February 10, 2009



Think not that dreams appear to the dreamer only at night:

the dream of this world of pain appears to us even by day.

(Yoru bakari Miru mono nari to Omou-nayo!

Hiru saë yumé no Ukiyo nari-kéri.)

OLD JAPANESE POEM.- Tx  by Lafcadio Hearn 1899

I want to tell you a little of my story.  Perhaps no one will ever read these pages, yet in writing I feel that I am speaking to someone who understands. For you, the one who reads without judging, these pages are written.

“Tomorrow … tomorrow I must leave everything.

I will not see any of my friends again.

I cannot tell them.”


My people have not always been in this place.  How came we here  – and not to some other place ? That is a story which goes back a long time. At dusk, when the sun sets, we talk about it: where we came from, why we had to leave to live here in the sea of sand.  My friends and I like to hear the story told while lying down in the cool food gardens, it helps us imagine the forest and the plants those stories talk about. None of us have ever been there. Jani, the last person I know who lived there, she died three years ago.

But I will go there before I die.

Dusk is the time everyone gets together, those who want to rest from the day’s work and the guards who don’t have to leave for their night watch yet.  It may seem strange to speak of guarding a place, which is a tiny dot in the great desert sands of Umijaabour.

It is impossible for any living creature to cross Umijaabour on foot, no human or animal can carry enough food and water to get even a hundredth of the way across. Even the dromedaries that live on the borders of this sand kingdom, do not venture more than a few months journey into its interior. They do not even come close to our Morai.

And yet, despite this remoteness, this vast distance between us and the rest of the world, we cover out Morai in sand, we hide all bright colours and we dye our clothes the colour of sand. Everything we show to the outside world is the colour of the shifting sands. But inside we love bright orange, reds, blues and yellows and most of all, the cool green of our living plants, our source of life.

When I am home, I am a lookout and a guard, soaring high up in the air.  One of my duties is to make sure that no carelessly left cloth, no bright gleaming object is visible.

The night fliers were not common in the early days. Posting night guards in the lookout towers was as much as anyone could do. Now we send up three or four night guards at a time – especially since our friends in the southern Morai were destroyed twelve moons ago.


Mantosan was my special friend in those days, before Kai. Mantosan was the first one in our Morai who copied the great gliders of the “lonely eagles” that brought our grand parents here. He was always restless. No one was surprised that he became our first windrider. Now every Morai has someone who watches and stands guard from above day and night. Now windriders are the messengers to the other Moraii.

I have not always lived here. I am lucky I was given a home here. Lucky to be able to say ‘my people’, to have a place to come back to. It is true I did spend most of my time travelling, yet this was my home.  I remember coming here, to the northern Morai when I had just learnt to talk.

In my time, the first outsider to land at our Morai was Kai.  At the time he was almost killed, but later celebrated as a hero. I think they did that to make up for almost skewering him on arrival. When he landed he was bound and roughly taken below, but he always remained quiet and calm the whole time. I think that saved his life.

Kai was a tall thin man surrounded by a peaceful feeling which I had never felt from anyone before. I think it was that which won them over in the end. I always thought that the long hours of flying and watching must have become part of his blood – so that even when speaking, he looked at us from a long way away…as though he was still riding the air currents high above the sands, soaring, a small dark speck high in the glaring sky and we were just a particularly puzzling air current to navigate. I had read that men who spent months on the moving and heaving waters in ships seemed awkward and unsteady when they walked on solid land. Kai, was like that, he was like a graceful bird, forced to waddle clumsily on land, stopping only because need had forced him to touch the earth for a while, eager to be gone again to where he was at home. I did not understand the lure of the wind in those days. I did not know that she is also a jealous mistress not afraid to use her claws.

Oh, Kai, he was charming enough and could tell a good story, but when he thought no one was watching him he would wrap himself in the mantle of his loneliness and his eyes would take on that faraway look. His natural quietness came back to him.  I saw that he had to work hard at talking, smiling and speaking with us in an open way. I believe that he was once a talkative, happy person, but the long hours of flying had taken their toll. That and something else. Perhaps that is why I wanted to draw him out. Perhaps it was our fate, either way, the die were cast and I would lose both Kai and Mantosan. They died because of me. I know this. I am sorry, but I will not tell you here why or how it happened. I cannot. Perhaps another time. Let others tell you, there are many willing to talk about that time, but know that what you hear from outsiders is rarely the whole story.

It is now my duty to carry on their work. I have told Maia that it is a burden I cannot refuse, that I actually WANT to carry it.  It is the only way I can keep at bay the acid of guilt. I know in my heart, that I would die if I did I not take up their work and follow their footsteps. Others may call me foolish, but I know what I know. It is what I must do.

It is ironic, that when I go to visit the different Moraii the people look at me as once I looked at Kai.  Now I am the exotic traveller from far away, the “lonely eagle”, the bearer of news from far away places, the bringer of messages, privileged to speak with the elders until late into the night. The  novelty of such ‘privilege’ has worn off long ago. I just smile and do my best; smile, play with the children and always watch the elders and especially the older women.

I made the mistake once of ignoring the old women, when I first arrived in the Westernmost Morai. I was young, I looked to the men. To be sure, I was successful with some of them, I am attractive, but then the older women spoke subtly against me and I was not welcome in that Morai for many revolutions, not until those old ones had moved on. Now I always look to the old women first. If that door is not open, I know that I will not  be able to achieve much in that place.


“Kai and Mantosan, you are in my heart every day.   I will carry on your work until my last breath until my wings rest forever in the sand, or go up in the holy flames”.

Until now, I have only ever told Maia why I feel this way about you both.

My life was originally planned quite differently, before I met Kai, but I am happy with what I have now.  I love the life I’ve had, yes, even truth be told the endless hours riding the currents, soaring the hot billows, always searching for the next one and the next one to carry me on and on, knowing that death is just a broken wing away, just one small ‘insignificant little mistake’ away. Death is ever looking over my shoulder. And “yes”, I do cry at night that the voice of children is never for me, yet still, I love this life !

Who in this world does not pay a price ?

And who never feels that the price is too high ?

Last week I was welcomed by old Oi of the rocks, who dwells by a hidden spring so small it can only support him and his family. Lavender grows very well in the dry and sandy soil there and Oi’s people love it and use it, making medicines and oils they sell far and wide. The smell of lavender is still in my clothes.

Oi has an innate understanding of the human body, he is a mender. Oi asked about the weakness in my right side. Somehow he knew it was there. I remember the first time he gently touched that place of pain, he stepped back, smiling but would not look at me. I waited until he met my eyes, “Oi, my friend – I  know !”

He shook his head with tears in his eyes.

“Oi, there is little that I do not already know, but your silence tells me most clearly”.

Then Oi the shy one, embraced me.

Thank you old friend.

Oi receives very few visitors, he does not trust anyone easily. Living away from the protection of the larger Moraii this is natural. His hidden location is his only real defence. A single family such as his, could never stand long against a full attack from the air. I think he has access to underground passages in the rock, left by the ancients before the sea of sand, but it is only a hunch.

I cannot write of where Oi lives, not even of the direction. I do not want to carry the weight of yet another’s work.  I have already heaped upon myself enough for one lifetime. Let me finish this work well and I will be content with my life. It is all I ask now. Ha ha…, I have become modest, or is it realistic ? – after all these years.

Yet I am proud that Oi finally trusted me.


“Who is it that speaks to you ? Let me first tell you what I look like, that is easiest. My hair is long, tied back tightly down my spine in the style of all windriders. I am simply being honest when I describe myself as beautiful. I have a strong well proportioned body, I am kind hearted and children naturally come to play with me. For those reasons more than any others, I know I must win over the older women first. Pardon me if I speak plainly, but if  I were a man, I too would be attracted to a woman such as I. However I know this path is not for me. It is too late now for me. Inside I feel too old. My debt to Kai and Mantosan have been my work, and my family.  I know what I must do. I can do more as I am now, than by trying to force myself into a task I am not suited to and in which I would be as clumsy and ill-suited as a bird walking in the sand.

Speaking like this you may think I am already an old woman and indeed in spirit I feel so already.  I am told that I am now in the ‘full bloom of maturity’, though I do not feel it. Many a young man in search of a helpmate has looked at me and wondered if he could win me, or seduce me, or even force me.

Forsooth only one ever tried to force me, and he will wear the scars for the rest of his life. But for that last instant of pity I would have taken out not only one but both his eyes. It is his burden to carry, not something to lay at my feet !  No one in that Morai stood against me, no one defended him, though I do not visit there anymore.

I have no compunction about what I did and would do so again. You do not challenge an eagle unscathed !  Windriders do not often speak of this, but each of us has weapons to draw upon in times of utmost need.   I have never hesitated to use them.

Then there were a few who sought to win me openly, though now I no longer enjoy or encourage this game, I have become tired of it and in this respect I fear I am too old as well. Now I quickly stifle any hopeful questions and probing.  Word has spread and these days I rarely have to quell a hopeful young lad.  The old women know why.

My manner is direct but I am not hurtful, at least that is what I tell myself. I have no patience for the games of those who play with power and control. Games such as these will kill a windrider faster than anything else. Umijaabour does not play games,  perhaps because she is the ‘great game’. The sand, the sun and the wind don’t play stupid games, they are honest, not sentimental nor spiteful. They do not bear a grudge, they deal with you instantly. The windrider who wants to ride for months between the Moraii needs to earn her passage by being honest. Play games with the wind and you will find yourself caught in your own web ! In the early days many windriders were caught just so, lost in the sands and discovered years later, a white and dry tangle of bones and struts in the shifting sands. This is a fate any of us might one day face, but then who in this world does not face death in one form or another every day ?

I know of no one who has ever recorded the full extent of Umijaabour, the sea of sand or Umi-retish, the sea of water. I fly a path between five Moraii and each complete circuit takes the time of one revolution about the sun. To the north it is too cold to fly and the land is dead and sterile, the ground there is hard and brittle from the heat of a thousand suns which the ancients released in anger.

We do not know who destroyed the Great Southern Morai.

Tears burn me every time the image of those charred black remains comes to mind. I saw it many months after the event. Not a soul, not a body was left. The wind had carried strange omens for months before. Something dreadful had happened there. I never put down, never set foot on the ground.  Everything I needed to see, I saw from my glider.

I miss sensible Maia so much, I can still hear her voice quietly telling me her thoughts. “Maia, I hope you can hear me, I feel you are still with me, when I call you.  High up on a clear night, when all is silent, only the rush of wind around me, I can hear your answers, dear Maia”.

For myself, I love the dusk most of all, the air is gentle in a way it is not at any other time. The strong power of the dawn with its hopeful innocent strength is so different from the mellow, silky feel of the coming evening.  I am a dusk person. Kai used to say it meant I would do my greatest work when I was old. I doubt it, in that case I should have done it already.

The feeling of soaring on the wind, as she gently brushes my face and caresses my body is, beautiful.  Space stretching out below me, I soar above the world. That feeling alone makes everything worth while. I have no words to convey this to those who have not experienced it.  The power of the wind as she lifts me and carries me, pushing me, sometimes letting me glide dreamily and at other times jolting me roughly is sensual, like that of a lover, though you will not find many windriders say so openly. And the wind is more patient than a human lover, she surely carries you across the crest eventually. At those times I wonder how those thin wings of cloth, metal and wood can hold me high above the world, bending, swaying, hissing gently.

I can see in the eyes of the young ones, the way they look at me, those who love the wind and would be windriders. The elders ask me who in their Morai will soar the winds and I laugh at them and tell them to open their eyes and look around at this and that child in the corner, quietly gazing at me with silent longing or sitting on my lap, in rapt attention, lost in the stories of flying like an eagle. “Why do you ask ME ?” I tell them.  “See what the childrens’ faces tell you !”  These days I can speak to them in this manner, they know me.

Most of all I love flying in the deepest darkest hours of the night.  Only up high, soaring over the sands, hunting for isolated warm air pockets, the icy crystal clear sky above, do I feel free. In those times my feelings expand in all directions and I feel part of the wind, the sand, the moon, the star patterns above. I feel safe, being a part, a tiny part of it all.  Then I feel that the world is mine and I am held up by more than air and wind. I love the soft breeze, the endless space in all directions. Sometimes it helps me to forget my longings and other times I feel them stronger than ever, dropping tears on the sand.

