Soon May the Wellerman Come

Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, photo JAL

Supply chains are supposed to be efficient and economical, not like last year’s flow of face masks, hand sanitizers. and toilet paper. That chain busted at the same time Dr. Fauci advised; cover your mouth, wash your hands, and mind your own business. The crisis could be abated by staying put and keeping your distance until the plague passed or a vaccine arrived. The world waited for the wellerman to come.

Dutch Ships on a Calm Sea. Willem van de Velde II. Rijkesmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands, JAL

Prior to 2020 thinking about toilet paper was something left best to weird Mr. Whipple who scolded customers for squeezing the Charmin. My thoughts were limited to stocking the boat with fast dissolving toilet paper and hoping George would learn to swap out the empty tube for a new roll. Life is often amusing and frequently confusing. None of us dreamed that we’d soon mask up, get in line and pray Mr. Whipple had left a meager supply of off brand, cheek chaffing tissue. With over 7 trillion bare butts on planet Earth, toilet paper was a commodity in short supply. There were few supply ships able to deliver. And so we waited for the wellerman to bring us sugar, tea plus rum and T P.

Now it’s ’21, the virus has come of age.  Ear worms have pushed away from 2020 Hip Hop (WAP) and dirges (I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry) to 19th century sea shanties. Makes sense. The virus left many feeling as bereft as an old salt a’top the crows nest on midnight watch. Folks know better than to grab babies or old ladies to sing them Hip Hop, fearing, God forbid, they discern the lyrics. Brother Love’s Traveling Show is currently led by a young Scotsman[1] who brings us together with sea shanties. We know the words and can carry the tunes with Quint and Hooper aboard the ill-fated Orca. These are shaggy dog tales of early morning drunken sailors, seamen like Joe who hauled away, and a beach boy and his grandfather aboard the Sloop John B. Today’s top sea shanty crashing the ‘Net is about whalers aboard the Billy of Tea. There’s whale toggled to their harpoons that’s drags the ship for longer than the endless song as the crew waits for a supply ship (wellerman).

A Ship on the High Seas Caught by a Squall, The Gust, Willem van de Velde II (1680) Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands. Photo by JAL

It’s the song of this dreary season.  We’ve stockpiled enough crap traps and loo rolls to wipe away a zillion dingleberrys. The supply chain is still Kinked and we’re still waiting for a couple shots, not in a glass, in the arm. Whether the cargo aboard our wellerman is sung by Pfizer, Moderna, or that Euro-indie group Astra Zenica, I’m going to sing it like sailor Joe. He saw black clouds rising and bellowed, “Away haul away, we’ll hope for better weather. Away. Ho! We’ll haul away together!”

The Billy of Tea is still chasing the whale. When the wellerman comes, with a tot of sugar and rum for the tea, the crew will take their leave and go.  I’m eager to leave harbor and set sail again. Until then, “we’ll haul away together, we’ll haul away, Joe.”


[1] You can see/listen (without logging into Tik Tok) Nathan Evanss sing Soon May the Wellerman Come at https://www.tiktok.com/@nathanevanss/video/6910995345421962498?_d=secCgYIASAHKAESMgowbCsJx9/hZ4trtZspE/K7/0w12D+Y0N6a/XcqO84JIEOiQ5vKVCmiJ0l5xG6zjYSAGgA=&language=en&sec_uid=MS4wLjABAAAAe5JtE7EmiWU4tUj3vnZxuCtcrJhcXu1d_nq6cTOVehCJBZUOgyBFKbLf5oRIMrG-&sec_user_id=MS4wLjABAAAAX3u16nzRZpGvQ_aTzNxTu_OTMye571axRcH4Gsk3ma1ZU4cnZMx9dQCH8SVT9kkM&share_author_id=6780028321529332742&share_link_id=6FB74FDE-33B7-44C0-A57D-AB2AD2F35960&tt_from=copy&u_code=d2d4k00i7hl4hc&user_id=6608890212703797254&utm_campaign=client_share&utm_medium=ios&utm_source=copy&source=h5_m

