Jesus as a Black Boar

One day we head off to forage in a new area around the point to the east. I relish the clean, rich air and thank the trees as we walk into the open shade of the forest. I’m daydreaming of guavas and starfruits when something off the side of the trail grabs my eye. It’s a battered old enclosure made of wood and rusty tin roofing. I wander over, curious, and peer inside to see a skinny, wiry-haired adolescent black boar.

He leaps fearfully to his feet. I jump too, and we both squeal a little. I move closer and so does he, sticking his nose out of the cage and grunting madly. He’s hungry. I look around for a nearby home but see no signs of habitation or his owner. He stares out at me, hoping for something to eat. I apologetically explain that we are just getting started, but I will have something for him on our way back. His grunting quiets. We lock eyes for a long moment.

I see his suffering his hunger for food, love, and freedom. Suddenly my emotions blindside me. He is so desperate and voiceless, begging me with his eyes to do something for him. I feel so helpless. I call to Rainui from the side of the cage.

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“Can’t we free him? Don’t we have anything to give him?”

“He’s not ours. We could have trouble if we let him out,” he calls back. “Someone could be watching us right now. It’s okay, we’ll bring him some fruit on our way back.”

No, it’s really not okay. The boar continues staring at me with his deep, powerful gaze. I don’t know why, but the image of Jesus comes into my mind. It was the same look that I saw on those crosses in my junior high years at Catholic school. Have mercy. How can we as humans not sympathize with the suffering of animals? How is it fair to treat them like property? It’s obvious that they feel emotions and pain just like we do. I’m dizzy at the plight of the boar and all the animals around the world enduring enslavement for our food especially in isolation or cramped enclosures, or even in a pasture where they have no real chance to feel freedom.

I walk away feeling like I’ve been punched in the stomach. Like all those years eating meat and drinking milk I had been tricked, not realizing what torture and suffering I was supporting. I’ve seen caged animals hundreds of times and felt sad for them, but never like this. I must have been too busy thinking about myself to pay attention but this time the message is loud and clear. I just met Jesus as a black boar.

The Shadow Side

Rainui’s darkness continues to resurface periodically, his jealousy provoked when I don’t comply with the norms here like not looking down when shaking hands with a man, or being too friendly. Each time, it’s more extreme. In one dreadful incident, an older local man cops a feel of my backside, and Rainui blames me, belligerent and furious. “I love you too much!” he screams, and punches the walls while I huddle in fear. I know it’s time to break it off with him, but the problem is getting him off the boat here, where I don’t have the support network I need. He is so charming with our local friends; I’m afraid they won’t understand if I ask for help. To further complicate things, Swell’s autopilot and wind vane are broken. The autopilot is going to be a complicated fix and Monita needs a spring that we haven’t been able to find. Without these two units functioning, the 1,000-some miles of passage-making to get back toward Tahiti will be nearly impossible on my own, so I have to be patient, try to keep him feeling secure, and stick it out until then.

My stress and anxiety start to surface in the form of injuries, illness, and bad luck. The bottoms of my feet have developed a painful condition; it now hurts to walk barefoot. My right knee is still weak from previous injury, my surfboard smashes me in the face, my big toe blows up with an infection from a small splinter, and then I strain the ligaments on the top of my left foot from, ironically, sitting too long in lotus pose to meditate. One night I awaken to the stings of a six-inch centipede on my bare belly; it must have come aboard in a bag or bushel of bananas. The ominous creature escapes behind the diesel tank before I can catch it.

Of the Stars

We begin to work our way south in the lush island chain as the five months of cyclone season come to an end. On our last stop, we harvest fruit to take to a tiny atoll where Rainui’s father grew up, 250 miles south and not far out of our way. Rainui meets aunts and uncles and cousins for the first time, and they are delighted with our 200-pound delivery of bananas, limes, mangos, papayas, starfruit, and taro. We can’t stay long due to the unsafe anchorage, and sail on.

With the wind behind us, it’s smooth sailing. We could wait somewhere and order the parts to fix the wind vane or autopilot, but I prefer to carry on steering by hand so as not to slow my path toward freedom. We move quite quickly covering over a thousand miles in two months with only four stops.

The obligation to steer has multiple rewards. Hands on the wheel, I’m engaged in every gust, every passing cloud, every lifting wave, as Swell and I surf down the following seas. I find the sweet spots in her old sails and learn more about her every day. Plus, maneuvering her through mile after mile of dynamic ocean, I become an active participant in the scene. As the waves pass beneath us, they pull the rudder right or left, and my arms strengthen in the long hours at the wheel. I gaze out at the ocean panorama: ever-changing, ever-wondrous. I follow wavelets on the sea surface, the teeny ones stacking upon the next, always in hot pursuit of their mates up ahead until suddenly they are both overtaken by a much larger wave, and swallowed in a gurgle of white foam.

Subtleties surface each hour as the day progresses. At every angle of the sun, the rays play on the water and clouds in their own exceptional way. Sunrise and sunset steal the show, but midmorning’s fresh rays uplift, high noon’s brilliance astounds, and midafternoon’s bending yellows soothe and foretell day’s end. When the last remnant of the sun’s glow disappears, we are suddenly sailing through the unbridled heavens perpetual, sublime, infinite, mysterious always reminding me that no matter how much I think I understand, I know so very little.

I cover the GPS and practice steering by the stars, aligning them with the masthead or halyards Taurus, Hercules, the Pleiades, Corona Borealis, or the Great Hook (as the Tahitians call Scorpio) whichever star cluster lines up at that moment. Cloudy evenings hide my magnificent celestial guides, but I steer by maintaining our angle to the wind waves checking the compass only now and then when I feel lost. When the winds are light, I lie back and steer with my feet to watch for shooting stars. When fatigue overcomes me, Rainui and I switch.

Applying my mind to sailing twelve hours a day, I develop an ever-deeper respect for the ancient Polynesian navigators and their intimate knowledge of the oceans, heavens, and universal forces. These masters steered all over the Pacific in seagoing double canoes with the sky as their only chart.

What a sad irony that the descendants of the Earth’s greatest water travelers are now almost completely disconnected from their traditional form of voyaging. While sailing canoes are experiencing a small revival in the region, most people today can’t even leave their home island unless they can afford a plane ticket or are able to secure a rare place on a cargo ship, making it difficult to gain perspective and feel pride in their great ocean heritage. I hope the revival continues. To test one’s strengths on an autonomous sea voyage provides a chance to gain the self-knowledge, wisdom, and reverence for life that come from navigating the unfamiliar.

I imagine the ancestral navigators were intimately in touch with their intuition. Raw vulnerability makes one listen with every cell. The times when I have no guideblog, or Google, or any clue what to do on or off the sea I try to let my emotional guidance system lead. If I can quiet my mind and let go of my desired results, something deeper kicks in. That inner voice speaks up the voice that is connected to the all-knowing, the omniscient and damn, it’s smart!

But even when I don’t act upon the advice, the voice also assures me there are really no mistakes in eternity, that we are all of the stars, and that we all eventually find our way home.

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