I can say I saw another sea, but you will not understand. I do not understand. That Sea was not the sea I know. The sea is sacred to me, but this Sea was more than sacred, it was hallowed.
Beyond was not Sea open to the horizon, but only kilometres, miles, a mere league or two, to a further shore.
I cannot say much about that shore. I am moderately farsighted, growing gradually worse with age, age that I now notice.
I stood there, skin tanned from sea swimming bared to the golden light and the sky. And I saw, I saw… I don’t know. I saw different colours of gold and green. A blackgreen that is either the colour of the abyss or distant forests. Layers of blue purple and grey that must have been mountains beyond. And further beyond, yes, I know I saw a peak. Mighty, astonishing, partially enrobed in clouds, a peak from the Young Earth. But this description isn’t what I saw, any more than a map is the location.
Battlements and bastions of rock. Shoulders piled up, higher and higher, minor spires throwing spindrift that being so far away must have been hurricane-sized. Close and far at the same time. Higher up, the summit itself was lost to sight, a subtle interplay of colours and cloud, blending with the golden light-filled sky.
I saw a golden Sea. A tall Mountain. A Sea and a Mountain such as none have described. So little to say.
At some point I bowed my head, conscious suddenly of my breathing. I inhaled deeply, looked at that Sea again. This time I saw motes. Motes leaving the further shore, motes on the Sea. Boats or ships. The town’s inhabitants? Returning from the further shore. I could not look at that Mountain again. To sail on that Sea was incomprehensible. To swim in it inconceivable.
I must have turned down the greensward toward the town. I was dazed. I did not hurry and I was not afraid. As I left the greensward I looked right, surely to the South now. I saw the town and harbour were situated in a shallow bay which swept south, the coast dotted with pearly turquoise sand inlets.
I looked out and saw, just outside the bay, innumerable tiny islands, scattered like pearls on silk. It vaguely reminded me of Clew Bay as seen from high on Croagh Patrick but Clew Bay’s three hundred and sixty-five islands were a pale imitation of this vista. Eastwards the sky was a vivid deep blue, almost purple. The colour of late northern evening, though the light, the time of day felt earlier.
And then I saw the Ship of the Moon risen from the east. Not the Moon. Not our tarnished recalcitrant orb. I saw the Ship of the Moon. Not a frigate or barque or clipper but a bád mór. With a bluff prow, high gunnals, a raked transom and a single main mast and foresail. Sailing into the sky, lambent, coruscating and argent. The purest silver, a colour beyond white or platinum or mithril.
I do not recall returning through the town. I saw the Ship of the Moon, then I was once more standing on the pier by the water’s edge. I looked out and saw the nearest islands. A rounded small hill, grass topped rock. A series of reefs and ridges leading right, leading south. Overhead the Ship of the Moon threw a beam, a silver road between me and the reefs. Where the beam touched the reefs I saw a vertical opening: The Keyhole Arch. A silver road, the Moon Road, that led directly from my feet over the water to my arch.
I pulled on my swim cap, my goggles. I turned back, briefly and looked at the town and the hill. The town was sinking into shadow. The green summit of the hill still caught the golden light from beyond but it threw a shadow across the harbour. Then I heard the summons of a herring gull, that plaintive wail that snares all those who go down to the sea.
I set my cap and goggles, breathed deep and dove. Out, out I flew, into the air and then I sliced the water. No cold shock, I glided to the surface and swam. I swam that silver beam toward the reefs. No longer made of light I was still made of water. Just behind my feet was the line of shadow thrown by the hill, seeping out into the bay with me. I swam, a direct line and very quickly I was approaching the reefs. Under the water the white sandy bottom showed hulls and keels, shattered and worn.
The line of reef which held The Keyhole was metres from me. I knew its hourglass shape, the narrow pointed top. I looked behind. The town was no longer distinguishable in the shadow beneath the hill. The greensward was a hint of pure emerald against the light behind the hilltop. I glimpsed left, to the north. Boats were rounding the island’s curve. White boats, with bright sails, dancing on the water. Silhouettes moving on the decks.
When I passed through The Keyhole, all I noticed was that the shadows of the entrance enveloped me, the water beneath was not as clear as earlier and it was cool. Light silt swirled around and the bottom wasn’t visible. I exited as usual into the reef channel. Brown’s Island was to my left, blocking further view. The Sun was overhead to my right, bright mid-day, no shadows. South.
I swum left through the Channel, passed close to Burke’s Island, and saw the Copper Coast cliffs and the Kilfarassey beach ahead, six or seven hundred metres away.
On the sand, my sandals were still there under the rocks. I looked back, south, to Brown’s Island, left and east, right and west. I looked at my watch and it was twelve twenty five. As I walked to the car park, I felt the familiar post-swim chill reach out for me.
I looked east again. There was no Moon in the eastern sky.
I have swum back to the Keyhole Arch since. I have even taken others there but it merely leads through the reef as it always did previously. Somehow, somewhere, somewhen, I swam through some fracture, some interstice. Some combination of tide and time and light and mind. I swam a straight line where there were only turns, or a straight line where there was only an invisible maze. I swam beyond the sea and entered a different Sea. The other side of the Sun, the far side of the sky, beyond the wind. I do not know.
I keep trying to find my way back. My directions are no longer cardinal and I am cast adrift, knowing my arms and shoulders are not measure of this world. I could not stay but I should never have left and I am bereft.
I still dream of the sea and the swell, but now I also dream of golden light and silver water, of dancing white boats with bright sails, and a tall Mountain on a further shore, past a hallowed Sea.