Cruising the Dog Days

Newport, RI aboard S/vAquidneck. Photo JAL
Solitude

Plagues and the boredom that accompanies surviving them are not new to humankind. They are as old as Angela Landsberry warbling Beauty and the Beast. Take a lesson from the famed plague of 1347 that sacked Europe. It immigrated through the toe of Italy’s boot. The plague entered port aboard a dozen ships returning from a multi-national sales gathering in the Black Sea. Most of the crews were dead but the fleas and rats aboard gave the trip Five Stars on Yelp for its incredible all day buffet. The root cause of Europe’s deadly pestilence was the stowaway germ, Yersina pestis. Over the next five centuries, despite bloodletting, boil splitting, vinegar baths, and donating old clothing to the less fortunate, the germ ebbed and flowed wreaking death on 20 million folks.  

Hot August Night with a light breeze. Newport, RI.
Photo JAL

The Bubonic Plague was persistent. Fortunately, back in Sicily in the port of Ragusa (“the slab” – or “losagna” in Italian) where the stowaway Yersina petis first made landfall, local officials declared mandatory social distancing for all sailors entering the port city of Ragusa. Crews and masters alike were not allowed to de-board for 40 days (in Italian – “quarantine”)

Quarantines spurred a novel coastal Italian cuisine consisting of spicy tomato sauce (ragu) layered between slabs of pasta and cheese. Losagna became a quarantine staple. Sailors who survived were allowed to mingle with the local ladies if they could say no to the question, “Ya seen a pestis?”. They may have left behind a few love bugs but the plague itself was abated. The Prince of Sicily declared Wednesdays as “spaghetti day” (a tradition still followed today by descendants of Anthony Martignetti de Norte Boston) to honor the boon to the local economy.

Spinning a hyperbole on history helps to explain why yearning for a hot slab of lasagna at Sunday dinner is actually triggered by a subconscious awareness that we’re going to get through this together. DNA holds a secret code for remembering things that make us feel better. Wellness is beckoned when we recall memories of being in a noisy kitchen crammed with family and friends. The yeasty scent of freshly baked bread reminds us of a favorite quilt on a winter’s eve. Tastebuds Tango as bites of melted cheese nestled between steamy layers of briny pasta glide down our throats.   We share a misty moment of gratitude for the freedom to gather, hug, and plan our next voyages.

Raise a glass to the day when all the rats and their nasty little fleas have left the sinking ships and be thankful that Boat US towed us safely back to home port.

These are the day dreams of the dog days of August. It’s a tale as old as time.

Some kind of Dog Day for Rex and His Cat (Photo by Jeff Cook)

Red Skies

Photo Courtesy of Scott Berstein, North Kingstown, RI July 2020

Over the past six months, regardless of whether we spend our days on bodies of water, deserts, or mountain ranges, many crew members aboard the great ship Earth have been keeping a weather eye open.  We’ve seen red skies at dawn and have been warned. Lots of folks are seriously under the weather in the midst of a raging tempest that’s not bound to the winds nor soothed by the sun. Some of us live in states that battened down the hatches, pulled up the gangplank, and quarantined those who were not already aboard before the downpour. It seems we’ve boarded a ship bound for Drakes Passage and are enduring the century’s roughest sea passage.

Sunrise, Jamestown Bridge, RI. Photo by Scott Berstein

Rather than spend my summer days being wary of lurking sharks (certain portends of death for superstitious sailors of old) I’ve been enjoying vivid coastal sunsets. Most days end with the sun hemorrhaging ruby rays into the crimson sea. These red skies are sailors’ delights.

Weather is the Jay Gatsby of Earth’s atmosphere. It moves from West to East where life seems more dazzling. Each day ends with sunlight being scattered by tiny bits of dust as high pressure sinks the air. Red skies at sunset forecast that morning will bear no bad weather and threaten tomorrow. Each sunset finds us on the cusp of a new chapter in our lives.

Narragansett, RI. Photo by Scott Berstein

Given the risks of sailing and the fact that for most of maritime history sailors couldn’t swim, and all boats leaked, “goodbye” is a word not to be uttered upon a ship. My grandkids and I always sing goodnight to the sunshine and thank it for a really great day. I never fall asleep without hoping for another great day. I know the color of the sky can’t promise a safe passage through any day or night. The best I can do, just in case dawn is born by red skies, is whisper a prayer for fair winds and following seas and hope these blessings are shared by you.

