Douglas Arvidson is a past winner of the WICE/Paris Transcontinental International Short Story competition. His short fiction has been published in Paris, Prague, and in literary magazines in the United States and he was recently invited to be a staff writer for the Prague Revue, a cutting-edge, online literary journal ( The novels in his fantasy series, The Eye of the Eye of Stallion, include The Face in Amber, The Mirrors of Castaway Time, and A Drop of Wizard's Blood. His new novel, Brothers of the Fire Star, was selected as a finalist in the ForeWord Reviews 2012 Book of the Year national awards and as a finalist in three categories in the 2013 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards: Action Adventure Fiction, Historical Fiction, and Young Adult Fiction. It has become part of the pantheon of Pacific literature and is now included in school literature programs. Brothers of the Fire Star is an adventure story set in the Pacific during World War II and concerns two boys of different races and cultures who escape the island of Guam in a small sailboat when the Japanese army invades. They must then struggle to survive as they master the secrets of the ancient Pacific navigators. Appropriate for young adults as well as adult readers, Brothers of the Fire Star is available on Barnes & Noble, ( and Visit the author's website:

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Sailing a traditional canoe from Guam to the neighboring island of Rota.
(Photo by Sandra Okada)
Imagine something. Imagine sailing this canoe--this proa--over 500 miles of open ocean and navigating using only the stars and the waves and the sea life and you're exquisit knowledge of the how it all works together.
Get it? No, I don't either.
But there are men capable of doing just that, capable of integrating and synthesizing all the data Mother Nature/the Universe provides and, by some seeming alchemy, figuring out where on the infinite deep blue they are and where they are going.
But never mind the intuitive impossibilities, the beyond-the-pale grasp of things both ephemeral and mystical. There must be some hard science going on here, some bone-deep comprehension of reality that only seems mystical and magical. We know, after all, that there really is no such thing as magic, that mysticism is just simply irrational.
My own take on it goes like this: The type of man who can conjure his position in a limitless sea started developing his skills early--as a young boy. Scientists call this an ontogenetic skill rather than a phylogenetic skill. Ontogenetic skills are skills that don't come naturally--we must learn them. Like playing the piano. Phylogengenetic etic skills are skills every creature in the phylum can do naturally. Like all humans can walk.
Ontogenetic skills must be learned early--in childhood--and that's how great navigators do it. As young children they are exposed to the sea, to the waves, to the stars, to that sense of how it all works together. So what seems impossible to the rest of us, comes "naturally" to them. But it's not magical or mystical. It's all based on real things learned early. Do they understand how they do it? Probably not. Not anymore than the rest of us understand love or beauty or why we crave chocolate ice cream.

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