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The Out Post
Kenneth D. Reimer
926 kilometres off the coast of Ecuador, there lies the archipelago known as the Galapagos Islands. In a few months, I will travel there and walk in the footsteps of Charles Darwin. The attractions of the islands are myriad, but one bay on one island holds a particular appeal for me.
On Floreana Island, there has developed an unusual tradition that cannot help but fire the imagination. Since the end of the 18th century, whalers have been using this isle as an usual type of post office. A barrel was kept not far from the beach on what was to become known as Post Office Bay, and in that barrel there were letters. The tradition was that any sailor who had a letter for home, would stop on Floreana Island and place his mail within the box. He would then sift through the mail already there and withdraw any envelopes destined for town where he lived. When he returned home, he carry that letter to its destination and deliver it by hand.
In the past century, this tradition has transmuted into another form. A tradition that grew out of necessity, albeit for communicating with loved ones—has now become a tradition of tourism. Although this is true, the essence of the tradition still seems to be intact.
In a few months, I will ride a ship to this place, and I will post a letter that I suspect will never reach its destination.
A bit of background is necessary here. There is something that I sometimes do—a tradition of my own. Because it is a very difficult thing, I don’t do it very often. When I am travelling, however, and when I can summon the strength, I will send a postcard to my parents. They have been dead for almost two decades.
Before she died, my mother told me that she regretted not seeing more of the world—she always wanted to watch orcas swim off the coast of Vancouver Island, and she never did. I can’t change this, but I try to bring her with me on my travels. I realize that this is a weak gesture when balanced against the great Silence that awaits us all, but it’s all that I have. Sometimes when I travel, I will send my parents postcards. I don’t do it all the time, because it is an emotionally difficult thing to do, nevertheless, occasionally I will write a postcard, with the street address incomplete, and I will send them a note from another country—another world, actually. When I am saying to them, attempting to say to them, is that they are there with me, within me—I brought them there. I know it’s a strange thing to do, and I’m not sure why I do it—is it for me, for them, or am I merely sending a message of love out to the universe?
When I first heard of the post office on Floreana Island, my thoughts immediately turned to my own tradition, and I thought that if there was any place in the world, Floreana Island was the place to mail my parents. Something practical had become mystical, and I want to touch that mysticism. It would be like walking to the edge of a cliff and letting loose one end of a ball of string—letting the wind carry loose that thread into the unknown. My postcard would be Ariadne’s string, and it would find its own way through the labyrinth, finally making for me a path that cannot be.
So, in a few months time, I am going to write that letter to my parents. I’ll seal it in an envelope, and I will slip it in my bag where it will stay until the ship carries me to that land were Darwin journeyed over a hundred and fifty years ago. What sill it say? What can be said? There are not words enough to fill that Great Void. I’ll write that I love them, miss them, maybe tell what wonders I saw that day in the Galapagos.
I’ll stand by that post office. I’ll hesitate, consider, then I’ll place my letter into that out post and surrender it to fate. And what then? I can picture it: Someone I don’t know will carry that letter back to a city in British Columbia, Canada. Sometime during their journey home, they will notice that the address on the envelope is incomplete. There will be a moment of hesitation, consideration, then they will open that letter, and one way or another, those written words will be spoken.
Will those words ever reach their destination? Will they be heard? Is there enough magic out there for that to happen? I suppose not. I am a Romantic, but I am not delusional.
Perhaps it will be enough for that stranger to read them. Perhaps that person might then see something they have not seen before. That would be enough.