Jim’s Dock, Jerusalem, RI. Photo by Scott Berstein

Note: We are all rounding the Horn this summer. It’s a scary time for whether you look off the port or starboard rails, it’s clear we’ve not left this maelstrom a’stern. Scott Berstein is a Narragansett local, who I believe winter’s-over as a teacher. I found his posts on the local Face Book groups for Narragansett and South Kingstown. Scott set up a challenge to capture “perfect” sunset and sunrise venues in southern Rhode Island. His photos are posted at the beginning and end of each of these summer days. I can’t thank him enough for bringing forth hope and peace, and the promise of “carpe diem.”.

Hoarfrost

Hoarfrost on the rigging of S/v Carina. Photo by Leslie Linkila

Winter in the Midwest is a little long. Our fleet is tucked away for the season of Hunkering Down. Our bodies like our boats become vessels for ultra cold matter. Everything within and around us takes a time-out and seems to pause. As the Mercury dips we have less energy to move about. It’s a quiet season.  We gather around hot soup and blazing hearths. Winter is the time of books with many pages, layers of clothing, brisk walks, chills, shivers, and a sense of loss because warm sunshine has forgotten us. Looking at deep and silent snow after a blizzard it seems that everything is at rest.

Seemingly still on the surface yet always in motion below.
Ex Libris @ Sioux Harbor, Mississippi River. JAL

Nothing could be further from the truth. Nature never rests.

Nordic Explorer who adventured in the North and South Poles. Photo by AMLD

There are scientists whose life work involves trapping and cooling atoms to absolute zero. Much like the Norwegian Helmer (“Helly”) Hanssen, they are explorers of the deep cold ranges in our world. Ultra cold atoms are gateways to new fields of exploration involving infinitesimally small particles found in color, light, stuff, and all living things.  These particles are a primary source of motion in the universe yet they are minuscule and can never be observed directly. Scientists use complex mathematics about the ultra cold to learn how it works. They’ve discovered that everything, down to the sub atomic level, is eternally in motion thus anything that matters is perpetually changing.

All of the atoms, cells, bones, and organs that compose human bodies move constantly in the form of waves. A wave is a type of motion that’s described as a phase that takes place over space and time. Essentially, we’re in a continuous state of disequilibrium, always moving, always seeking stability that doesn’t really exist. We’re surfing the universe on the waves of time and light.

Narragansett Beach, RI. Photo by JAL

Just ask a teacher to describe a classroom of pubescent middle schoolers and you’ll learn more than enough about waves and human development. Teachers know that the wave effects on human development are chaotic, seemingly random, and transformative.

Surfers intuitively sense that they at one with waves – and waves are part of their core being. Surfers use their understanding about the speed and length of waves so that they ride the lip or fly off a crest. The wave energy within us creates a flow of changes that affect how we move and where we go, physical and emotional growth, and transformative life phases we surf from birth through death. Ripples to tsunamis – sooner or later the waves crest, grow quiet, evaporate or reach a shore – the ones in kids crest, barrel and crash as they breakdown the shores of childhood and build up the coastlines of adulthood.

During winters when warm air drapes itself over cold water the conjoining forces bring forth fog. As the air temp plummets, tiny water droplets huddle together according to the rules of ultra cold and form hoarfrost. Standing aboard our boat we can’t see where we’ve been or what lies ahead. If we look closely at where we stand at this moment in time, we will learn new things that will allow us to discover the kind of person we can be this new year. We are energy, connected to light, and always in motion. The days will get longer so don’t be afraid to chill out and keep moving.

Ultra Cold Gnome Norway bound this January. JAL

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.

You Never Know

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!”

Bamboo 1 

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.

 

 

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.

Let’s Welcome a Little Acedia Aboard

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Taking It Easy

The buoyant version of spring cleaning is known as commissioning the boat. When the temperatures creep above 65º F boaters in the northern lats get the itch to spit and polish their topsides. It seems counterintuitive to begin a recreation season by working one’s butt off but scaly winter white thighs and a tad-tight drawstring on one’s shorts motivate a lot of elbow grease.

