Constant Vigilance

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Bald Eagles’ Aerie. Symbols of constant and eternal vigilance. They are there. Memorial Day, 2018, Photo JAL

Memorial Day weekend is here in the climate-confused Midwest where we are setting records for the hottest May Days outside of Hades. Choosing something to wear should be easy as nothing, fits. Nature crash and burned spring straight into the dog days of August. Nary a breeze can lift herself from the oppressive sun. The wind has sucummed to an overdose of humidity. Undaunted and perhaps unwisely, we spent the weekend aboard our sailboat, Ex Libris on the Mississippi River.

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Cap’n Barrett sporting his Brown Crew cap navigating his way around Catalina Island, CA.

Meanwhile,  our son Barrett, hopped a ferry from LA to Catalina where the winds were fresh, the seas were calm, and small boat rentals were affordable. Randall opted for the grand opening of his community pool much to the delight of my grand daughters who initiated the first swim of summer vacation.

Amberley explored fiords in southwestern Norway. It’s a country where where summer lasts for 23 minutes and SPF 200 is not adequate sun protection for the locals. As you can see by her photo of Bergan, the Norwegian harbors are just like the Alton Pool’s  except ours’ are the color and consistency of coffee dregs.

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Fiord Festivities @ Norway

Being a Mom, I worry about my family when they are far away frolicking with water sports. Accidents happen. Water always wins. There’s always a bigger fish. Your playground is homeport to mllions of non-human residents. We must all take the wizard of Hogwarts’ advice; “Constant vigilance!”

Paying attention is a survival skill for there are plenty of hellish things in the details that lie quietly and patiently seeking prey. Yesterday, we anchored off a mid-river island and were fascinated to observe a Bald Eagle family nesting. My attention was shifted by a subtle change in Marina’s panting. Although she was shaded, a 16 year-old dog is no match for the incinerating torch of a mid-day sun.

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You never know what lies beneath or behind. 

We quickly motored back to the harbor to head home and escape the dangerous heat. Dockside was equally perilous. I was startled by ravenous Water Moccasin that swam a few feet from the dock and slithered along the shore. I knew the snake was hunting for if not for the hunger instinct it would’ve avoided the filthy water and been content to digest privately in an undisclosed location. I told Marina, who is mostly blind and deaf that if she fell overboard, she was lunch.

Freshly regenerated via the AC, we returned to Ex Libris. After a relaxing dinner aboard, George went to snag a cookie off the galley counter. He abruptly roared, “D¶•§ Son #$ %^$# BIT ME right on my head!” He swatted, swore, and swelled. I’d missed a wasp nest during my ritual debugging of the cabin upon arrival. Bees and wasps are avid boat lovers when people are absentia. The previous day I’d destroyed three wasps nests and too many mud daubers’ messy abodes to count.

George is allergic to bees. Over the years he’s had increasingly bad reactions to their stings. Still yelling, digging for ice in the cooler, he ripped off his shirt afraid that more bees were attacking. We boot-scooted home for emergency First Aid. George’s glaucoma eye was already swollen shut.  His armpits  and hands itched madly and swelled exponentially. Still, his testosterone-histimine-saturated-resistance to the logic of an ER visit prevailed as he ranted, “It’s a holiday, only drunks, car wrecks, addicts, and city shooting victims go to ERs on holidays.”

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Not Big G’s Best Look. Abundant hives too. Even his armpits swelled. 

Fortunately, Barrett was home from his island adventure and he took my call. He’s a physician and advised an immediate trip to the ER. He also inherited a tad of stubborn-ness from his father and understood negotiations were off the table. Dr. Bear recommended a double dose of Benadryl, a blast of Prednisone, ice packs, and spousal patience. His Dad survived.

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A family’s physician is never really and truly off-duty when Mom calls.

Constant vigilance is a mantra for those with the wisdom to know that the world sits at the cross roads of good times and dark times. My grandmother, herself a Gold Star mother, referred to this day as Decoration Day. She didn’t view it as a holiday but as a private holy day of remembrance and gratitude. I see the wisdom of both approaches. It’s a day to celebrate the eternal vigilance of our military. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. It’s also a day to be aware of the vipers and wasps that live as they as they are even though their ways are often not compatible with ours’. We live in a brave new world where “eternal vigilance is the price of human decency.[1]” Hoist a flag. Remember. Be vigilant.

