Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Into the blue

It was beautiful Fall day today, clear, almost cloudless, with just enough breeze to kick up a little whitecap on the lake at Eagle Creek. The water was a surprisingly clear blue, similar to much of the water I've seen in one of my favorite countries, Ireland. Barkley had stayed at a friends for a couple of nights while some work was done on the Range and there were photos being taken today for the "virtual tour". So I drove into the city after work to bring him home, listening to him pant behind me like a demented air compressor on the drive West. Passing the large reservoir on 56th street, I thought, it would be a good day to be out on a boat, if many of the boats weren't already put up for the winter that will be tapping at our door early some morning. Calling with portents of the coming cold, a Jehovah's Witness of chilly repentance for summer frolic.

There is part of me that likes the winter, the part that likes to hole up and cook casual dinners for friends, watching it snow while I watch old movies, curled up with Barkley on the couch. Mornings spent stalking an elusive whitetail, followed by an evening in front of the fire, lazing under a thick soft blanket with stories of the day and a couple fingers of Jameson's. But yet what I wanted today was just one more day of summer to get out on the water, with a boat. The free and clear call of running tides as the dawn breaks gray. A day to feel the sway and the splash, the kick of the wheel and the taut shake of the jib, the rhythm of the tasks that keep the wind in the sail, the choreography of brain and hands, wood and metal, that drive you towards the horizon.

During grad school I lived on the West Coast and seemed to divide my quality time between the sky, the mountains or the water. A vagrant gypsy life of the spray of laughter and sorrow, salt water, salt tears. After I had Brigid Jr, and handed her to her adoptive parents I sought solace in the blue, traveling from the the waters of the womb to the waters of the wild, as far out into it as I could. Flying, hiking, sailing. Environments so different, yet so essentially the same.

There is is probably a reason that many pilots are lovers of the outdoors, many owning boats. Boaters and pilots take great pride in their craft, and there is a sense of camaraderie amongst them, though they may not actively socialize when away from their favorite element. Many of my friends share this world and we all share one other thing, despite variances in gender, age or upbringing. We are people who just cannot thrive between clustered walls, walking asphalted trails to small offices, breathing in the fumes of yearning, working and dying earthbound, with nary a thought of the sky or the clouds or the sea. To stake us to a plot of earth, however shaded, safe and watered, is to watch us wither and die.

I lived for a time on a a tiny rented houseboat when I was a young student. Probably the best place I'd ever laid my head. The marina was small and I relished going to bed at night with the tremulous cadence of the water rocking me to sleep, the sounds of the cove, music to my empty heart. It was a quiet, sheltered place where no one locked their doors and people respected your things, and your privacy. Though I secretly smile when I think about the Simpsons' episode where Homer comes home with “Marge! Look at all this great stuff I found at the Marina. It was just sitting in some guy's boat !!"

In retrospect it was one of the more carefree times in my life, houseboat living between work and classes and flights with my students while tagging along with new friends and neighbors, one with a large Taiwanese ketch,; weekends of we pilots racing the locals up and down the waterways. The times were few and far between with our schedules, but the joy of those days still remains pooled in the backwaters of my mind, and I can take myself back there with just the sound of the wind filling a sail, testing it's seams.There is just something magical about the elements of water and sky, with their constant change in mood and shape, density and color. The great variances of their forms, like music, can either calm, uplift or excite; a power over the mind and thoughts of those who have the depth of soul to hear. But like the sky, the water too, has its dangers, its eddies, its currents. There are days where the whisper kiss of the wind turns into a whetted knife and you and your craft are simply a storm tossed play toy of the gods. As Sophocles's stated in Antigone: "Wonders are many, and none is more wonderful than man. This power spans the sea, even when it surges white before the gales of the south-wind, and makes a path under swells that threaten to engulf him".

I've seen that power, caught out in a unexpected storm, on wing or sail; where my tiny craft pitched and rolled in weighed indecision as to stay pointy end forward or not, debating as to which way was up and which way was down, into final blackness, while I frantically went through the motions of piloting it, hoping to at least get the opportunity for one last "%&#^" shouted for immortality before I left nothing but a splash of debris against the surface. It's a mistake you don't make twice, and when you size up your sky, assess your horizon, you think and remember. It's similar in many ways to climbing. It's easy to lose yourself in the drifting quiet, mesmerized by the tranquil stillness of the blue, the brilliance of the elements, and forget the strong, wild heart that beats beneath the lacy spray of white.