We began the process of hanking on the mainsail (it entails hooking the skinny pointy top end of the sail onto a long line that goes 50’ up the mast and shoving the bottom of it along the boom (the long metal beam that runs parallel to the boat and will knock you senseless or dead if you get in its way – hence the term, boom!) last Sunday. This just happened to be Mother’s Day, about an hour or so after I was released from a hospital for a nasty upper respiratory infection. George was humoring me by letting me recover on the boat because part of the treatment includes a drug that makes rabid pit bulls in Mexican cantinas after midnight appear insipid.

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Birds decided to build their nest again in the anchor locker –

Over the course of the next few hours I scrubbed stainless steel fixtures, oiled the teak, cleaned the fresh water tank, vacuumed cushions, and profusely sweated. Missing the second through fourth steps of the ladder down the companionway and bruising my inner arm from elbow to pit, I finally took a break.

That’s when it dawned on me, we boaters need to remember to invite a bit of Acedia aboard. Acedia is the polar opposite of engagement and activity. It’s topor, a state of “I really don’t get a darn”, or as Generation Xers say, “Whatever.” Acedia is something rare to most Baby Boomers hell-bent on doing things and keeping the fires of interest in the world flaming. There is a risk for boaters who imbibe too much rum in large Tervis tumblers over not enough ice, that an extra dollop of acedia can lead to apathy and a refusal to keep up the pace. But mostly, that’s just a hangover from the too much rum and too little ice that split the main brace the prior evening. Seeing a messy sailboat is more painful than a glimpse of unwashed undies hanging from a clothesline. Keeping a ship shape vessel is a matter of character – and pride. But still, there has to be a limit to all the spitting and polishing that goes along with keeping up good appearances.

I did not see one other female on the river Sunday. Given that most of the women in the harbor are mothers, daughters, and grandmothers – or at least know such a woman, I could understand the lure of having someone else break out the barbeque and dust the brownies. Not me, I was content with my scrubbing. Acedia is often associated with solitude, in the prison cell sense but more like a monk who took a vow of silence because he wasn’t much good company anyway. I’d intended to relax and do nothing – which on a boat generally means doing something.

Mothers by and large aren’t familiar with Acedia whether they are pregnant with neonates or the reigning matriarch of a clan boasting four generations. Motherhood can be lonely (midnight watch during croup season through 30 minutes past curfew) but it’s rarely a solitary experience. Whether your child is nearby, abroad, or resting in heavenly peace there’s always a sense of being entangled together. This is because our children are made of ourselves and when we are separated this weird spooky phenomenon takes place where we stay eternally entangled. We can sense each other’s existence no matter how far separated by distance and time. This entanglement is as real as a mother’s love that knows no boundaries or the way the moon reflects on water.

Once in a while, it’s good to just set a spell, take in the now of simply being on a boat with nothing more to do than realize that as a Mother you’re never alone – but a little quiet acedia makes it easier to hear the joy in your soul.

Of Marshmallows and Whalers

 

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Whalers @ Middlebridge, Narrow River Photo by JAL

Humans have an innate thinking strategy designed to deliver us from temptation. People are wired with that knowledge that, ‘You can’t always get what you want” – at least not right now. Discerning between wants and needs is tricky. Not getting something on demand is probably being erased from our neural circuits by repeated encounters with the TV remote and Siri.

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Eggs (circa 1968) waiting to grow up to be Ghostbusters’ Stay Puff Marshmallows Man

During the turbulent Age of Aquarius, a Stanford researcher with the ethics of Willy Wonka lured unsuspecting but ever so bright preschoolers (kids of faculty and smart students) to his study. They were tempted not by a proverbial apple – but by puffy globs of corn syrup, sugar and gelatin, affectionately known as marshmallows. The experiment was a simple test of kids’ ability to accept a small reward now for a big payoff later. It played out as a game; present the kids with one marshmallow. Tell them they have two options; 1) ring a bell and the marshmallow is yours, free and clear, 2) chill, wait for the researcher to come back in about 15 minutes and get two marshmallows. Hardly the stuff of rocket science but it changed how we envision self control.

