“Doesn’t get any better than this!” I said.
Rays of gold shone through the verdant canopy above. The wind caressed our faces like an old friend. It was warm but not hot. Couldn’t have asked for a better summer day.
It lulled me. Had it been cold, or raining, or dreary, I might’ve been more wary, as I should’ve always been.
I might’ve heard the soft inhale of large lungs, mingling with the summer song of birds.
Grub nearly knocked me over, walking into me where I stood frozen. I pressed a finger to my lips, hoping for once, that my friend wouldn’t grunt or gasp or shout.
But it was useless.
I saw it all, moment by moment, and knew our time had come. His mouth opened, veins bulging, eyes wide.
A moment later his eyes saw what had stopped me. They widened into small terrified circles of regret. We stared in mute horror at the giant, for all outward appearances a harmless young woman.
But we knew better. Everyone did.
Ever so slowly, one big, beautiful eye opened, then the other, blinking blearily before focusing on me.
A slow, hungry smile spread over her broad face.
It was the last thing I’d ever see.
There was a time when the dark depths held no mystery. When white-peach coral groves gave way to ridges of earth so vast several days could be spent drifting along beside them. Turning and twisting with the shuddering force of tectonic plates. Within such vast crevices, the heart of the earth’s pulse-beat rhythm thrummed. In those moments, it was unimaginable that some quiet, cloudy day in the future, all that would remain would be the mottled green, sun-faded skull of an extinguished giant.
PHOTOGRAPH BY MARIA STENZEL, NAT GEO IMAGE COLLECTION
An azure surge marks the break of day, gilded light piercing surging water, making life of chaos. A swirl of green and blue churns beneath the otherwise unfathomable deep. Face to face with the the blood of the ocean, how can anyone deny the imagination of Poseidon’s kingdom?
PHOTOGRAPH BY BRIAN SKERRY, NAT GEO IMAGE COLLECTION
Vernazza … a secret that must be kept. No earthly creature who finds her ever leaves her again. If they were to try, you can be quite sure they would find each step away from that visage of paradise to be unbearable torture upon the sense of beauty that rests deep in the eyes of every soulful creature that walks this blue earth.
Even one look at a cascading sunset, with its vibrant oranges and yellows, looming over my little utopia equates to nothing less than a long, greedy guzzle from Youth’s infamous Fountain. Soon the world would pour from its four corners, hungering to feast their piggish eyes upon my beauteous land and to grasp at it with their grubby fingers.
Each morning I rise to stand at the end of our stone dock to see the azure-white water breaking upon the rocks. If I close my eyes I can feel it now. I can hear it crash, a celestial whisper, rising to paint my eyelids in an exquisite sea-born, life-giving mist. If it were up to me, I’d forever have this place to myself. I’d stand here and wait for the return of God. Doubtless, my Vernazza is the place such a being would first reclaim.
PHOTOGRAPH BY MARCO DE MAIO, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC YOUR SHOT
I soared above an open ocean, over sea and sky and land. I saw through a patchwork tear of dark blue clouds higher even than me, the irrepressible rays of light bursting through each uneven opening, and I have never been more reminded that we are all of us existing on a fleeting ship, orb-like and water-filled; shooting through a void more infinite than our feeble minds can comprehend. Out there, across the dark, there lies a star so bright it’s light touches us across time. The power of nature, true nature, that of the endless glittering black above, makes a mockery of our hopes and fears. An impassive, burning eye, uncaring and finite, like the rest of us, but so much greater. For all that, the sight beneath me still took my breath away, and I knew it was wisdom to appreciate the little dreams that are our lives.
PHOTOGRAPH BY KEITH LADZINSKI, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
We gathered there, heads upturned, transfixed in astonished pleasure to see something incredible.
But we came for more than that.
For more than the scintillating explosions, each flash thundering toward Heaven in a barrage of violent light. For more, too, than the boom that followed the screech as each trail of blazing, incandescent combustion devoured the quiet night sky. For more even than the perfectly chaotic pattern of fire dancing over fire: the lowest layer burning in the shape of palm trees, the layer above drooping like weeping willows, each branch bleeding to the earth a billion yellow-white leaves.
Mostly, we came to escape.
PHOTOGRAPH BY MEHRAN SHARIATI, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC YOUR SHOT
“Remain still. Let no ripple affect our view.”
The effulgent sun’s halo looms behind illuminated crystals—reef protruding from sea. Falling, the star of day makes mountains of each. The opalescent crowns seem no less than a a tree in a broader forest, running the length of the head in place of snow-capped peaks. Beneath the still sea lies a blood-red star, no less alive than the first. Its veins are white lace. It rests on sand amidst a golden trail of dust.
PHOTOGRAPH BY KEITH LADZINSKI, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
I finally decided to read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice after years of delay for the sole purpose of discovering for myself what magic the book holds that make it so consistently revered. It did not disappoint. I found myself enraptured in what I had erroneously imagined to be a frivolous tale with little substance. I couldn’t have been farther off.
I firmly believe anyone with a heart and soul will relate to this story. Austen touches on something many of us older folk may have forgotten—the endlessly charming and anxiety ridden emotions that accompany first love. It was all too easy to lose oneself in the bedside discussions between Jane and Elizabeth, all of it took me back to high school romances, including Elizabeth’s anxiety searching for Wickham at the first ball, and her sudden depression when she learned that he was not present. I felt this novel bone-deep. Have we not all been in Jane or Elizabeth’s place before, boy or girl, in our own lives and settings? It was a welcome reminder to conversations with friends at a party or bonfire, discussing potential loves, or lost loves, and to the seemingly oppressive stress accompanying these feelings, a feeling that once was so great to entirely encapsulate the mind for days, weeks, months, perhaps even years.
In my own life today, like many of us, I have much bigger concerns than requited or unrequited love, but this book was a very welcome reminder to what was in some ways a simpler time. A time where the greatest concern, as the younger Bennett sisters would gossip, is which soldier in town to flirt with next? Or, in 2018, what boy or girl may catch your eye in high school or college. This novel masterfully touches on this nostalgic emotion, transcending time and setting.
From Austen I learned the power of family, and how the strength of a character’s feeling for a situation can make the conflict every bit as calamitous as Frodo’s effort to destroy the Ring. From Austen, too, the usefulness of comic yet despicable characters like Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst to further our desire for Elizabeth to end the story with Mr Darcy. Elizabeth’s defeat of Miss Bingley and triumph over Lady Catherine’s wish to marry her daughter enhance our feeling of satisfaction when Mr Darcy and Elizabeth finally make their romance official.
For more reviews and discussion on Pride and Prejudice, here is the link to the book’s goodreads page: