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

 

Winter Kill

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Winter kill at Sioux Harbor. Carp. Nasty alive. Wretched dead.

Whether you believe in climate change or not – I find it odd that I’m spending President’s Weekend (3rd weekend of February) boating on the Mississippi. It’s peculiar because for the past quarter century our merry band of friends, offspring, and their springs have spent this particular weekend skiing down the bluffs of the upper Mississippi. That’s downhill, snow skiing where we reveled in temperatures just shy of 30° F. We played outside all day and it felt good to be cold.

Generally, people don’t succumb to winter kill. Bad ankles and metallic knees force a lot of Boomers to set their ski gear out in spring garage sales. Aging and the ravaging effects of disease take folks off the river. Some of those diseases are brought on by the sloth-like

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Wouldn’t it be nice if all social media were this peaceful?

tendency of people living North of 35° latitude to hibernate during the winter months. The most exercise they get is getting up for snacks during Netflix binges. Post holiday sales blitzes mark down Eddie Bauer and North Face outerwear to at least 60% off MRSP. There aren’t a whole lot of reasons to stay inside. Our closets are stuffed with jackets from the clearance sales of winters past. Pick one and get outside.

The high here today in St. Louis is expected to top 70°. We’re headed back to the river to tend to our sailboat, Ex Libris. There’s nothing we have to do – she’s been decommissioned for the winter and is tethered safely to the dock. We’re restless because Mother Nature is teasing us. Or perhaps, she’s sending forth a not so subtle warning. If it’s this warm mid-winter – imagine the blazing inferno of July.

There are a lot of dead carp decomposing on the river this weekend. Typical for this time of year – much like the winter kill of too much inside screen time. Get on out – it’ll do you good.

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Captain Joe Fisher aboard his 34′ trawler Feb. 18, 2017, with George at the helm.

Spectrum

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Beach path, The Nest on Indian Rocks Beach

Normal is relative and over rated. What’s a normal boat look like? While you’re at it, show me a typical beach. I expect unique responses – from Hobie Cats to the sliver of sand at Mavericks in Half Moon Bay. Normal boats and beaches span a wide spectrum – the way each color of a rainbow has its own identity and right of being.

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South Denpasar,Bali Beach and Boats JAL

What’s a normal person like? Psychologists decided that like boats and beaches people can be judged on what is deemed as normal and typical. They set up a scale that ranges behaviors by factors such as social deficits and strengths (easy to get along with to PITA), clarity of communication (clear to garbled), interests (boats and swamp pluff), repetitive motion (ex., swimming and finger tapping), and sensory issues (loves to be wet or no contact with water).

We show an interest by engaging with it regularly or collecting a whole bunch of it. When someone’s focus seems is fixated to the point it becomes a defining character trait others may question whether or not the interest is healthy and normal. People can be critical of others and judge their habits as indicators of weirdness.

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If the shoe fits…

I was a geeky kid who hiked alone through swamps, creeks, fields and harbors collecting stuff to look at under my microscope. I collected books to read and stack up in my room should the need to read them again arise as predictably as a neap tide. By middle age, collecting boats was more interesting than merely collecting books about boats. As the economy prospered my interest flourished and sails, paddles, engines, ropes, and anchors accumulated.

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Blue Hues on the Block Island Ferry JAL

I needed to tame my passion for the sea with something requiring less space, maintenance, and annual property taxes. I thought about my youth spent toting a butterfly net and knapsack stuffed with collection jars trudging through the shallow waters of Long Island Sound. I saw myself in the same footwear year in and out – brown, scuffed, sloppy and soggy Topsiders. My tickets to the sea held ten toes, two feet and a prayer to be invited on somebody’s boat. I showed up uninvited at yacht clubs and marinas but was never turned away. Topsiders were calling cards, proof of membership among groups whose social calendar centered on tides and waterlines. Who else would wear grungy leather shoes with white rubber soles in an era of Go Go boots and ballet flats?

Somewhere along the spectrum of normal is a tiny speck for people who temper their constant desire to be on the water by slipping into a pair of deck shoes. That’s my sweet spot on the rainbow. I wear them for play and work – because I can. Topsiders aren’t particularly comfortable shoes. Their weak arch support is balanced with a tenacious grip on wet decks that prevents a lot of painful slips and injuries. Security creates the feeling of comfort.

IMG_5968Some professional women strut their stuff with Tory Burch. I’m confident in my Sperrys. I accessorize the crisp lines of Brooks Brothers pinstripes with color appropriate Topsiders. My collection spans a rainbow of colors that match my quirks and wardrobe.

Obviously, anyone with a tight grasp of normal is going to find me pushing the envelop at either end of the spectrum. Knowing this makes me sensitive to and appreciative of; off-the-bubble nerds, gentle souls, misunderstood leaders, idiosyncratic neighbors, students of all ages, and interesting yet atypical people. I fit with some and not well with others.

That’s okay. The only things that I collect more obsessively than Topsiders are words. I line Jeri@Ragtime-1them up, left to right, in all kinds of combinations of consonants, vowels, verbs and nouns. I’ve just arranged 587 words for no better reason than to mull over the notion that normal is found at every point on the spectrum of human behavior. Why do I like Topsiders so much? Because collecting lots of shoes to wear on boats is a whole lot less expensive and more normal than collecting lots of boats to match with shoes.

Undertow

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Cairn @ Narragansett Beach. Never eternal, sometimes monumental.

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Carribean exhaling Jost Van Dyke @ The Soggy Dollar

Every wave has an undertow. Bodies of water breathe. When the sea exhales waves break and spew phlegm onto beaches. Oceans meet land and release energy in the spirit of a Zen master. Water wants only to flow. When freed from the sea it stretches until its forward energy is depleted. It is recaptured and commanded to retreat or be evaporated by the sun. Undertows form currents that lick low and slink steadily towards offshore. Undertows suck sand away from one’s feet. They extend silky invitations to follow into deeper water and relish pleasures secreted deep beyond the surf zone.

Undertows are unsettling. They aren’t dangerous like rip currents that highjack swimmers and hold them hostage until they sink beneath frothing waves. Rips are wicked – life threatening, maritime thugs who snatch breathless, unsuspecting swimmers into the darkness below sun dappled waves.  Undertows are temptations -like people who pull others into situations beyond their comfort zones.

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Surf line far from a shore that was underwater just a couple of hours earlier. Narragansett RI

Rogue waves are worse than rips. Twenty years ago we went to the America’s Cups races in San Diego. It was early February when the Pacific coastal waters boast of enormous, rough and unpredictable wave action. We went beach walking on a blustery afternoon. The surf was frigid, confused, and angry. Wave crests towered above the pier  and roared louder than a herd of jet engines. We stayed far from the waterline away from the breakers’ icy spray. Wind burned and chilled, I turned my back on the sea and headed further up shore. A silent wall of water broached my reverie. It slipped ahead of my feet its force buckled my knees and knocked me face forward beneath the surface. Startled, legs akimbo, arms flailing, sand and water penetrated every orifice.

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What lies beneath the undertow?

The water disappeared as mysteriously as it had overtaken me -swiftly and silently. I retched salt water, spit out gritty sand, raked seaweed from my hair, and snorted gray foam. People higher up the beach described a monster wave that broke and pushed a surge of deep water far up the beach before sucking everything into its clutch.

Never turn your back to the ocean. We were lucky – later that week, the coach of the Chargers’ daughter was not. She and her brother were out on the coastal rocks scattering their Mom’s ashes when a rogue struck them off guard and dragged her soul to eternity.

Maybe maturity is staying clear of rips and rogues whose company is worse than being alone. It’s only a beach if there is water. I don’t mind being tempted beyond my comfort zone – that’s where adventures are born and wonder is raised. Like the sea; breathe out, breathe in – it’s not a beach vacation until you get wet.

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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

Watershed Moment

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Our 15′ Montauk, Boston Whaler, Finn anchored @ the mouth of the Narrow River JAL

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Hurricane Sandy ripped the roots from the ground and fed the trees to the Narrow River. JAL

Sheriff Brody hated the water. We never knew why then he took the job as Amity Island’s Sheriff, other than his view that “it’s only an island if you look at it from the water.” Oceans, like rivers, unite and divide the land and people. The two most important rivers in my life, one narrow, the other the mightiest, have many stories to tell, and some speak to my heart. The wisdom gleaned from river stories depends on the point of view that I take to make them meaningful.

