Betwixt Wind and Water – Lambs and Lions

Somebody’s Little Red Boat. Wickford Cove, RI
Photo JAL

The month of March is gauged by the comings and goings of lions and lambs. Wild and domestic animals are metaphors for unpredictable weather that randomly doles out sleet and daffodils. March holds one of the two days of the year when day and night are able to achieve perfect balance during a moment of equity. One wouldn’t know this by tracking the daily temperatures or temperament of people right now. Lions and wildebeests seem to rule the world as we watch winter’s ebb and spring’s rise from the inside of our home windowpanes.

A dock can take you anywhere – once you get off it.
Wickford Cove.

Getting a little fresh air has been the universal antidote for many maladies. That’s not a do-able prescription for folks right now. Our world view has tipped far from its equinox. Shelter in place doesn’t mean “put your beach umbrella just above the tideline”. We can learn a bit from wooden ships and be healthy this spring.

Wooden ships are made to float and traverse the sea with the aid of fair and furious winds. But, the part of the ship that’s right above and just below the waterline is exposed to air and water as the ship rolls in the waves. That is the most vulnerable area in time of war and the worst possible area to get hit by a cannon ball. Being hit by just a single cannon ball can cause a world of hurt – serious damage to the ship and potential loss of ship mates.  

“Wooden Ships, on the water very free & easy”. CSNY. Museu Maritim de Barcelona. Photo JAL

Such are sea stories – a breath of fresh air can trigger an adventure where still air fouls a ship in the doldrums – and everyone goes mad. A tale begins on the tip of a butterfly’s wing that disrupts a drop of air. A benign flutter triggers the forces of chaos. An innocent bit of breeze is whipped into a hurricane that blows the man down.

Sometimes we have to avoid frightening tales and turn to comforting stories about things like wildebeests. When fighting invisible enemies we don’t want to stay awake at night worrying about getting sunk by cannon balls. Some stories seem scary at first. Just the word wildebeest looks ominous, but in reality, these are just gentle vegetarians related to antelopes. We don’t need fear to be entertained. Wildebeests aren’t central characters in sea yarns because, first of all, they can’t swim. Next, they aren’t predators. Still, there are lots of interesting stories about wildebeests. These placid African animals don’t know they aren’t swimmers until they try, by the thousands, to cross rivers. To the delight of other animals, they drown. Who gnu? Crocodiles who dine on freshly drowned wildebeests. To a whole bunch of animals this is a happy story of filled bellies during the flood season.

No Bad Gnus

Take a break from tragic adventures and sad gnus for a bit. Sailors depend on rope to adjust sails because the wind can’t be tamed. Sailors also know that ropes can only take a limited amount of strain over long periods of time. There aren’t any ropes that can bear heavy loads forever without apparent wear and tear. Sooner or later the fibers fray and loose ends dangle off the winches.  Danger strikes without warning when the rope (line) snaps. A sail can break loose, the booms swing free and crack skulls, crew get tangled and fall overboard.

This line has felt strain and is frayed. Now it’s coiled and at rest. Avoid strain on your lines.
Port of Barcelona. Photo by JAL



Let’s tend to our ropes and lines as we march towards April. Use the extra hour of day to balance our minds between panic and prudence, fears and confidence, common sense and unnecessary risk.  Set aside tales of shipwrecks and relax with calming stories that celebrate the simple things in life.   Ignore the gnus and the lions. Cuddle with your favorite lamb.

Ancient Mariners, Cranberries, and Scurvy Pirates

Statue of the Ancient Mariner. Somerset, England. Courtesy of Wickimedia Commons

“Water, water, every where/not any drop to drink”, is an oft quoted phrase from the Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, told by an old salt, tells the story of a long ago voyage. The sailor heedlessly killed the albatross that had led the ship safely out of raging Antarctic seas. The sea spirits retaliated and blew the ship to the becalmed doldrums where there was no wind, clean water, or fresh fruit and vegetables to be had. This makes for a great story for young kids to tell their Boomer grandparents who don’t appreciate kale smoothies. The Mariner’s crew credited their cursed luck on a sailor’s avian crime against nature. The punishment rendered was to wrap the dead albatross around his neck. Weeks passed as the crew’s teeth rotted, skins blistered, and souls withered.

There are a lot of takes on Coleridge’s poem including one that it’s a tale about scurvy. When Magellean and Cook explored the seas discovering new worlds that had always been, more sailors died of scurvy than all the soldiers who perished during the Civil War.

There’d be no Moby Dick if Ismael had listened to the Nantucketeer who warned, ““Go out with that crazy Captain Ahab? Never! He flat refused to take cranberries aboard. A man could get scurvy, or worse, whaling with the likes of ‘im.” More pirates died from disease than from cannon balls. Their breath reeked, necks rattled, bones crackled, and vivid nightmares purloined their sanity. Yet, none among them cried out “I’ll trade my silver, gems, and rum for an equal weight of cranberries, lemons, and brussel sprouts.”

We are sailing a turbulent time locked in the irons of a wind that is confounding life on land and sea.  Scurvy-stricken 18th century sailors felt better when they could smell land and feel the sold earth beneath their feet. This led to the healing strategy of “earth bathing”. It was a simple, pragmatic cure; get the stricken sailor home, relax him in a box of clean dirt, and feed him well. Folks believed that scurvy wasn’t really a seasickness is was homesickness. The stricken were believed to suffer from a deep longing to be safe, on dry land with their loved ones.  And lo, with the pleasures associated with warm beds, hot meals, and time to reconnect with family, health was restored.

Don’t Make Scurvy Great Again

Common sense holds true today as around the globe people are being asked to avoid crowded harbors and ships bound for distant ports via air and sea. Take Dr. Semmelweis’ 19th century life-changing advice to the medical world, “DOCTORS, FIRST WASH YOUR HANDS – THEN DO NO HARM!” He was the first physician to understand that fevers are contagious. One way to stop an illness from spreading to others is to wash your hands!

The second, similar bit of advice comes from the captains of sailing ships, swab your decks – keep them clean! And if you are sick, stay put for a bit. Being home sick is better than being homesick for a place you’ll never reach. Take an earth bath or at least wash your hands. If your body is blown from icy waters to scorching seas – don’t panic – be prudent. Don’t wait until the end of April to call in a May Day. Avoid scurvy too, stay home, put limes in your rum and read a good book.

Why should any of us defy the wisdom of the Ancient Mariner, a practical whaler, or brilliant Dr. Semmelweis? Who wants to take the chance of waking up next to a scurvy pirate with a bloody albatross around his neck? Not, I.

Trade My Booty for Your Fruit?