The Crystal Ship
High in the mountains the stream was a pool of crystal water amongst the marsh marigolds. In the infinity of the pale blue sky a lark soared, and sang of morning to the moor hens hiding their busy lives between the rushes and the stunted trees.
The world waited …..
The water swelled and overflowed down the grassy hill. In the farmyard the geese dipped their beaks, the cat paused to lap, and the children jumped from side to side, while the busy farm wife placed her bucket under the flow from the bank and carried bucket on bucket to the old copper for the weekday wash.
I dipped my hand in to the stream and found it cool and fresh. Its crystal water brought me life. I traced it back to its source and marvelled at the beauty of it. I yearned to follow it to its ending in the sea.
And so it began ……
Through the trees, down past the corn field and into the valley beyond, the stream leapt and sang, gurgled and rippled, made pools, swirling eddies, and long slow reaches, ever downwards towards the sea.
The storm came in the afternoon, with thunder and lightening, and a great deluge of water straight from the heavens. The stream became a raging torrent, uprooting trees, sweeping away bridges, flooding barns and houses. Anything caught in its flood was swept violently down the valley. Some washed up in sad, sodden flotsam on the newly made banks of shingle. Some sank into the depths where the trout swam, entertained by their new companions. Some crashed past boulders, bobbed and curtsied, glided and turned, right to the edge of the cliff where the stream cascaded down to the sea. I followed its course and came, with the stream, to the edge of the cliff.
Far below the crescent of golden sand was full of people. Holiday makers enjoying a well earned rest, day trippers, children building castles in the sand, families throwing beach balls, dogs chasing rings and lapping the crystal clear water of the stream as it meandered across the beach. In the distance a large ship sailed by on important business to far off places. The blue, blue sea stretched to the far horizon.
The whale found its way into the bay by accident. Some strange quirk of its navigation systems made it take a wrong turning and it couldn’t find its way out. For the people on the beach it was a side show laid on especially for their entertainment. For the concerned few the danger was clear. A whale is a glorious creature in its native sea, but here, in the shallow bay, confused, and abandoned by the pod, it had little hope of survival. They sent out small boats to usher it back to the ocean. The whale played with the boats, revelled in the attention and put on an even better show for the holiday makers. What it did not do was turn back out to sea.
Morning came, and the whale lay beached on the sand by the dunes at the north end of the bay. Huge and black, distressed and unable to help itself, it submitted to the ministrations of the conservationists and the environmentalists, the scientists and the ‘save the whale’ society. They poured sea water over it from pipes laid across the sand. They attached ropes to it and tried to drag it forcefully back into the water. They tried to re-float it on the neap tide, and desperately prayed for the higher tides to come in time. The whale waved its huge tail feebly, and died slowly under the dune, far from the open sea.
At first the people came to view the body, this mighty wonder from the deep sea that had chosen to visit their gentle backwater. But as the flesh rotted the stench became a barrier to their interest. Of course the council should have cleared it away, tidied up, not left the carcass to the mercy of the scavengers and the slow decay that is nature’s housekeeping. But somehow the remains of the whale stayed where they were, and the people migrated to the south, played around the crystal stream, and left the poor lost leviathan to the sand and the sea.
In time all that was left was the skeleton, great arching ribs reaching for the sky. The backbone dug for itself a hollow in the sand, and at low tide a pool of water lingered round it, giving shelter to myriad tiny creatures left behind by the receding sea. One creature floated on the surface of the pool, catching the light from the slanting rays of the sun, sparkling like a diamond, or perhaps like the crystal water of the distant stream. Few people came here now to see this shining wonder in the deserted pool. Those who did looked briefly and moved on. A few, a very few, saw the sparkle, looked closely and marvelled at the form of a tiny crystal ship. Day by day the crystal ship grew bigger, heartbreakingly beautiful, breathtakingly fragile, sheltered in its lonely cage beneath the dunes. Too large to pass between the ribs, too small to break out and sail away, it grew in lonely isolation.
Came the day when the crystal ship was almost as big as the cage that sheltered it. Now either the cage must break or the ship must shatter and lie in shards on the bottom of the pool.
Those few who had seen the ship, and guarded the secret of it carefully, came to the place, and knew the time had come for the crystal ship to sail. The ribs were strong, but not too strong for human hands to break them down, and break they did, so that the crystal ship could sail free. There it floated on its lonely pool, waiting for the tide to come and claim it, that lovely, tender, beautiful, crystal ship.
I did not see it sail. Night fell and we went home, home to where the larks sing and pool of crystal water lies in peaceful harmony under the infinity of the blue sky. In the morning it had gone, and there was no sign of it in the bay. My heart grieves for that crystal ship, I long to see it once more and know that it is safe. I yearn to go on board and sail with it to the far horizons. I see the sun glinting on the crystal water of the stream as it crosses the beach and loses itself in the wide sea. One day, one day soon I think, I will follow the stream right down to the sea, and take my own boat, and try to find my crystal ship ….
or lose myself in the wide, blue, forgiving sea.
Some would have it that the crystal water is the Holy Spirit. Some would have it that the whale is the Church of England. I make no such claims. I offer it to you, to sail in, or to lose. Its meaning is your own to do with as you wish.