I am the falling leaf listening gently to the rustle of the wind in the leaves still attached to the tree. Some leaves refusing to go brown and fall, longing to be evergreen like the firs and pines. In the dim half-light I find myself stuck between the tree and the cold ground. The winds vibrates the thin fragile edges of leaves which remember what it once felt like to be green, they remember how the sun would turn their dark green skins into luminous membranes, they remember the cold morning dew slowly running down their dark brown stems. They smiled at the rain and felt alive as the rich muddied water flowed through their veins. But the seperation of autumn feels inevitable and the joy of being high up and green is quickly silenced when the first leaf is broken off by a gust of winter bringing wind. You feel the whole tree gasp and the looming seperation pains even the happiest leaf. And here in slow-motion I fall towards a dark brown forest floor, scattered with the disconnected and dying. The sun about to dissapear behind the world; its last rays of light turn me see through like a dark sepia for the surrounding forest. The stories told of firs and pines, whispers amongst the forest floor of feeling cold snow against your green skin. Oh to be one of those mythical pines and firs.
A day of heavy steps and driving heat filled the air with an urgency. It was a warmth that got inside and slowed down, but it made people rush to escape it. The sun slowly drifted past its zenith and allowed room for the cold moons gentle breath to disperse through the air. From behind the hills emerged white behemoths struggling to move their cold bodies beneath the suns violent gaze. Slowly their grey limbs sprung over the hills and struck the blue sky. The day eased into free fall and a gentle breeze cooled the sweat on children’s brows. Faces looked up at the relief in the sky and questioned rain from with in office blocks. School children hoped for cancelled sports practices, farmers appreciated the seasons benevolence and paddlers dreamt of rivers becoming violent. The few drops slid down car windows and flashed darkness on cement floors. And then a voice tumbled down the hills shaking the air. Sounds like crashing waves echoed down and promised a satisfying end to the day. And all at once the blessing fell out of the sky. Full raindrops plummeted with the vigour of tiny car crashes to the earth. The attack took the ground by surprise and its warm soil was unable to filter the water fast enough. Water flowed between the green summer grass running down hills and gathering in brown muddied puddles. The reaching trees swayed their limbs from side to side trying to protect their smooth bodies from the cold rain. The underside of their leaves flashed grey in an almost undignified manner. Chaos fell about them and their roots drank deeply from it. The afternoon dragged by in what was almost flood weather. People stayed dry in their cars that cut through the heavy rain. Five o’clock rush hours stops for nothing and the beautiful rain was flung off windshields by modern machines with no faculty to experience wetness. The wetness that soaks through your shirt and sticks to your back, it runs down your hair and drips onto your ears sending cold shivers down your spine. A cold wet that is thrilling and uncomfortable. It calls our childhood out of dark corners and we smile up at the sky and stick out our tongues and taste the cold falling from the sky.
They say it was Conrad’s heavy brown boots which kept him so firmly on the ground. Anyone who had met him would say that he deserved a better lot in life. The only fitting life for him ended up being one at sea, and most agreed it was best for him as the dry ground had been polluted for too long by the feet of the ordinary and mundane. It was now those heavy brown boots which would keep him anchored to the coffin he lay in, and that polluted earth would remain forever above him, eternally insulting the life of a man too good for its bland palate. The company sang the only song they all knew but its refrain seemed to follow Conrad down into that hole and its sombre verse sunk below the coffin like a cushion for it to rest on. The Autumn leaves of the surrounding trees coloured the scene like stage-lights and the occasional falling leaf reminded the audience of the falling action which had resulted in the tableau they saw before them.
Five minutes from the village graveyard where Conrad was buried sat the gawking seagulls flustering about trying to get by on the remains of the days catch. Ruskav is a small fishing village on the eastern coast of Russia. It success as a fishing village is reflected in the unimpressive architecture and inhospitable climate. The village however seemed to find its purpose in being remote and protected from the prying fingers of the modern world evolving outside of it. The cobbled streets of Ruskav have their gradient determined by Mount Svelosk. This means that everyone in Ruskav is drawn either down to the sea or up to the peak of Svelosk. Those looking to Svelosk chose a religious journey. A small catholic church had been built just below Svelosks peak. Those who chose the sea found religion all the same as the rough seas of that eastern ocean were always approached by men looking to prove themselves. But those icy swells had no beating and soon heard the prayers of defeated men. Conrad was born in the German town of Mainz and when he was old enough to leave home he decided to head east. He didn’t know what he was looking for when he left but he knew whatever it was would be found in the periphery of the modern world. So he went east. He went as far east as the continent would allow. And on that horizon he found Ruskav.