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I learned about delayed gratification when growing up on Long Island Sound. First, kids had to earn Red Cross Beginners Certificates to be allowed to swim past the safety section roped off for free whizzing toddlers and leaky old ladies in baggy black swim suits. Second, swim lessons always begin the week of high tide and wrap up the second week during low tide. The difference between tides is that at first the swimmers practice blowing bubbles into frigid somewhat clean water and wind up sucking tepid mucky sulfuric smelling sludge into their mouths week two. Most kids endured paddling about in murky stench by focusing on the big kids jumping off the swim dock anchored out past the baby old lady cage. Nobody ever signed up for two sessions of swimming lessons. Freedom was already just another word for nothing left to lose. Hang in through the second week and the entire harbor is your playpen.

Third lesson of growing up in salt water – by their teenage years, everyone has a boat. Everyone that is, except my rag tag friends and me. Parents do not count in this scenario. My parents had a boat but I did not. More than anything in the world, I wanted my own 13’ Boston Whaler. These sturdy skiffs boast the ability to stay afloat even when cut in half. I pleaded my case, “Pop, all the kids have their own boats. All I want is a little Boston Whaler. I’ll even take you fishing sometimes if you buy the gas.”

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Prop Walk in a Shallow Story

Pop was all for it – as soon as I got a job and paid for it. Pay for it? I babysat every weekend for a whopping 50¢ an hour. The usual gig was from six ‘til midnight on weekends. If I saved $3 a week ($156 a year) it would take a hundred years to pay for a boat! This was not a funny situation – relying on OPBs (Other People’s Boats) simply would not do.

I needed to be like the Stanford kids who patiently endured 15 minutes distracting their attention from the spongy confection by humming Mozart’s hits, rhythmically kicking their heels on the chair rungs as they visualized twinkling stars and the alphabet letters in sequential order (AB, CD, LMNOP). These were the kids who successfully delayed their gratification, earned two marshmallows, eventually earned top grades on the SAT, and adhered to Nancy Regan’s advice to just “Say No”. Not only did these kids grow up and snag the best jobs in Silicone Valley but for every minute they endured past the urge to snatch and scarf the first marshmallow, 30 years later they had a .2% reduction in body fat over the grab and go kids! Marshmallow therapy made them rich and skinny!

“Keep your eye on the prize, work hard, dream big and it’s yours” was my mantra. At 21 my first boat transaction went down. It was a used, aluminum 12’ Sears Roebuck fishing skiff, with two oars, purchased from my employer, Mrs. Main, who paid me $1.25 per hour for doing clerical work at a nonprofit. The boat ate my first paycheck.

Ten years later we bought our first powerboat, a solid old Mark Twain 20’ inboard outboard (IO) for playing on and in the Mississippi. It was not a Boston Whaler because there simply weren’t any to be found in middle-American boating venues. Unfortunately, we sunk it on a rock dike about two years later. You can’t really sink on a dike as rocks the size of beach balls are smashed more in than under the hull. When a sinking boat is towed to a harbor the river doesn’t bother asking permission to come aboard. It fills the craft up to it’s gunnels. George abandoned ship. Even then, it didn’t sink all the way to the bottom because evidently boat builders expect people to do stupid things with small craft and so they build them with stuff that floats even under extreme conditions such as the Mississippi current hissing, “Surrender the Booty.”

At 39, I owned my first sailboat, a 12’ slab of fiberglass that resembled a faded orange surfboard with a sail. It was sitting forlornly on the front yard with a cardboard, “For Sail, Cheap” sign. It would have cost an entire summer of Saturday night babysitting back in my high school days, but now I was a college professor and could afford to splurge fifty bucks. It was a cash on the spot deal.

Many boats transactions followed – some with sails, some with paddles but none with the seductive allure of the bright blue deck paint of Boston Whalers.

Fifteen years ago, I called home from a Rhode Island marina parking lot, my voice flooded with emotion, “Hey, Pop, I did it. I just bought that 1968 Boston Whaler – paid cash.” The hull cost the same as it did in ’68 and the engine was less than 10 years old. It was mint and mine.

I’m at an age where some pessimistic, “got to get it now people” are joking that they don’t buy green bananas. They are probably the same kids who were happy with just one marshmallow. I’m two feet and two Whalers past my first. When I look at it straight on – my grins are reciprocated as I hum, “If you try, you just might find, you get what you need.”

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Seeing is Believing – You Just Might Try