Crisis Competence

Weather satellite photo courtesy of NOAA.

Welcome 2021. The millennium is now old enough to legally purchase and consume alcohol.  I hope it heeds the Roman comic Plautus’ view that, “moderation in all things is the best policy.” I’m taking a Goldilocks approach to the new year and will avoid things too hot or too cold. We’ve had enough of too hard or too soft views on government and health care. It might seem that the calendar has outrun 2020 but it’s doubtful that our collective vision is as blurry as it was a year ago. It’s clear to see that an abundance of hope is always accompanied by a profusion of fear.

Always behind my writing leading me ahead. JAL

I was one of the few social science teachers in the 70s that was not named Coach. One of the ongoing themes was to help students understand George Santayana’s missive, “those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” The kids were quick to inform me that in all of their dozen or so years on Earth they hadn’t done anything except to grow up. They protested the notion that were they doomed by the mistakes of thousands of years of millions of old people. I challenged them to learn from history and avoid the penalty. Forgetting or ignoring important things that happen over time around the world doesn’t mean the consequences will brighten the present and may well blight the future. These young people were on the cusp of changing the world for better and worse, and as we saw over time, for good. The goal of my rift was to get them to read their textbooks, newspapers, and anything they chose past the written driver’s exam.  I was that teacher who believed Descartes nailed it when he mused, “reading good books is like conversations with the finest minds of the past.” I fervently believed that youth write the future page by page over their lifetimes.

Those high school students are now in their 60s. I’m in contact with two of them. Leslie retired very young as a genetic engineer and sailed the Pacific for decades. Jessica retired from the business world and moved back home to her farming community. The three of us have reached an age that’s partially defined by crisis competence. We’ve lived long enough to recognize the destructive power of a creeping crisis; a situation foreshadowed by a series of events that decision makers don’t view as part of a pattern. Mostly, our personal creeping crises are the consequence of believing our bodies last forever even if we don’t heed our physician’s advice eat, drink, and exercise in moderation. That’s somewhat challenging in the midst of a sudden, universal crisis such as the Covid 19 pandemic where we’re more isolated and closer to the kitchen.

Fair warning but y’gotta look anyway. JAL

It’s tempting drive through the year without looking back. Fact is, in order to drive safely, you’ve got to check the rear view mirror. People can’t see exactly what’s behind as the mirror warns, “Objects May Be Closer Than They Appear”. A photo taken 22,200 miles above the earth foreshadows the effects of rapid climate changes.  The smoke of millions of burning trees, ignited by a record heat wave in the Pacific northwest, sailed the jet stream and dimmed the sun above New England. Global smoke shadows beckon a strange new world. Being crisis competent means knowing that the damage done will get worse the longer it’s ignored. Blacking out the lessons of ’20 will bring forth a wicked hangover for ’21.

 Obsessing on what’s behind when the vehicle is in Drive could cause your headlights to merge with someone else’s brake lights. Read the signs and pay attention to what you see while remembering what you’ve learned. Have confidence that having survived a challenging year you’ve grown enough competence to survive and thrive this new year. Think first decide next. Let hope tip the scales towards optimism.

Wash your hands and raise a glass to ’21.

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New day. New Year. Not too cold. Not too wet.
Photo by Scot Berstein @ Rhode Island Yacht Club

Betwixt Wind and Water – Lambs and Lions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Bad Gnus

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

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



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

Fall Up, Sail On

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Avast ye Scurvy Crew – Pirate Day on the Alton Pool

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Fleet Admirable Jerry with Commemorative Bucket water bucket. Sioux Harbor.

Fall winds bring sailors out to frolic on the Alton Pool of the Mississippi River. Small powerboats have been cast aside as soccer moms, the NFL, and the Cardinals’ boys of summer command summer boaters’ weekends. Hearty sailors who laid low during the spring into summer floods, when summer breezes that barely misted a mirror thus declaring sailing about dead, greet autumn with zeal.

There’s an adage in southern New England to beware of crazed Mainers Down East in the early spring because they’re all crazy with cabin fever. River folk take notice – sailors assume the persona of an Indy 500 driver who spent the final weeks of summer in Jamaica. Fall brings forth their need for speed as they trim the mainsail to capture the winds, fill balloons and canons with water, and fill their holds with fermented libations to enhance yarns told ‘round harbor bonfires. They become Mississippi River Pirates.

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Best or Most Not Johnny Depp Pirate Costume Winner – A Simple Man.

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Which Wench?

MRPs are the polar opposites of those not deserving of the moniker “pirates” who hail from east African ports. They amuse rather than terrorize other vessels. The only booty they ever plunder tends to be legitimately purchased and paid for with VISA cards. Their wenches are often captains or majority shareowners of the boats and comfortable bunkmates for decades. While they consider most rules to be “guidelines” – they’d never arrive unannounced in a cockpit – they always ask permission to come aboard. They flat out do not take hostages – most secretly revel in their empty land nests and note that while the Captain will sail safely with six to 10 passengers and crew – and may well have berths to accommodate 6 – the boat ONLY sleeps two.

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Cap Mike’s NotAwardWinning Couture & Motley Crew aboard his S2.

Some people fall into a mild depression as the days grow shorter, trees shed, grasses dry up and daily highs mean its too chilly for flip flops but just right for donning cords and sweats. These sad souls think the third season is a precursor to the third and final act of the dramatic play, Life Span. Snap out of it – some never live beyond a day and some wish they’d been dead for years. Life is at once a tragedy and comedy with plot lines crisscrossing pleasure and pain, starring the characters Joy and Sorrow, set in rain and sunshine with a mysterious theme. Heed the wisdom of the philosopher Horace and the fictitious teacher John Keating – Carpe Diem – Make Your Lives Extraordinary. It’s not just the events of a day that create memories to carry us through the year but our perception of the meaning of those happenings that silence or give voice to our power to sing – “It’s been a really great day.”

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Work Like a Captain – Play Like a Pirate