Tag Archives: Beth Dunnington

Staying on the Wave

Winthrop. MA on the beach wall.

When you meet me I wonder if you notice that I am new. I am something other than I was, someone other than I was in this room before. The last time it was leaving. I was leaving this room and starting again – in a new place. With different colors and smells and ocean. Even a different ocean.

As a girl I sat on the beach wall above the gray/slate blue Atlantic. Cold. Enormous expanse of that color. And the jetties… unforgiving.

“Don’t go out on the jetties, Bethy!” my father warned me. “That’s where so and so drowned. You can never anticipate the undertow. Not in Boston. Not from the jetties…”

So I sat on that wall: neutral-colored, crumbling, graffiti-covered, “Dana & Dominick 4 eva,” and I watched the jetties, imagining a young person, a kid, like me, going out on a dare and getting sucked under. Instantly. Without a chance to remember or regret what they might have become had they not made that choice. Walking barefoot over sharp shells and disintegrated sea urchins, before the wave swept them away.

I knew, sitting on that wall, that I had drowned in a past life. Images of a boat with sails traveling from somewhere, Eastern Europe maybe, or Africa? I experienced that sensation of drowning, being engulfed by that gray/slate blue cold Atlantic. Quietly, with no one looking or sometimes not quietly, holding on to a piece of driftwood or the remnant of a sail, torn in the going down.

The act of going down.

Not as quick as the undertow of the jetty, but quick enough. Being engulfed, lungs filling with salt and cold, and of course, water.

That’s what I imagined at eleven or twelve, sitting on my private wall in Winthrop, wondering how long the Atlantic would let me live, would spare me that.

And then I left. To the Pacific. Turquoise, aqua, black and green sand beaches, or white – not gray. Rich, vibrant and even stronger, louder than the Atlantic. No Jetties but waves, big waves that can wash me onto the shore, on a boogie board probably meant for someone younger. But I need that ride, that thrill, for ten seconds, or thirty. Especially now. Holding my son’s hand as he instructs me on the art of staying on the wave.

“Mom! Turn around… here it comes, go! Go now mom! Don’t miss it!”

I ride in on that wave with my son and his friend Brian or Casey or Andrew. I am the mom on the boogie board, trying to eek out more time. Trying to ride over what happened. Trying to stay with my boy before the Hapuna Beach waves – angry in winter, unpredictable – before they pull us apart and I am pushing against the current to get back to my son.

“Sean! You’re too close to the rock!” I call out. But he doesn’t hear me and I am there again. A girl on a wall. 
Imagining going under. Salt in the lungs, water, disappearing – although this time it’s my son, not me, whom I can’t save.

But this is my fantasy, my illusion. And there he is, of course, throwing himself on the board as he and his friend Brian or Casey or Andrew try to outdo each other, to get on the wave first, to make it all the way to the sand.

This is where I was going when I was last in this room. To those waters. And I am here now…no ocean today, but again gray/slate/cold. And I am new. Different. Changed. Can you see that when you meet me? Do you know who I was before?

With that journey came new dangers, new falls, a new kind of drowning, but not one that I imagined, not even a little. Not one that my dad could have warned me about as I sat on that wall back then, contemplating my demise.

“Don’t go out on the jetties, Bethy! You’ll get sucked under…”

Not anything I could have imagined.

But here I am. Returned. New wings. My elbows are wings, you said. Yes. I can imagine that. I wear wings on my neck. A phoenix, given to me by Silvia, a survivor. A new Silvia, from this ocean.

“The phoenix rose again,” she said, when she put it in my hand. “I never take mine off,” she said.

Do you see that about me when you meet me? Maybe not. But it’s there. Under my scarf, against my neck. Ready for flight. To rise above the slate blue gray the turquoise black and green. To start again.

To be new.


Pele: Reclaiming the Land

In Hawaii, one year ago, the Fire Goddess Pele spoke loudly, demanding to be heard. Pele reminded us of her power as molten lava made an agonizingly slow journey towards Pahoa… into Pahoa. Poor unassuming Pahoa, that just wanted to be left alone, clearly wanted to be left alone, in the middle of nowhere, on an already remote island. Pahoa… a place of locals, hippies, Hawaiians, real Hawaiians, not transplanted mainlanders likes me. Authentic off-the-beaten-path Pahoans, who found themselves on World News Tonight because Pele decided to take back the land and Pahoa was in the way. And it was nothing against Pahoa itself, of course it wasn’t. The Pahoans claimed they were honored that Pele chose them… set her black coal eyes on them. They welcomed the Goddess of Fire; they relinquished their property, their homes, and their schools to her. Through tears, they gave it all back. They said it on the local news, at town meetings, and on CNN. They gave it all back to the Goddess.

“Let’s divert the lava!!” a politician said at a town meeting back then. “Let’s divert its course. Protect Pahoa! Save Pahoa!”

Ironically it was the Pahoans themselves who said no to this plan, this ridiculous notion that one can try to divert or at all control the flow of lava… lava that crept across fields and roads on its slow journey towards Pahoa, broke down fences, entered homes… the lava — an invader, wanting only to make itself known. It was in no rush, no rush at all. It took 123 days for the lava to make its way into a private property.

“The lava has entered its first dwelling” someone who was there said. “Pray for us. Pray for Pahoa. Pray for Pele to go around us.”

But only Pele herself that make that decision. To burn or spare. To salvage or decimate. We all watched the trajectory of the lava. We watched it crawl on its black hands and knees, destroying everything in its path, turning green into ash, pouring toxic fumes into our already VOG-filled air, creating a sideshow that became a national spectacle. And there was nothing anyone could do to stop it, divert it, or contain it. Pele was taking back the land, beginning with a place where she is honored – the ultimate form of control. She was not attacking outsiders – the resorts or the multi-million dollar homes of Hualalai… no, she began with her own people, those who offered themselves to her, their Goddess.

So we watched, helpless, as Pele rolled through, reminding us that this is how Hawaii began. With lava. Black Sand. Volcanic eruption. A Goddess and her sister, battling for a place to land, and Pele, victorious, chose the Big Island. Pele set her sights on OUR island, and maybe we’ve been negligent, maybe we stopped caring or honoring, maybe we turned our back on an old woman on the street, an old woman asking for assistance of some sort… a sandwich, a few pennies, shelter. They say that Pele appears to us in the form of an elder. Do not turn your back when she comes to you, do not say no, and most definitively, do NOT walk by, ignoring her. Ah, but that’s another story, for later. The story of Pele in disguise…

And so, a year ago today, on the Big Island of Hawaii, Pele, The Volcano Goddess, reclaimed the land, returning it, or at least as much of it as she wanted, to what it once was… restructuring, destroying, recreating it in her own image. Of course, we must destroy to break down. It was biblical, it was from past lifetimes, it was familiar in its fierceness; it was the Mother’s voice – Medea – sacrificing her children so that Jason’s betrayal of her would be avenged.

I live on an island that periodically destroys itself to be reborn in the image of its Goddess. The Goddess of fire. Reborn, this last time, at the expense of a small town called Pahoa, an innocent whose only crime was that it sat itself down in the path of Pele and her volcano. And Pele doesn’t have companions.

Now, we can only stand back, in awe of lava and fire, of Goddesses who were maybe ignored or passed over or not honored. We can only stand back and let Pele take what she feels is rightfully hers, as we witness the ultimate power of The Feminine, the power of a Goddess who gives… and takes back. We can only stand back and witness, with deepest reverence, the power of Pele.