A toy sailboat made by Bosun Boats is what first inspired this painting, #11 in the watercolor series, “The World beneath the Surface.” The story behind the painting is one of loss and discovery, and of recovery and celebration. At first, I simply imagined that some small sailor boy had lost his little boat on the beach.
After the boy had given up searching for it and gone away, the beach lay deserted for a while before a group of Root people happened along. Those fellows were hastily chasing after a faster-footed seagull. The gull ran straight toward something that lay half-buried in sand and seaweed. There the gull stopped suddenly and waited, but not for long. The Root people caught up quickly.
When they saw what had to be an abandoned sailboat, they shouted happily and thanked the gull. With small amount of effort, they pulled away seaweed and dug the vessel out of the sand. It took some teamwork to carry the boat, more so due to a low tide, but they managed to reach the shoreline and launch successfully. The gull waded in after them and stood waiting in shallow water nearby.
The gull watched with interest their growing eagerness to depart. With greater patience than they could manage, the gull stretched his wings and waited; he continued studying their antics and plucking at his plumage, and he listened to their chatter about loading on board two silver coins and some keys on a ring.
The gull was mindful that he had done his job well, though he credited himself cautiously, for he knew that beaches are all full of bounty. Beaches do give up stuff, but they take away more than they give, and they’ll steal a sandal right off of anyone’s feet! The gull remembered seeing one of those, a sandal, but he hadn’t given a thought to its usefulness until now. The camp guard at Piroot’s Cove, who naps a lot, could put a sandal to good use, the gull determined.
He decided that he had given the Root people more than enough head start. Their little sailboat had disappeared between the waves; so, he took to the air then, and flew off after them. It was a matter of security; he was just doing his job, he felt. He had a seagull’s natural talent for beachcombing with his bill. He was good at it, good at bringing luck to these friendly little people, who come topside practicing to be pirates. Real pirates aren’t friendly. Anyway, unlike a gull, these little people wouldn’t, or couldn’t, steal a crumb of bread even if their life depended on it! Begging is another matter, one barely allowable only to gulls and homeless critters.
Upon returning to the cove, the Yellow-Footed Seagull found that the sailboat had arrived safely well ahead of him. He landed and took up watch from atop a rock that reads: “PIROOT”S COVE…KEEP OUT!” As their name for this place suggests, and as the graffiti on the rocks plainly tell anyone, a high level of secrecy surrounds their business here.
On that same rock is a drawing which bears amusing resemblance to himself, the gull notices.—his portrait, perhaps? The gull knows who did that; the one responsible is resting on the blanket next to the wine bottle. I shall reward him with a nice thong to lie down upon, the gull muses to himself.
A full moon has risen over the water. The dusk of evening gathers and deepens. Two “piroots” on the dock have secured the sailboat. Along a trail that rises above their heads, scatters of lights flicker softly. Moving downward along the winding pathway a third piroot carries a light toward his friends on the dock. Behind him, midway up the trail, two fellow piroots are seated at a campfire. On a level above them where the camp guard lies resting on a blanket, coins lay strewn about. Other things they’ve collected while combing the beaches include a cocktail umbrella, wrist watches, sea shells, sand dollars, a doll hat, a dog collar…a broken chain, sunglasses, necklaces, earrings, bracelets, pendants, keys, lockets, rings, etc.. The driftwood washed in with the tide. The wine bottle and soda cans had been dropped by some careless passerby, a snooping topsider most likely.
A message to the likes of them is on a different rock. Skull and bones have been drawn there, and a happy face, too, along with this handwritten reminder to ward off snoops: “LET NO MAN MEASURE PIROOT’S TREASURE!”
That is well and good, but who couldn’t help noticing such brash displays and try to inventory all the goodies? The little tree at the top of the picture, for example, has no leaves to show off, but it does have “tree rings.” Rings of gold, platinum, and even silver hang from its branches!
Little Root People consider themselves naturally lucky, not to say that having a gull for mascot hasn’t helped their chances for good fortune. They know that their Earth Mother always provides for them and for all creatures, including Topsiders. They live in balance with the earth and each other, and for them, we are all one on this blue marble spinning through space. They tell stories around their campfires, and they sing songs.
“Wild or tame, we’re all the same!” they sing….
“We’re all the same, too,” cry colors of the rainbow; “we blend all together into the same light!”
“Yea!” sing the piroots, “Let your light shine! Shine wildly over deserts, but tamely into hearts, and bestow all the gifts that heaven imparts.”
“Yes!” they reply, “Mind you to watch for our reflection in all that you see—on land, in the air, or upon the sea!” Wild rose red, tame apple green; we’re in this together, that’s plain to be seen.”
“We’re all the same, too,” cry raindrops low in the clouds, “Give us a moment and you will see—we become one when we replenish the sea.”
“Yea!” sing the piroots, “We are all one spirit in the waters; we may fall to be seasoned or rise to be softened up, before pouring ourselves out into somebody’s cup.”
“Hear, hear!” the piroots shout, gleefully. “We’ll drink to that!” And they do. More than once they do. Long before wild flames of their campfire shall die away; one by one the candles will dim and extinguish themselves. By then, the party of five will have all fallen asleep in their own laps!
The camp guard had awakened in the stillness of a starry night. Lying very still on his blanket, he tried not to wriggle against the sand pebbles that were pushing against his backside. Feeling utterly amazed that he was looking up to the heavens, he said to himself, softly, “This is really what going topside is all about!”
His outstretched arm felt something soft and rubbery. By the light of the moon, he could determine its shape, and it looked like it had to be a sandal. A sandal! Where had that come from, he wondered? How did it get here? It never flew….No, but it was flown here, maybe.
“The gull!” he almost shouted. —a gift? He wondered. He rolled over onto the sandal then. He lay quite still, still wrapped up in his blanket, and he let out a long, pleasurable sigh of relief.
“Thank you for the sandal, Gulligan!” he whispered, finally.
“You’re welcome,” the gull answered back, from somewhere.
The camp guard’s eyes sprang open for a moment, then shut again tightly when he heard, “I thought that this was what going topside was all about!” He looked around then, but Gulligan was nowhere to be seen.
“Eyes must shut tighter to hold back a tear,” said the gull.
“Gulligan, you are in my mind again, aren’t you?”
“What do you think, little piroot?”
“I think, wild or tame, we’re all the same,” the camp guard replied. A long silence ensued, lasting a minute or so before the gull said, sternly:
“Don’t get all nervous; I heard you! But do we have to be all the same all the time—both the same right now all night long? Dawn comes early for us who have to work for a living!”
“Okay,” the piroot said. “Good night, Gulligan.”
He had wanted to say, “Why don’t you just try ‘winging it’ through life, like me?” but he couldn’t. Then, for the first time he imagined that he had actually heard Gulligan laugh, and that was what made his going topside worth everything in the world!