I suspect Ruskav had an instant impact on the life of Conrad. His interactions with the residents in Ruskav were always distant and dreamy. Conrad seemed completely caught up in the mystery of that town. He soon was employed on one of the small fishing boats. These only required a crew of three men and those lucky enough to fish with Conrad witnessed the closest to a perfect existence that one might find on earth. He embraced the violence of those eastern seas as though they were his creator. The cold freed his long tamed spirit and on those watery peaks he conquered the earth. The impressive catches Conrad brought in everyday were of no consequence to him. He was fed by the limitless horizons and drank the wild ocean winds. Most of the crews in Ruskav started their days around sunrise and would be back in the harbour just after sunset, this schedule pleased most of the men as it meant they could spend their evenings stocking up on courage in hvolska; Ruskavs public house. Citizens of Ruskav were expected to love the sea, God and hvolska. However there came a time when some crews needed to venture further to make bigger catches. This sometimes meant three days at sea. Even the bravest of the fishermen avoided these trips when possible, but Conrad would volunteer to go whenever possible. He found those three terrible days at sea kept him living, they made him love Ruskav even more. Arriving back from those trips was like a breath of fresh air for Conrad, he saw Ruskav in new ways when he returned.
Conrad’s heart leapt when he heard that one of the skips were heading out for a three day trip. Anton Salkia had had a bad fishing season and was in desperate need of a big catch. The experienced fishermen in the village knew not trust in a desperate man. Desperate men will take their boats into unsafe water. Conrad however decided to join Anton’s crew for this trip. He didn’t do this out of ignorance nor out of sympathy for Anton. He joined well aware of the dangers. He joined because of the dangers, he saw this as an opportunity to get to know the raging seas better. He wanted to understand them. He needed to push himself to see if he could defeat them. He woke up day in and day out listening to their relentless crashing against the shore of his beloved Ruskav. He grew to be offended by this. Three days out on the open water with a desperate captain was a perfect opportunity for Conrad to learn more about the infinite beast he had chosen as an enemy. A desperate captain would take his boat into uncharted waters and Conrad hoped he might discover some weak point in the beasts armour in those waters.
The sun rose violently red that morning, desperate to shine through the weather which hid Ruskav. By this time Anton’s white skip had already left the dock and was heading for what he believed to be the spot where he would find salvation from his bad season. His boat was named ‘Aivazovsky’ .As soon as they had left the relatively calm waters of Ruskavs bay they were met with a violent westerly wind. It forced itself against Conrads bearded face and reminded him of where he came from and what he was avoiding. Anton’s orders were loud and clear. He wore the face of a determined bloodhound. His mind was set on the scent of that redeeming catch. The Okhotsk sea was at its usual tumult. The ceaseless icy wind angered the waters and they seemed to jump up hoping to drag the wind down into their depths. The small crew aboard Anton’s boat were of course used to this and it didn’t take long for them to find their legs and go about the necessary preparing of the nets. Conrad had to tear himself away from staring at the eastern horizon after being told off for not properly checking the nets. It took the crew about half an hour to properly prepare the nets, and when they looked up from their work they found themselves nearing a rocky outcrop none of them had seen before. The crew seemed bewildered and exchanged frightened looks, but Conrad had already made his way to the bow. Conrad stared at the rocks and back at Anton in the bridge. He shouted up to the captain ‘other-side of those rocks!’. Anton looked curiously down at the greatest man he would ever have the privilege of captaining. At this moment Anton doubted for the first time all the stories he had heard of Conrad and the supernatural persona he adopted while at sea. The bay Conrad wanted to sail into was a death-trap. No boat would be able to manoeuvre safely in that bay. Anton faltered for a moment, but the desperate man in his heart sprung up again and reasoned that the infamous Conrad would know best. He nodded at Conrad and began to direct ‘Aivazovsky’ around to what looked like a safe entrance into the bay. The rest of the crew members immediately rushed from their nets desperate to convince Anton that a bay with that many rocks would not be possible to safely fish in. The captain stood firm by his decision and no crew member dared to argue the point any further. They returned to ready the nets whilst the ‘Aivazovsky’ lumbered through the rough waters and turned sharply to enter the small bay. Conrad stared at the entirety of the bay, He knew that he would either destroy or be destroyed by the incessant ocean in that bay. Upon entry into that bay the hull of Anton’s boat scraped slowly over some of the rocks beneath. Anton looked down at Conrad and soon realised he had trusted the wrong man. The Conrad standing on the bow of his boat was not the infamous fishing legend known throughout Ruskav. He was a soul bent on defeating a beast. He had lead Anton and his crew to death not fish. The moment ‘Aivazovsky’ entered the bay it was violently pulled into the jagged rocks which bordered the small bay. No amount of engine power could keep the stern from smashing against those unshakeable Russian rocks. The crew was immediately scattered all over the boat, they gripped onto ‘Aivazovsky’ with all their might and prayed to God that the ocean might spare their lives. Anton’s gaze moved slowly about his boat as he saw it splinter under the force of those Russian rocks and the unforgiving ocean. Conrad stood tall on the bow finally staring into the face of the beast he had hoped to defeat. He quickly realised his hope of success was futile and his dark Saxon eyes beheld the carnage which fell out of the sea and heaped itself upon him. His story will forever be told amongst those living in Ruskav.
It seemed that the ocean felt Conrad deserved a decent burial and so it carried his body back to Ruskav’s shore where he could be properly buried, none of the other crew members were found.