really made any friends with other surfers. They were largely tribal and kept to their own. However, he was able to glean some crucial information from them every once in awhile. The scientist in him had little trouble learning how to predict weather forecasts, and wave formation. He began to immerse himself in the heady variables that resulted in good waves, swell direction and period, wind direction and strength, bottom contours bathometry, atmospheric pressure, storm trajectory and so on. The pursuit of waves had overwhelmed his pursuit of female companionship, which had become a lost cause in his eyes, although he could not pretend he had completely rid himself of human needs.

And then he heard about Sleepy Reef.

Kristian was enjoying some waves a subdued beach break one late August day. A nice long-period mid-sized swell was running, groomed by gentle offshore easterly winds. The water was strangely warm and comfortable. There was only one other surfer out in the water.  Kristian soon caught a good wave and rode it to the best of his intermediate abilities. A local Kristport surfer named Vali, who Kristian vaguely knew from town congratulated him on his ride.

Sensing a potential meaningful connection with another human being, Kristian thanked him and tried to make small talk,

“Hey, its pretty quiet out here today. Where is everyone?”

“Who knows? On a day like this, lots of  surf spots could have good waves. Perhaps, Sleepy Reef has woken up HA HA…” The local joked and laughed, almost manically.

“Where?” Kristian inquired.

“Sleepy Reef. Ah well, even if its happening today, we could be in for winter shut-down any day now and all hell will loose again until next summer.”

“Hmm, I’ve never heard of Sleepy Reef.”

The local surfer turned to Kristian and frowned at him.

“Wait a minute? Aren’t you that sexually deviant teacher kook?”

Kristian shook his head. Speechless, ashamed and paralyzed.

“Fuck you, man.” The local spat and paddled away. As Vali paddled away he did feel a tiny bit of remorse concerning his immediate judgment of Kristian for he was well aware that the lines between fantasy and reality, morality and immorality were incredibly blurred along this stretch of coast.

Living in Kristport, Kristian had never that far from Cape Foulweather and Sleepy Reef and it was not long before he had a rough idea where to begin looking for it. It was not that hard, after all it was on post cards he had seen on in the local shops but he never knew there were waves to be surfed down there.

Kristian found Sleepy Reef without too much trouble that October. Prime surf season and by his calculations after studying an ordinance survey map and the weather charts, on a day where it was bound to have good surf.  By now, he had heard all the stories of the drownings and rapes and shark and bear attacks  and the infamous Girl Scout rape/ murders, but he did not really fear such things. While he had grown up timid and afraid of life, since he was fired from his first job for showing a classroom full of teenagers slides of his enlarged ejaculate, he had decided to live life without unnecessary apprehension. With that in mind, he hiked the ten miles down Cape Foulweather with plenty of water and food, in the pre-dawn darkness, to time the tide just right.

At the end of the trail he came to edge of the huge cliff and found the rope people used to scale down to the beach. First he lowered his backpack and supplies and then his surfboard. He had chosen his favorite 6’6” pintail based on the Sleepy Reef’s legendary power and the forecasted well. And then he lowered himself. He rappelled down the cliff just as the sun began to delicately penetrate the dense woods above him.

Photo by Danielle Connor

Once on the beach, Kristian knew he would not be standing there long, for the surf was absolutely, awe inspiring. He knew he had to fuel up and get out there as soon as he could. As he ate his sandwich and hydrated with big gulps of water, in between pulling on his wetsuit and waxing his surfboard, he could barely takes his eyes off the overhead waves that were hitting Sleepy Reef just perfectly. The water was a lovely green, nothing like the color of the sea at his usual surf spots. In between sets, the sea’s texture was so smooth and calm , barely a ripple on its surface. Paddling through it would be like a hot knife through butter. And then when the sets came in, they hit the reef in the right spot every time. Perfect almond shaped tubes that then reeled into long lined up carvable walls. It was six to eight feet easy by Kristian’s  estimation. He was a little nervous but, no apprehensions, right? Right! There was nothing else in his life, in life, than this moment and the waves he was about to ride.

Kristian paddled out in a convenient channel to the south of Sleepy Reef and around the back of it where the waves were peaking. Once outside, there was a lull in the sets and he took some time to take in his surroundings. The leaves had begun to turn within the last few days. Amongst the evergreen were subtle streaks of yellow, brown, orange and red throughout the woods. The sun eventually rose above the trees breaking through the sea mist and fog with heavenly rays, bringing an alluring shimmer to the ocean waters. Kristian was alone but it was a profound alone that for the first time in his life he was moved by with cosmic delight. So alone, he was beginning to get strange new glimpses of the universe before him. Visions of absolute reality. The troubles of his pitiful life, his job, his history and reputation, all became meaningless to him in that moment. As Kristian pondered these implications, waiting for the waves to come, he saw a pair of antlers rusting through the bush back on the beach. As the antlers made their way into open view and onto the sand, they stood tall. Kristian was momentarily sure he saw before him a large man, naked save for the mud, blood and moss that was smeared across his body, and the majestic antlers adorning the top of his skull. And the waves began to stat marching in from the horizon. Kristian knew he had to line himself up on the reef properly and did not want to get caught in the wrong position as he had a good suspicion the subsequent aquatic beating would be a brutal one. He paddled to the horizon and took a last look at the deer man who was on the beach only to see a large buck casually strolling south along the sand.