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Wrong, Captain Ron. It didn’t happen “out there” – it happened right here! Sioux Harbor, MO

[1] Aldous Huxley, Brave New World. 1932

Bamboozled

 

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Extreme Breathability @ The Helm

My husband retired three weeks, two days, and one hour ago. He prides himself on keeping a busy schedule, like walking a couple of miles on the Katy Trail along the Missouri River before his wife wakes up in the morning. He claims to be a “simple man” who keeps a daily “Do List” and maintains a sense of order. He is also a voracious reader and picks up on tiny nuances of change. Yet, I was still surprised when he actually went clothes shopping in preparation for our upcoming trip to Florida and bought one item.

A Bamboo Boxer Brief… Bamboo F

 

… as in Waltzing Matilda underwear.

He’d found a small advertisement in today’s paper hailing a new product for manly men that promises, “Performance is Natural”. The underwear’s MOSO features include moisture wicking and extreme reliability. George’s fresh passion for Organic Performance Wear is puzzling. Noting the slogan, “It’s a Pleasure for Your Business” I wondered, what sort of business opportunities does this bundle of soft bamboo promise consumers?

 

Is George’s attention to fine undergarments a natural part of the early days of retirement? Is this an organic phase of leaving the business world to focus one’s time on personal business? Do men really seek personal clothing that “feels better than silk and performs better than (wait for it) petroleum-based polyester synthetics”? This is all new to me. The fine print on the package also promises “your man parts will stay cool, dry, and stink- free, even during peak intensity!”

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I guess Victoria’s Secret is out. Good-bye silk worms. Hello bamboo stalks. I must admit saying bamboo aloud has a subtle, sultry, sound (bam b-oooohhhh). All that I picked up in today’s news is that Tide Podding is out and the condom-snorting challenge is in. I suppose my Helly Hansen performance sailing gear is on it’s way out too – though it is a product of Norway and we know how everyone there wants to get in here.

I want to issue a warning to our boating friends. Should you see Big George hoisting the main sail chanting, “Weigh hey, and up she rises!” Turn away. It’s just the koala beneath his belt nibbling on the bamboo.

Meanwhile, I’m going to stock up on organic bamboo toilet paper for the head. If you come aboard to sail on Ex Libris, feel free to use the head to do your business. But for Pete’s sake, please don’t start singing, “Tie me kangaroo down sport!” (clean living is all about punctuation).

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Lordy, thankfully only boaters know where he is standing. The sailor’s version of the VS Catwalk.

 

Hail the Spring Equinox! Ostara!

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Quaint working harbor in Ballymena Northern Ireland. December, 2017. Photo JAL

This, the first day of spring, is when the hours of daylight and nighttime are perfectly balanced. The sun is a great big sugar cookie perfectly divided between the two. Perfect symmetry is not meant to endure. It’s now the third day of spring at my harbor where  day has purloined two extra minutes of sunlight. Way to go!

The vernal equinox signifies it’s time to shed the final threads of winter dormancy and flourish. Our woodpile has shrunk in equal proportion to the last heap of ashes in the hearth. Sitting next to a warm fire with a good book is eclipsed by an intrinsic desire to get outside and do something.

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Hammerfest, Norway. February, 2018. Photo courtesy of Amberley Doskey.

There are many rituals associated with the vernal equinox such as the pagan celebrations of Ostara at Stonehenge. Lots of spring rituals deal with mating calls, bunnies, eggs, and rebirth. Spring bills itself as a very sexy season. My favorite spring ritual takes place fully clothed, if not layered in fleece and goose down. It’s time to commission our boat for spring sailing! Sailors have great affection for “spring cleaning”. Here are the rites of Ostara for my 34 Catalina, the Ex Libris.

Ritual #1. Inspect my personal collection of Topsiders. Banish winter pairs to the back of the closet. Bring forth the spring collection. Retire socks to the bottom drawer.

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Remember the Endeavor, memorial. Hammerfest, Norway. The photos have no connection with the content. I just like them. Photo courtesy AMLD

Ritual #2. Check the Sperry.com web page to view the spring collection. If necessary, select size and hit, Buy Now.

