kiss of the oceans (4)

In my current work-in-progress, a detective novel set in the 1850s, the protagonist travels from New York to San Francisco via the Panama Route, i.e. opting to cross from Atlantic to Pacific overland rather than sail all the way round the tip of South America. Here is an excerpt:

AT DAWN, THE DOWNPOUR SOFTENED to a drizzle and with a calmer sea, I began to feel safer from the retreating squall. Then, as if in defiance, the storm released a deep, slow rumble — nature telling me with a belch that it had its fill. It shook me to the core before ebbing away.

Under another burst of light, purple welts lined the sky. Panama seemed to wink at me; a weary gesture from her bruised eyelid that said, “So, now you too.”

Hers was a story of turmoil. Thrust off the seabed by its cataclysmic coupling, she was smothered in layers of sludge. Driven ever upwards, she eventually broke surface. With first breaths she conjoined the landmasses to either side, cleaving the Earth’s ocean into two.

Coveted as a prize long before she was named, her slender neck was what made her so alluring. Separating Atlantic and Pacific by only 50 miles at her narrowest point, she so served as a bond between them. For centuries, conquistadores, mercantilists, and pirates fought to have her. Even my former homeland Scotland had tried its luck at setting up a colony on her Atlantic shore in order to establish an overland trade route. The 17th Century Darien Scheme failed miserably after only a few years, resulting in the destruction of the finances of the entire country.

Panama had declared independence from Spain just thirty years earlier and was now part of Colombia. Given the recent interest in California, I wondered if America had designs on her. There was already talk of constructing a railroad across her back to link the two great oceans.

And so, yes, now me too, I thought in reply.

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Filed under Observations: Writing, History, Travel and Culture

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