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.

Two Ships Passed


Photo by TJC

Finn is bobbing on the outgoing tide, her docklines are taught and straining to be free. She is unaware that when the wish is granted – the lines will be coiled and hung from a hook, her hull cradled by a metal berth, the topsides shrouded beneath a royal blue tarp. She will be separated from the sea and her crew, tucked away in the backyard for three long seasons. It’s time to swallow the anchor and retire from our seaside hamlet for another year. We are returning to our home midway downstream of North America’s greatest drainage system and leaving behind a narrow estuary with a mere seven mile flow from source to sea. Should we enjoy the continued blessings of health and prosperity we will return in a year.

The rivers flowing today will be long gone when we return. The water between the banks will have found its place in the sea or have joined the clouds in the sky. New waters will bubble up through the ground and fall from the sky as Nature invests in the flow between the banks. It is a small tribute to the anxiety that rides lightly astride my aging process that a humble prayer runs through my soul – a petition for good health and sharp wits to remain with those I love during the upcoming circle around the sun.

My worries concerning as yet unknown events that will transpire during Finn’s hibernation blossom from a seed planted a exactly a year ago when two ships passed in the night. Longfellow would explain that time laid its hand upon our dear friend’s heart, “gently, not smiting it”. It was as a “harper placing his hand upon his harp, to deaden it’s vibrations.” And so it was. The music ended yet the deafening quiet that followed his finale blares loud in my memory. While Peter’s heart was stilled, over the following two days his spirit briefly soared close to shore. We are certain that it heard the first cries of his newborn grandchild.  And so it was, that a mere year ago, “on the oceans of life” a grandfather and a newborn passed and  spoke to one another, then sailed into the night. Today the child’s heart vibrates with youthful zeal. She laughs to the beat of clapping hands as the family sings to her loudly and off key in celebration of her first birthday.

Today our family is reminded, by Longfellow’s verse, that, “God sent his singers upon the earth, With songs of sadness and of mirth, That they might touch the hearts of men, and bring them back to heaven again.” We are charged, as God’s earthly singers, to be in tune with the angels by sharing our grief and joy, fear and hope whenever we mourn a loss and celebrate a new life. “So on the oceans of life – we pass and speak to one another.”

On these tender days of August, for the rest of my earthly tenure, “My soul (will be) full of longing, 
For the secret of the Sea, 
And the heart of the great ocean
, Sends a thrilling pulse through me.”  Sail on through the heavens, dear Peter. Oh! What grand adventures lie before your bow, dear Maggie, as you captain your own vessel upon the stream for many, many circumnavigations around the sun.


Upstream or downstream? Depends on from where you look


Quotations from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poems, Ships the Pass in the Night, The Golden Legend, The Singers, and Secrets of the Sea.