Ritual #3. Round up my boat cleaning supplies. Browse the West Marine catalog. Decide there’s nothing really needed so, go back to the Sperry page and reconsider options.

Ritual #4. Finally, wearing chic maritime footwear,

we drive to the harbor where the boat wintered over. George pulls out the bubbler (an electric fan the keeps ice from forming around the hull) and estimates that the water tempis a half dozen degrees above freezing. I offer up a quick prayer that neither of us  trip on a line and fall off the dock. We climb aboard. I savor the exhilaration of a new season and that I’m still physically fit to sail. I remind myself that it’s time to watch Captain Ron – again. Clean and turn on fridge to ensure beverages are chilled.

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Meanwhile, in Stavanger, Norway with just a trickle of the Gulf Stream, sailing regattas take place year round. Photo AMLD.

Ritual 5. Realize it’s too darn cold to sail. I don’t need a cooler or to waste electricity on the fridge because after 30 minutes the beer became room temperature and turned to slush. The cabin is colder than Ahab’s wife when he returned home with a wink after three hygiene-free years at sea mucking about in whale guts.

Ritual 6. Go home. Ask George to make a fire. Hunker down with a hot toddy and a good book about sailing in the tropics. Double-check the Sperry web site. Watch Captain Ron – again.

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Patience. Waiting for longer, warmer days of spring. Photo JAL

 

 

 

 

Repeat the ritual in another month when the weather is conducive to water sports and add;

Ritual 7. Hank on the mainsail, kick the tires and light the fires. Get out of the harbor and into the season of the wind.

 

 

Virtual Tour of Avalon on the Narrow River, RI

This visual tour of our nearly complete home renovation is my first step back into blogging. Since my last post I’ve worked too hard and played not enough – with words, boats, and people. I’m ready to Spring Forward and meddle with matters connected with boats and water.

Take a visual tour at:

http://www.smilebox.com/playBlog/4e4459794e444d334e7a4d3d0d0a&blogview=true

 

Ride, Sally, Ride

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Who’s That Sailing On a Tin Can? Photo by NASA

There are still 26 days until the Solstice but yesterday we jumped the season, cast off the dock lines, and sailed Ex Libris into summer.   We would never have left the dock without the help of our dock mates who have far more mechanical skills, tools, and how to fix anything experience, than we’ll ever know. It’s not that we’re dumb, as one pal explained to our daughter, it’s just that we know that by admitting what we don’t know (about fixing boats) – friends who know what to do are happy to help – and ready to set sail as soon as it’s fixed.

I like to think of myself as a confident, competent captain. I can navigate, steer, trim sails, scrub decks, sand and stain teak, and cook. Big whoop. Can I rewire the radio and troubleshoot a dead battery? Nope. Fix the hot water heater? Nada. Change the oil – yeah, maybe – if someone would show me how – but there’s no rush here. Does that keep me dock bound? No. I’ve got friends with skills, I’ve got boats, and I can sail.

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I don’t look like Anne Bonny in my dreams. Not much. Photo via Wikipedia

I fantasize being a brave, challenging woman of the sea like the pirate, Anne Bonney – a fierce hell-cat of a sailor. Legend has it she drank like a man and pissed like a woman – perhaps a tribute to her tumultuous romance with Captain Jack. BTW –her last words to him when he went to the gallows, were “if you’d fought like a man you’d need not be hanged like a dog.” Johnny Depp wept.

When I wanted to become a sailor – I began with a little boats on small ponds and learned by doing. My learning curve included regular and unexpected capsizing. Two-foot-itis keep me trading up until now – with a big boat on a big river. We have friends who have sailed out of the river and into the bigger waters beyond. Other women more honorable than pirates dream of sailing to the stars. One of them, Sally Ride, was born the same year as me. Dr. Ride worked her butt off and despite the “no balls no sit in the rocket” attitude of the time, she became the first woman NASA allowed to sail off-planet. She retired her astronaut status the 80’s and rode out her time as a physicist inspiring girls to dream like Einstein and create the future through science.

Einstein said we are all related to and by time. Anne’s been gone for over 200 years – Sally just three. Whether dreaming of being free at sea or sailing on a comet’s tail – young girls and their grannies are bound through time with child bearing pirates and lady astronauts. Time on boats is well spent and often best savored in the company of good friends – especially the ones with skills.

