Author: Andrew Dunn
My grandfather writes me letters. They are the old-fashioned kind, written on small sheets of paper with blue lines his calligraphy ignores. I imagine it takes him hours, maybe days, to write each one with lettering so perfect it seems a shame he only had black ink to use. It takes even longer for grandfather’s letters arrive. I’m always watching, waiting.
I told mom about grandfather’s letters once. She told me I shouldn’t talk that way, so I hid his letters in my closet and stared out the window, wondering when and how the next one would arrive.
By sparrow, raven, or mourning dove?
Grandfather explained in one of his letters that birds were the only way he and the mariners on his ship could send their words from the sea to those of us ashore. I was nodding as I read it. I knew my grandfather was a sea captain because mom kept a portrait of him on the living room wall. Mom said a famous artist painted grandfather perfectly in his starched white uniform, grey curls spilling out underneath a hat with crossed anchors, a sextant in one hand and quill in the other.
“The sextant is how sailors navigate.” Mom explained. “The quill is for log-keeping at sea. Sailors must be precise when they sail far out to sea.”
I didn’t doubt sailing required precision, but I was sure the quill wasn’t for log-books. Grandfather was dipping his quill in a jar of midnight ink when he wrote to me, telling me of places he’d seen and adventures he’d experienced journeying the seas.
But which seas?
I slumped on my bedroom floor, turning a globe in my lap, reading names assigned to oceans, lakes, and bays. There were thousands of names, and encyclopedias in the den told me many were known by more than one. There were ancient names long forgotten, indigenous names used by those who lived near waters they plied for subsistence, and nicknames for others. Grandfather’s ship could have been making way through any of them.
While I was studying the globe, grandfather finished a letter to me and dispatched it by way of a cardinal that dropped it on my path as I walked to school one morning. The letter, folded over twice and sealed by a glob of green wax, felt familiar in my hands. I was tucking it inside my jacket for safe keeping until I could read it later, alone in my bedroom, but I was impatient too – I couldn’t let grandfather’s letter languish inside a coat pocket.
I scanned the sidewalk to make sure no one saw me, then hurried into a grove of trees. I opened grandfather’s letter and started reading.
You might wonder which of the world’s many seas I sail. His letter began. I sail across the sea of light. Even as I write this, the bow of this old ship is slicing through swells that gleam as bright as diamonds, and the wake we leave behind shines like dawn.
I stopped reading and turned my head skyward, gazing up through a canopy of green and gold, finding shafts of morning streaming down through clouds. I folded grandfather’s letter, placed it inside my coat, and pressed deeper into the woods, wondering how far I would have to go until I found the spot where light touched the ground.
And if I found it, I wondered whether I could learn to write letters like grandfather did, with ink and quill, on a ship that was sailing fast on halcyon currents that shone like diamonds.
Believe it or not, the inspiration for this song was a lyric in the Black Sabbath song “Neon Knights”, and wondering what it would be like to sail across seas of light.