Riding the wind at night means finding the last rising air currents to take me as high as possible, so that I won’t have to put down and wait in the sands until early morning.  But when I choose the wrong direction, I have to spend the night on the ground. But this does not happened often.

Kai and Mantosan always loved to fly the ‘night sun’, as they liked to call the moon. Mantosan developed the broad night rider’s wings. He taught me the way of ‘wake-sleep’. If the wind was kind, we used his way to fly for days on end without stopping.  Now I often stay aloft for seven days before I am forced to put down in the sand. I have become known as the fastest rider between the Moraii, though that is not what I sought to do. I do not care for this distinction. I fly to be alone, to be at peace, just to fly.  I don’t want to stop. I don’t want the interruptions.

Wherever I visit a Morai, then I know that in the deep night hours those who cannot sleep will come to my room to share their thoughts with me, things they cannot share with any one of their own.  I sleep lightly and my sleep on solid ground is not much different from sleep in the air. I can often hear their footsteps before they come to my door. Some hesitate, standing quietly before my door for a time.

Tian was one of those, I knew she stood there silently for a very very long time. I walked to the door and opened it, there was a child sitting on the floor looking up at me, her wet eyes glittered in the dim light. I was surprised, I had never had a nocturnal visitor so young.

Others came, purposefully, knocking urgently. Their manner of approach already tells me much. I do little, I mostly listen.  Most choices in our lives are in truth already set.

By this time, I have collected so many secrets I feel I have already lived many lifetimes; perhaps that too makes me feel old. I understand Kai better now, I too am changing from who I used to be.  My friends tell me so.

Some ask me to ‘see’ for them.  They have heard that I have talent and the old women have taught me how to shine a light some little way into the myriad of possible paths the future holds for each of us. I have looked at the paths of many people.  Sometimes the choices are few, and narrow, other times a few broad roads are interspersed with many fine lines as a spider web.  I cannot always speak of what I see, some things are forbidden and others are hidden from me.  However I prefer not to ‘see’ this way.  A quiet chat in the deepest night hours brings them more peace.

Early on, I was cautioned not to shine the light onto my own path. Twelve moons past, just before I met Oi, I felt I really needed to look. I was shown that which I wished not to see and which I cannot now forget. I understand now why it is better not to look.


I have written for one other reason.  Tomorrow I will leave on my last journey. I know it will be my last, though I do not know why it should be so, I feel it will be. When I look back over these past thirteen moons I see many small signs and I have come to see that without realizing it, that I have finished many small things.

At first I thought of it simply as my desire for a simple life, but looking back I can see how I have prepared myself for this day. I have fulfilled my promises, paid what I owe, I have spoken plainly of my feelings to all my close friends in every Morai.

Perhaps that is why I feel so much for little Tian. Now she is still too young to understand. I cannot speak to her as to my other older friends. I know she looks to me as her older sister, her hero. Perhaps when she is older one day she will read this and understand.

“Little Tian, one day you too will be a windrider. I miss you already, why are you still so young ?”


When I look back over the years, I remember only glimpses through the windows. I am envied for my freedom to come and go, to fly away, but they do not know the price of this freedom.

Yet I regret nothing !

Not even the hardest and most painful part of my life: always and all the time, leaving people behind, a new acquaintance or an old friend.  When next we meet again a whole cycle of the sun will have passed, thirteen moons and the young ones are older and different people – we meet again almost as strangers.  Yet still I look forward to those meetings.

Do those who stay in one place know how good it feels to be welcomed by their smiling faces after many weeks riding the wind, living high in the air, sleeping while flying, sleeping in the sand ?

When I arrive, I have good food and my own room, and that is a great comfort. But do they know that their open arms mean even more to me ? – that being part of their circle is what keeps me alive ?  Some do, the very old ones do.

And yet Arda has told me of the price of staying. She has told me of the pain of being left behind and how she envied me every time she saw me climb to the top of her Morai. Everyone watching me, wishing me well, weaving their love and care around me before I left. She said she envied me the knowledge of the wind, how I  teased out the wind, until a strong current carried me away and out of her life for who knows how long.