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Being a STEM Geek is something young girls can do. Dream big. RIP Sally Ride – that lady had skills. Photo by NASA.

Swallow the Anchor

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Chicken-not-of-the sea swallowing the anchor. Ex Libris @ Sioux Harbor

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S/v Sandpiper w/ Ralph & Connie Pickering Alton Pool

All too often, the picture-perfect sail on a pristine afternoon in the company of good friends lacks the pizazz of a good story worth telling twice. Daylight fades, sails are furled, and the anchor is set. The rum ration gets split. Tall tales are birthed as fair winds die and distilled spirits pillage common sense. Contentment yields to bravado. Sailors craft and swap exaggerated accounts of harrowing efforts to tame tempestuous winds rather than dwell on the boredom endured as they trimmed flaccid sails.

Close calls make for good stories. When a snake swims astride the stern and … well, what kind of story follows here? A description of the captain donning her life jacket and abandoning ship when the anaconda-like reptile attempted to board? Or, a recount of the exhausted serpent drifting away in the flood current? There’s a time for a yarn, but there are also settings where yarn is just a mess of knots. That’s when the elements of story must be simple and the story not the storyteller matters.

Insurers frown upon drama. For instance, when filling out an insurance claim after a lightening strike fried all of a boat’s electronics, only the facts should count. The damage is done and financial compensation is due if and only if the facts recounted match the protection described in the policy. Otherwise, if the story teller is viewed as more important than the story – the readers makes assumptions not found on any page (expect Mark Twain’s folksy humor vs. Stephen King’s blend of macabre). So then, when a boat insurer checks a claim (i.e., story) against the numerous clauses in the protection plan that unclearly state, “it’s a forgone conclusion that this claim will be denied because there’s not a word of truth here – sailors tell fibs about everything that happens when anchors are weighed*.”

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Anchored in St. Thomas, VI – our’s for a day’s charter. JAL

Anchors play a big role on boats – they connect what’s afloat to solid land beneath moving water. An anchor holds a boat to where the captain wants to be – safe and secure. Boat captains are expected to act like anchors – to be stable and strong enough to hold a crew’s confidence. Boating is more fun when there is a person aboard who can be unconditionally relied on as unshakable, competent, and trustworthy. When captains serve as anchors we believe their spoken words are true. That is how order is kept at sea – in hell or high water. We trust captains who speak truthfully. Honesty instills respect and raises hope that neither tide nor current will put us in harm’s way. We can rely on an anchor that does its job without fanfare.

When an anchor fails its duty – consequences run afoul. If an anchor is truly fouled, caught on a log or sunken obstruction, the only course of action is to cut the line and let the boat sail free. It’s an expensive loss. Or as Shakespeare put it, “I shall no more to sea, to sea/ Here I shall die ashore”** -the anchor is swallowed – the captain is returned to the land and sails no more.

I’d be watching the Nightly News instead of writing this blog right now if Brian had acted as an anchor instead of as a sailor lost in the charm of an imaginative tall tale. His last words on the air should have been, “life’s a beach.”

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Rested and ready – anchors aweigh! JAL

*anchors aweigh means to haul up the anchor and get moving

** The Tempest

Stuck in Irons

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Winter on the Narrow River Middlebridge, RI JAL

Janus was the Roman God of beginnings and transitions. During the inaugural month of each year the northern hemisphere leans back, wobbles on its axis in a sodden stupor, and shields itself from lengthily doses of direct sunlight. The New Year is stuck in irons. We’re aboard a year that’s stalled. Our rudder, that thing we use to steer and maneuver about life, is temporarily unresponsive. These are the burned out days of winter when it sometimes seems that we can’t get to where we want to be.

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Patience. Middlebridge JAL

There was a sailing ship January found trapped with its bow facing the wind, its crew going nowhere. Ah, northern winters – the season of elongated murky nights that beget lackluster days and weeks spent tenderly nursing spirits stuck in the doldrums of lethargy. Exhausted by holiday festivities, January begins the year rather solemnly as if the long, bleak cloud covered days are mourning for days gone past. Some find that their lives seem to stall between the crests of enormous waves. Sailors of northern waters shrug off such feelings of discontentment as the essence of winter. Sailors don’t like being in the irons, when the winds roar and the sails get caught in grip of a grand mal seizure. The ruckus rattles the best of nerves.

