Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Old Man at Cape Horn

Old Man at Cape Horn

An old man with brace rimmed glasses and very wet cloths sat stone-still on the backside of the Zodiac, along with thirteen others from the ship they had just left. There was a wooden stairway, perhaps, some fifteen-hundred feet from bottom to top at the edge of Cape Horn, they were in the waters of the north boundary of the Drake Passage, and they were crossing over from the ship to the island. The motor-drawn zodiac staggered as if intoxicated in the rough waters of the Drake, the Captain was hesitated about allowing the Zodiac to have even left the ship, but the old man insisted and there was a slight window of allowance, he would be the first on the island, and last to leave. The old man sat without moving, as the high waves soaked the side of his left hip all the way down to his ankles, numbing his legs with the freezing sea waters. He was too excited to notice it at the time.
It was his dream to cross the Drake Waters, and climb to the top of Cape Horn, there were very few people his age, or any age for that matter, that had.
“Where do you come from,” asked John, a historian, who had given several lectures on Darwinism aboard the ship.
“From Minnesota, but we live in Lima most of the time now” he said, and smiled.
That was his home state and so it gave him pleasure to mention it, along with living in Lima, Peru with his wife.
“He worked as a psychologist for the Federal Prisons,” mentioned his wife, who was sitting beside him, and John.
“Oh,” John said, not quite appreciative.
“Yes,” said the old man, “I’ve listened to some of your lectures onboard the ship, Darwin’s theories, correct.” John smiled, nodded his head.
The old man didn’t look like a retired psychologist from his side view, thought John, wet cloths and thinning hair, thin faced and his steel rimmed glasses, that had soft plastic going around the ears, and said, “What kind of prisoners were they?”
“Various kinds,” he said, and shook his head as if to say, enough of this trivial talk, the craft was closing in on Cape Horn. “I had to leave them, I got ill several years ago.”
He was now watching the stairway and the rocky looking landscape of Cape Horn—and the building up of the tumultuous, and noisy waters of the seas ((the Atlantic and the Pacific both shifted their waters through this passage, along with the winds of this most Southern point of South American)(the winds coming from the northwest, and southern hollows of the Andes, to this point of the Tierra del Fuego, this island, the last in the group, called Cape Horn, owing to the strong winds and waves, currents and icebergs, and fierce storms, a notorious graveyard for sailors)), and wondering how much effort it would be to climb those one hundred plus stairs: he had gone on a diet, and worked out for several months to insure he could climb those steps. They were the enemy to him, and listening all the while to the noises of the motor, and the slashing of the high waves, and hoping the waves would not turnover the Zodiac, in this ever mystifying event that had just begun, and the old man still sat there in stupefaction.

As they reached Cape Horn, he started climbing the stairs as if he was flying up them—pert near the moment he stepped off the Zodiac, stopping midway, onto a wooden platform to the side of the stairway.
“This is not a good place to stop,” his wife said. “If you can make it to the top, there are wooden walkways.” But the old man wasn’t tired; he was awe struck, looking out at the sea, and the ship, at both sides of the inlet, absorbing the scene, and taking in the moment.
“Just wait a while,” he said, “just a moment, and then we’ll go. I want to see all I can, especially the lighthouse, but first this.”
He looked at his wife very excitedly and not a bit tired, then said, trying to take the worry on her face away, “I’ll be all right, I am sure. There is no need to be uptight about this trip. I know the others are ahead of us. But we’ll catch up to them soon.” And they did, he flew up the rest of the stairs as if there were none, as if he was walking on air.

After an hour on top of Cape Horn, the group was on its way back down to the Zodiac, and the old man, had stopped by the monument of a bird, after having left the lighthouse, “If you are rested dear, we better go,” she urged him.
“You need to walk faster,” said one of the crew members, the winds had picked up, and the waves in the Drake were getting higher, and the old man’s legs, his muscles were cramping up.
“I’ll not hurry any faster than these legs will carry me,” he told the young crew member. “Thank you,” he said with a slight sneer.
“That was the captain of the ship, who called,” he remarked.
“So it was,” said the old man, and the crew member got another call, “I think the old man who is always with his wife is going as fast as his legs will take him, they look as if they are half frozen. There is nothing to do about it.”
Then the old man tried to push his legs forcefully ahead of him, and John was behind him, said dully, “Good luck, thought I had problems at my age!” He was even older than the old man.
“You want to get ahead of me John?” asked the old man, knowing John was watching far back of him.
“No, I’m fine.”

Once back on the ship, he explained, he had some neurological issues, but was fearful of telling anyone, lest they hold him back from going onto Cape Horn.
It was still morning, and the old man was very tired and once in bed he’d sleep until lunch. It was a bleak overcast day, and now the waves had rocked the ship to and fro, they had reached fifteen feet high; the doors could not be opened. That and the fact that they had gotten back onto the ship in time, saved them any bad luck that the old man would have caused.

No: 661/1-4-2011