The Narrow (aka, Pettaquamscutt) River is a seven-mile long tidal inlet created by a receding glacier 20,000 years ago and that dried out after a couple thousand years. The melting glacier raised the sea levels that in turn sullied the basin’s pristine lakes with brackish waters. The river began to pulsate to the rhythm of tides. This tiny river is fed and abused by its 14 square mile watershed – lands drenched by rain, sewage and springs that drain into the river. During times past, the Narragansett and Niantic Tribes heard and understood the Pettaquamscutt watershed’s voice. Watersheds are untrustworthy confidants – they leak secrets downstream about who you are and how well you care for the land and water. Water sustains all – water destroys as easily as it creates. When life as we know it changes suddenly – for better or for worse – it’s a watershed moment.

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Deb & George shedding their kayaks. JAL

A watershed moment is a critical point that marks a division. It is triggered by an experience or crisis that profoundly alters the future. Just as heavy rains on California’s mountains later flood the valleys below or bury homes in mudslides, watershed moments are epochal. Some life changes are created by a single choice or mistake so powerful that one’s course is diverted from hope to despair. Our sights are abruptly severed from envisioning what might be to a full frontal view of great loss.

Voltaire observed that it is the privilege of a real genius, especially one who opens a new path, to make mistakes with absolute freedom from facing consequences. There are few Einsteins aboard most boats. The things we do and say aren’t always that smart, and like the steady trickle of a tiny stream, little things can create great changes over time that rival the work of cataclysmic deluges.

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My sunfish, Solstice – oblivious to watershed moments ahead. JAL

We are watersheds fed by pure springs and rain, while also somewhat tainted by our own piss and vinegar that drains into relationships flowing through the lives of those we love. Regardless of our age, income, gender and education, chances are there is at least one watershed moment ahead. This moment will divide us from some things and unite us with others – like a river does to land. Somewhere down the channel is a milestone that is going to have profound effects later on. It might be a situation where doing the right thing is the most painful moment of your life.

We tend to recognize watershed moments after we’ve sailed pass them rather when they lie ahead. Find a quiet space and listen to the memories of stories whispered by ripples and waves. If you listen long enough the stories will merge into one great understanding. If you look hard enough at a river you’ll see things you never knew existed and possibilities never imagined. Be aware of and protect your own watershed and river. It’s an optimal way to invest in a healthy, vibrant life.

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Kathy’s day lilies survived Hurricane Sandy and bloom every summer. JAL

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

Watching Time

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Watch me, Now.

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It’s later if you think.

The endless loop of classic and current holiday carols keeps reminding us that it’s the most wonderful, hap hap happiest time of the year. That depends. Adults bemoan feeling that the year went by much too fast and there isn’t enough time to get ready for the holidays. Kids find these days dragging on way too long before it’s time to unwrap presents. As the good Dr. Suess noted, “How did it get so late so soon?”

My grand daughter is learning to tell time. She finds decoding clocks and watches to be very exciting. She also can’t wait for Christmas and can’t understand why it’s time to go to bed when she isn’t tired – just cranky – not tired. Only Peter Pan beat the clock – at the tender age of two he did not understand that children grow up. So he never grew up. Watching Elle telling time makes me feel like Wendy’s mother who cried, “Why can’t you remain like this forever!” Rather than feel sad, I’m passing on to her some things to learn about time.

images-3#1: You can’t turn back time. We can hold fast to memories of finestkind moments but to live is to leave the past behind what’s now and what will be. So let go of hurts, misgivings and anger because to be alive is to be where we are right now. We don’t need to share now with then.

#2: Spend time doing things that will have a hearty return on investment. Our favorite things don’t cost money – they take our time. Like, learning to read,  playing just for the fun of it,  messing with boars, loving others and ourselves.

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If you’ve been nice – a wake up call is good. If naughty – it’s not.

#3: If you’re really happy when you’re wasting time – you’re not wasting time. The opposite is also true – if you’re miserable wasting time – you are wasting time – and none of us are given an unlimited amount of time to begin with – time doesn’t recycle and you can’t reuse it. Use it or lose it –  lost time is a shame.

#4: Wearing a watch doesn’t mean you’ll be on time. I should know – I collect watches and am chronically late. Sometimes it’s not better to be late than never.

#5: Jingle bell time is a swell time. Go ahead – rock around the clock – seize the day – it’s time. Take time to make time.

Check the time? Peter Pan was right, it’s like a ticking crocodile isn’t it? Time is chasing after all of us. I guess this means – we are all ahead of our time.

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