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Sailing St. Thomas Aboard Jolly Mon. JAL

Try not to stay stuck in the irons too long for the damage can get very serious very quickly. The wind is going to blow whichever way it wants whenever it wants – so in order to get unstuck you’ve got to push the sails until they catch the wind. Sometimes you’ll need help (mechanical wind). Be bold and ask for assistance to get back in the groove – that’s why boats have crews. Pay attention to the wind, heed the feel of the rudder, and force the boat away from the wind’s fist. The clean snap sails as the hull bites into the waves is the payoff – you are free to go.

Winter gradually passes and yields to spring. Not everyone notices whether it’s winter or summer. Count them as happy people who are immune to seasonal affective disorders and wise enough to apply sunblock.  Take advantage of this month to recover and prepare. So what if winter nights are long? Savor them for dreaming. Imagine during the night and work toward those possibilities by day. January is an open door to the rest of the calendar. The future lying on the other side might hold delightful surprises or great suffering. For some, an open door brings cold drafts and unbidden visitors, a bit like a Hobbit opening up to uninvited guests. Yet to close the portal shuts out the likelihood of partaking in adventures beyond the threshold. Fear what’s beyond the door and you’ll find that being stuck behind the gateway is fearsome. You’ll miss out and be missed. All doors are both exits and entrances – it depends on where you are when one opens. Carpe porta!

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Most pathways begin or end at a doorway. Narragansett Beach JAL

Frozen Balls on a Brass Monkey

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Photo courtesy NOAA

Friends in Thunder Bay report that it’s 40ºF below. It’s not a good day to stick one’s tongue on a flagpole. It is worse to be at sea during days like today. Sub-zero temperatures can freeze the balls off a brass monkey! The cold doesn’t hurt the monkey but wrecks havoc on a frigate’s deck and crew who get in the way of random balls.  According to maritime lore, tall ships used to carry a hundred or more cannons. The cannon balls took up a lot of space in cramped quarters. Ship shape meant stacking the heavy lead cannonballs like pyramids on brass platforms called monkeys. When temperatures grew very cold, the balls would shrink (“like a frightened turtle”) and the pyramid fell to disarray. The cannonballs tumbled off the brass monkey and rolled willy nilly around the deck. Sailor do not play dodge ball with cannon balls. Unknown-2

As Mercury falls it is really hard leave the warmth of a cozy bed and move about the day. We are prisoners of science. Heat moves from warm things to cold things. Body heat dissipates as soon as our feet hit the chilly floor. Take away heat and things move slower. Remove heat and things that are fluid go solid. That’s probably why things said in the heat of a moment can leave us cold with a rock-hard resolve not to make the first move towards an apology. Our emotions seize up like old engines on frosty mornings.

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USS Glacier (1956) Courtesy rossea.inf

Sailing in frigid weather is nastier than the mammary glands of Holden Caulfield’s witch. Brass monkeys makes me think about the Coast Guard crews patrolling Boston Harbor on this frigid day. Though sheathed in neoprene and thick protective jackets their service is another painful repercussion from a loose canon that rained hellfire on Marathon runners.

Tis the season to chill – but we simply aren’t built to hibernate. Go ahead, spend the evening sitting by a warm hearth with a hot toddy. You might even lose weight by just warming up since adding heat to a cold thing makes its molecules move faster. Program that into your Fitbit!

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Sioux Harbor

Flotsam, Jetsam, and Lagan

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Box o’ Flotsam. Camden, Maine Photo by JAL

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Knot a good way to start the year. Photo by JAL

Americans celebrate New Years Day with a variety of customs. Some young children are perplexed that their parents who ushered in the New Year with frothy toasts and fireworks a scant half dozen hours earlier spend the day tired, cranky and apathetic about the potential for a wonder-filled year. Some observe New Years Day as a time set aside for televised football marathons and quiet reflection. The most common secular tradition in the western world is to begin the year with a resolution – a promise to do better and become a better person. It’s a banner moment for fitness centers, weight loss programs, AA, educational programs, shrinks, and travel sites.

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Photo Robert De Jong, Flotsam on a Beach at Terschelling, Wadden Sea. Permission granted for use via Wikimedia Commons.