The waves were soon upon him. Kristian let the fist one go and could tell there was tremendous fortitude cycling within them. And so he swung his surfboard around into position for the second wave of the set. He paddled slow but steadily, digging his arms deep into the cool but pleasant water. The wave let him in with ease and he jumped to his feet. The wave sucked water off the Sleepy Reef and Kristian could see the mushrooming boils created by the kelp covered rocks a couple of feet below the surface. He dropped in and carved right, engaging his fins in a smooth and long drawn out bottom turn and then quickly hooked his board into the pocket of a long walled up right hander that began to spin south towards where he had paddled out. The surfing was effortless. The wave generated so much power there was no need to manipulate his board to create speed. He just had to remain calm and calculated within it all. This was a new experience for Kristian, as now he understood what surfing was supposed to feel like. He felt whole. Human. He casually turned his board up and down the wave in a series of perfectly timed top and bottom turns, cutbacks and even a figure eight and then he could feel the wave getting faster and steeper. He knew it was about to tube and momentarily panicked that he had no idea how to ride a tube. His anxieties soon floated away as the emerald lip of the towering wave began to curl over his now head. And soon. And forever more. He was locked within the perfect tube of this flawless wave that was reeling along the outer edges of Sleepy Reef. He knew nothing would be the same again. He wanted to laugh and cry at the same time but remained quiet as he stood there within this watery tunnel being transported to God knows where. It soon became peculiarly arousing and as he noticed his arousal, the wave shut down on him. And  so it was, there was to be no glorious exit from his first ever tube ride.

Underwater, Kristian experienced a turbulent hell. He had failed to take a breath before his wipeout and now his lungs were punishing him for it. He hit the rocks, got tangled in kelp and was thrashed around by cascades of white water that were swirling all around the various submerged nooks and crannies of The Reef. And then she came for him, the faceless sea goddess, Medusa, Ran, perhaps older than all mythology, older than story-telling itself.  Kelp and sea serpents swirled around where her head should have been and she aggressively beckoned him out into deeper water, reaching for him and he nearly went with her.  She told him, without words, in pre-language that he could live forever underwater forever, if he dared to commit to a lungful of sea-water. But he could not commit and Kristian was soon ejected onto a shallow sandbar and into the breathable realm again. Terrifying, as this experience just was, he was still aroused and felt an immediate urge to address his condition.

On the beach, Krisitian peeled down his wetsuit and knew he had to immediately offer his seed to this beach, the cape the reef, this place, this time, the universe at that moment. It was an overwhelming urge that he could barely control. As he stood there, taking care of this earthy, very human urge, a family of hikers consisting of a mother, father and two teenage children suddenly interrupted him. But he could not stop or hide himself.

“Just what the hell are you doing, down here?” The father demanded, both disgusted and amazed. Turning to his children, “Kids go back into the trees for a bit.” He barked.

“Sir, this is not what it looks like,” Kristian pleaded, still unable to stop.

“Oh, I think it’s exactly what it looks like, man. Honey do you have any cell service down here? Call 911 now! And then go be with the kids!” The man could not take his eyes of Kristian. “Dude, you are disgusting. Disturbed and disgusting.”

Kristian eventually ejaculated his seed onto the wet sands and then slowly sat down in shame.

“The cops are on their way, man.” The man shook his head and walked back into the woods to his confused children and horrified wife.

Kristian did not even think to run and hide. He knew he was never leaving this beach. The day progressed rapidly. The sky went from orange to a hellish red, as the sun followed its autumnal trajectory. Despite his seemingly imminent doom, Krisitan could only think about paddling back out onto Sleepy Reef to ride a few more waves but was till trying to pluck up his courage after that horrendous wipe-out. And so he sat there ashamed, wretched, a sorry excuse for a civilized human being.

The police showed up just before sunset. The swell was still compelled towards Sleepy Reef, forming the most perfect waves a surfer cold imagine, wave after wave after wave. Unbroken lines of water conformed to the shape of the reef until it tripped them over into climatic explosions of white water that raced in cylindrical lines for the sand. Only what was once almost crystal clear water with a hint of emerald was now a seemingly dense, thick red. Soon the ground began to violently shake from East to West and the sand seemed to soften beneath their feet. While the police panicked, Kristian stood up quickly, ran for the water’s edge with his surfboard and paddled out into the bloody waters, away from a fate worse than death and eternal damnation.