Like anything that tests you against Mother Nature, if you don't learn, you die. If you do learn, the danger becomes part of the attraction; not in a reckless fashion, but rather with the confidence you gain in knowing that you have choices and strengths. That with the right choices, whatever the sky, the ocean, the wild or life in general can throw at you, is not enough to destroy you, as you have the power that Sophocles wrote of, of man over the wind.

That is why after a weekend and week that were both emotionally and physically draining, I wish I could get out into the blue again, be it water or sky. One last turn to test my mettle before this long dark winter, to put my hand into it, leaving a wake trail behind me of all the worries and want and desire, to wash my mind free of all but the grip of my hands on the wheel, the clouds anchored above, guided by the flutter of wind against fabric.


  1. Got out of town on a boat goin' to southern islands,
    Sailing a reach before a followin' sea.
    She was makin' for the trades on the outside,
    And the downhill run to Papeete Bay.
    Off the wind on this heading lie the Marquesas.
    We got eighty feet of the waterline
    Nicely making way.
    In a noisy bar in Avalon I tried to call you,
    But on a midnight watch I realized why twice you ran away.

    Think about how many times I have fallen.
    Spirits are using me, larger voices callin'.
    What Heaven brought you and me cannot be forgotten.

    Love that song. Seems appropriate for every sailin' themed blog entry.

  2. What can I say, Brigid?

    It matters not whether you're writing about hunting, flying, sailing, treking ... and on and on. There is magic in your 'pen' and we are so fortunate to have you thrill us, imbue us with your joie de vivre, have us weep deservedly in places, be thankful we can read your poetic writings. (Of course, it really should be Bushmills you're drinking.)

    Thank you ... and it's a poor thank you, I know.


  3. You weaved that like a true poet...good work as always.

    Enjoy the coming cold weather, Winter, while not my favorite time, is still a big part of my present and past life.


  4. Simply wow!

    The last three sentences of the second paragraph refresh memory and spark a longing to be out on the water again.

    Well done, as always.

    The current good weather is supposed to hold through Veterans Day, I hope you get to go out for a day to sail.

  5. Your words this morning are more bracing than the mug of espresso I just finished. Had I read it half an hour sooner, I might have added a jigger of Dickel's Nr. 12 as a toast, but it's just as well to save that for later.

    As always, you tugged at the soul.

  6. Wow,

    Your writing is good for an old mans heart.......Thanks.....

  7. Thanks Brigid, you just reminded me what I need to do to relieve some of this stress in my life right now. Going down to Starved Rock tomorrow, sit on a high perch and watch the world go by.

  8. As long as I get to read your blog every day I am a happy man. You bring back such wonderful memories for me.

    I still get to do all that I want due to good health. But many that made those memories with me have passed.

    Still waiting for the book to be placed on my bookself. lol

    See Ya

  9. Wow! You know the translation to that simple word. Anything else I could say would be trite.

  10. They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; These see the works of the LORD, and his wonders in the deep.

    Psalm 107:23-24

  11. At the risk of echoing DidItMyWay, your words bring back many happy times, including my Navy days, bobbing around the Mediterranean on an old tin can.

    Your thoughts evoke some sad memories, too, and often move me to tears. I never cease to marvel at the gift God has given you.

  12. Fantastic writing again Brigid.
    I live for the outdoors for the woods, barrens,marshes and sea. I lose heart when locked up inside. You have a real gift for writing.

    If you like Ireland then you should visit Newfoundland some day. I live on the Irish shore. When we Newfoundlanders travel to the US our accent is often mistaken for Irish.
    I am headed up a big lake in a freighter canoe in an hour or so but I am not looking forward to it. I have a moose down and we are heading for a couple of days of heavy weather.
    I truly enjoy you writing. You have got "it" Brigid

  13. Have you been to the tea house on those cliffs?


I started this blog so the child I gave up for adoption could get to know me, and in turn, her children, as well as share stories for a family that lives too far away. So please keep it friendly and kid safe. Posts that are only a link or include an ad for an unknown business automatically to to SPAM..