New Years Day is when many long to eliminate flotsam and jetsam from their lives. These are parts of the shipwrecks we captain, crew or come upon during any given year. Flotsam is floating wreckage – stuff aboard during a crisis that was washed into the sea and goes adrift. It can do great harm to other boats that accidently ram it. Flotsam is often toxic and does serious damage to the water and shore. It’s nasty stuff to encounter.

Jetsam is a form of prayer in action. Sailors shuck it. Beachcombers seek it. Jetsam consists of parts of a ship or its cargo that we purposely throw overboard (regardless of its monetary or sentimental value) in a last ditch attempt to lighten the load and Save Our Ship. Eventually it’s washed ashore and depending on what it is becomes either a hazard or a treasure.

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Courtesy RMS Titanic

Jetsam and flotsam are surface things. Not everything flung overboard floats. Some of the lost goods and boat parts sink to the bottom. Among the wreckage is Lagan. These are things once lost that can be recovered and saved. A certain degree of foresight and knowing where you are during the crisis are key to savaging parts of the wreck. Whether it’s marked by a GPS positioning from a May Day distress call or by a buoy what’s important is that Lagan can come up from the deep to the surface and be reclaimed. Lagan keeps its worth and meaning.

New Years Day is a good time to express gratitude for surviving the past year’s storms. It is a day when hope springs for prosperity, health, and serenity across the days ahead. Springs support life. We know them by what we see not from where they came. Springs are bodies of fresh water come from deep underground, far below the surface. Springs and lagans are not tainted by the flotsam and jetsam of old wrecks. Springs are clean. Fresh water is essential for life. Lagans can be re-used in good ways. Lagans remind us that all is not always lost – sometimes it just seems that way from the surface. Seize this day and greet 2015 with a fresh water toast– a token to the belief that hope for safe passage and salvaging lagans springs eternal.

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Round Spring, Missouri Ozarks Riverways near Eminence. Photo by JAL

Run Aground

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M/V Kent Reliant grounded on a reef. Photo courtesy of response.restoration.noaa.gov. File from Public Domain.

A third of all commercial ship accidents are caused by running aground. That means the vessels connected to the bottom of shallow water. They get stuck. That’s when bad goes to worse – changing tides and currents batter the boat. If there was damage done to the hull by whatever was on the bottom – while the boat can’t really sink, after all it is on the bottom – it is in danger of becoming ship wrecked. Running aground is an accident – whether it was caused by tide, poor visibility, or waves, at a given moment the water isn’t deep enough to float the boat. The ship and crew are in trouble. It’s rarely an option to get out and push the boat into deeper water or swim to shore. Without help or divine providence the potential for loss is great.

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Photo courtesy Amazon.com

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Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Most recreational boats that run aground cause little or no damage to the crew. The number one killer of boaters is excessive alcohol use. Booze trumps bad weather, hazardous waters, and not paying attention to where the boat is or who’s on board. Drinking at the helm of a boat is not an accident – but what happens next is the result of purposeful behavior – and is too often a preventable tragedy.

Festivities during winter holidays have a perilous downside with the power to sink relationships and drown feelings of comfort and joy. The stream of a tear contains the same salt that makes up vast seas. The last stretch of the calendar is the most hazardous of shipping and sipping lanes. If you’ve hit bottom you can’t sink further – you must get yourself up to the surface. Whether you are sailing solo or huddled in the grand salon of a cruise ship – its safer to act as if the helm is in your hands. Don’t just stand and stare at the water expecting it to take you someplace. It will not reward your anxiety nor gift you with contentment. Don’t expect the sea to rest because you are restless. Exercise moderation and you will become strong enough to navigate though these final days of the year. Pay attention to the currents, sky and shoreline so that you don’t get caught in the shallows.

UnknownThe difference between a holiday ordeal and a holiday adventure is attitude. Just as a compass needle seeks the north – position your feelings to find and move toward good tidings. Be and behave. To seek is not the same as to find – but it’s a start – as bright blue fish Dory said, “When life gets you down do you wanna know what you’ve gotta do?”

JUST KEEP SWIMMING

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A bright blue fish. Foam construction paper fish made with Elle when she was two by JAL.

Quotation from the Movie, Finding Nemo