I feel for her….

I think she should become a windrider, she is tall and heavy but she loves the wind.

I remember a poem I read in an old book once:

Think not that dreams appear to the dreamer only at night:

the dream of this world of pain appears to us even by day[1].

I like to sing it to myself high up in the air, in the deep quiet of the night, when the wind is calm and carries me gently.


This is the last night, it is time to fold away these papers, and join the old women, Aldi, Arda and Marly. They will have last words for me to carry to the other Moraii, and as always, they will ask me to carry more than I should. And for once, for the very first time, I will refuse. When they finally understand I will long be gone.

Tomorrow … tomorrow I must leave everything.

I will not see any of my friends again.

I cannot tell them.

Even if I wanted to speak, what would I say ? …and even should I know what to say, what good would it do ?

Would they even believe me ?

I think not.

I look at them with a new intensity, deeply drinking in this last night.

And they do not know. If I seem strange and absent to them, it is the lot of all windriders…

Tian, I have asked for a small present to be made for you, two pure white pearls, encased in silver to wear in your ears, in the manner of the old ones. One day you will understand what they really mean and that I meant them as a farewell gift. Then you will understand that I loved you when I left.  They are in the bottom of your bag, along with the other things you asked me to bring you. You will find them when I am far away I pray.

“Oh breath of Umijaabour, you who carry my life in your hand every moment, I ask you to whisper to my little sister Tian, whisper to her of my love when she is alone, when she is crying because I have not returned. Please whisper to her these words of mine.

‘Be strong when I am gone. Grow up and be strong and learn all you can my little Tian. I will not be  there to hold you again. I am so sorry …. I will be there to ease your pain… on the wind, that is where you will feel my love, I will be there for you always, even after I have left this world, will I be watching you.’

Oh, Tian, you have your family, your sister and brother, but I will always think of you as the daughter I never had.

….when I leave tomorrow morning, you will smile, wave and call to me. You will not guess, why I cannot look back at you even once, because if I did, I would never leave. I would stay in this Morai for the rest of my life.

You will look for me in thirteen moons, but I will not be there. Perhaps I am wrong and we will meet again, but in my heart I know it is not so. When we meet again, it will not be in this world.

“And Tian wide eyed little one that you are…. forgive me when I do not come back”.


Tian found her gift, she became a windrider.

She never forgot her ‘older sister’.

Pearls are the most precious gift in a world of sand without water.

When she was an old woman, Tian passed the pearls set in silver on to her daughter Ngagimi.

The original letter was found in Tian’s belongings when she died and is now in my library.

This letter became well known throughout the Moraii, it was her greatest work. Many copied it and read it to each other, even making plays of it.  Some said it was just a story, that it was not a true story.



“But the fruit holds immortality,” said the miner.

“Come with me,” said the Traveller.

Beaton followed him back to the village and then to a particular hut. There, on the floor of the main living quarters lay an old emaciated woman, gasping for breath. Two young women sat by her side, holding her thin hands, the webs now cracked and brittle.

“But she’s dying,” said Beaton to the Traveller.

“No, she is changing,” he said. “The white fruit from the seed of your friend  disallows change”.

“But she is physically dying then” said Beaton.

“I understand what you mean,” said the Traveller.

“I wasn’t sure at first. This word ‘death’ is a difficult idea. If you want to reach the land where there is no death, you must travel a twelve season journey. I will show you the path, but I will not go with you.”

“Then I haven’t reached paradise ? said Beaton.

“What is paradise ?” asked the Traveller. “that white fruit is an unchanging dream. It is death, as you call it. Now I must take it back to the world of those like you. We cannot have it here.”

“The Physiognomy”, Jeffery Ford, Ch 19 pp155, Avon Books, Harper Collins, 1997.


[1] (Yoru bakari Miru mono nari to Omou-nayo!

Hiru saë yumé no Ukiyo nari-kéri.)

OLD JAPANESE POEM.- Translated  by Lafcadio Hearn, from his book: “In Ghostly Japan”, 1899.