We wandered through the streets of Isabel II just to see what we might see. Our ride to the other side of the island wasn’t leaving for a bit, so we figured we’d explore. We heard about a little beach at the bottom of the hill called sea glass beach–not great for swimming, but a good place for scavenging for those bits of trash-turned-treasure. The road wound down past colorful, ocean front homes framed in flowering trees and palm fronds. The pavement soon turned to sand and the view opened up to the beach. It was low tide and the smell of the exposed seaweed on the rocks filled our noses. We looked around. It was true: not much for swimming or lounging, but it had its own charm of sorts, and we set out to forage for the occasional flash of colored glass.
We walked west along the beach for a few minutes when we suddenly stopped. I saw in the distance that a man had popped up from underneath some low hanging branches by the water. He was looking right at us. Though we were still far, I could see he had sun-kissed, leathery skin, baggy clothes, and a bandanna-like fabric wrapped around his head. “Ah,” I said, “let’s leave the homeless pirate man alone.”
We walked in the other direction and collected a nice pocketful of sea glass. We turned around when we reached the end of the beach and found that the man had gotten up and was coming towards us with two long sticks in his hands. He was deeply focused on his path, carving lines in the sand and through the water with each of his sticks. We traced the squiggly lines back to where we had entered the beach. Not sure what the fellow was up to, we started to walk back, and I prepared mentally to greet the man in Spanish just in case. We ducked around a thorny, low-hanging branch that blocked our way, and we were just getting ourselves untangled we heard, in perfect English, “Excuse me. My name is Charlie. I am the Shaman of Vieques.”
Ok, so no Spanish practice today, but…Shaman?
“Hello, Charlie, nice to meet you.”
Charlie’s eyes shone brightly out of his kindly, caramel colored face. He wore a scraggly, gray beard and the bandanna on his head turned out to be an orange T-shirt. One of the long branches he held had an electrical cord loosely looped around the bottom. “I am responsible for keeping the forces of the water, the air, and the atmosphere in their proper places on the island,” he explained. “Without this work, there would be chaos, and the spirits will not be balanced, and we get things like big winds and storms and spiritual disturbances.”
I could feel my eyebrows creeping up my forehead, but I restrained them. I guessed Josh was in a similar state, because we both were smiling and saying, “Uh huh, Uh huh, Ok.”
“So I’m sorry to say this,” he continued, completely lucidly, “but unfortunately, as you walked along the beach, you upset these balances, and so now, I was wondering if I could ask you that when you leave, that you leave along the same path you came, so as to heal the the division you caused. I know you didn’t mean it, but it’s really important that you do this.” Charlie continued to explain, using the occasional physics vocab word, what was going on between the forces at work and what happens when they cross into domains where they oughtn’t be. “Ah!” he exclaimed, “it is already happening!” He jumped and pointed to some leaves that had just rustled in a slight breeze. He propped one of his stick up under the branch that had swayed. “So you see, if I can raise this up here to a higher altitude, then it can overcome the intervening atmospheric forces.”
As he spoke, I couldn’t get over how reasonable he sounded. Little of what he said made any sense, but he obviously had an extremely clear vision of what he needed to do, and he spoke to us as patiently as any decent science teacher hoping you would grasp the rationale being demonstrated. Where did he get these ideas from? What stimulated his imagination? What informed his next move? What was with the electrical cord on the stick?
He asked that we stay put for a minute while he prepared the way. We watched him walk a few paces ahead and begin drawing shapes in the sand. “I’m like a surgeon, you see. When something creates a cut, I can sew the seam and bring healing.” When he finished, we tentatively began to move forward back to the beginning of the road. “No, no!” he said, pointing to Josh who was walking a few steps behind me. “You need to walk side by side. That is how you came in. You came in together so you must leave together in the same way.”
As we rounded the corner up the hill, we turned to wave goodbye. We saw Charlie working hard, still swirling shapes in the sand. He did not look up, but just continued down the beach, out of sight.
So that happened.