Friday, October 8, 2010

Wind and Seas

When I've put in long days and am far away, my conversations with friends are the high point of my day. Discussing the quandary of choosing between being killed by a toilet from the Space Station falling from orbit or a skateboard jump off a high rise (those that watched Dead Like Me will get it), hearing the latest adventure of Barkley from my friends who take care of him and all the small pieces of life that make up the days of my friends, from munchkins to muskies. Some of them I talk to once a week, others I talk to daily. Towards the end of one conversation, a girlfriend said "you sound tired, are you in the Doldrums?". That was an expression I had not heard in a long while. I really wasn't, I was simply tired, but it got me to thinking. In colloquial usage, "being in the doldrums refers to being in a state of listlessness, despondency, inactivity, stagnation, or a slump", as characterized in Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner:

All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody Sun, at noon,
Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the Moon.

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

The Doldrums are the strip-zones of low pressure which roam equatorial seas, and they are notorious for their punishing tranquility. Silver water soaking up ethereal skies; painting the ocean with warmth, painting a ships direction. The Doldrums are noted for their calms, those periods when the winds suddenly back away, trapping sailing vessels for days or even weeks. As sailors have long known, though, the Doldrums are also given to unprovoked bursts of violence. Across their lines, storms suddenly sweep, hot wind, hot water forming fierce air masses that rise and falls in thundering downdrafts, winds forming into sinews of air, waterspouts looming in shadow, like the spires of an old hall of Justice. Night was more treacherous. For although the moon still lit the iridescent pathway to Europe, there in the vast, often changing darkness, great dark birds flew in the forms of vast winds that whipped up the ocean. Night predators looking for the small, the weak, ebony wings beating the air, their cry a clap of thunder as they sought their prey.

As my sailing experience was limited to crewing with people that actually knew how to sale, onrivers and lakes where my biggest duty as deck hand was to point and go "look, there's a place that sells beer!" I can only imagine the seagoing exploration of such an area. But I do imagine it would be like those moments we experience in flight, when on wing you pass beyond the borders of the real world into a realm so quietly elemental that it seems otherworldly.

Today would be a good day to get out on a boat, here where it's tropical, for at home, winter is already tapping on the door like a Jehovah's Witness of chilly repentance for summers frolic. My best friend is putting the family boat in tomorrow, for soon there will be frost on its desk.

As I take a break from my work, I think about long journeys over sea and land, of crossing high mountain passes while points of lightning struck in the distance, cleaving the atmosphere, separating water and air, pointing out this life of separateness I lead. A journey of shadow and dew, of dreams of light that sparks more than the night, but something within me. How many have made this journey? These long flights across the equator, flirting with whole seasons in the the span of hours, abandoning the winds of the north, repudiating colds reaching fingers, as my aircraft descends into a summer lovers smile of radiant warmth. I miss those times. The night's quiet freedom, the day's flaws hidden in the ebony of velvet night. The air was a substance whose ethereal beauty so entranced me that on long flights I had continually check my bearings and the time, that I lost track of the time, the fuel, the mountains, and ended up in a more permanent dream state. For when your soul is entranced it is easy to get lost, sometimes with consequences you never foresee.

I remember getting slightly lost on my first solo cross country where I flew right over the airport to which I was expected to land, looking down and seeing a lake that wasn't on my map. Following my instructors teachings, I had the good sense to check my position every 10 - 15 minutes, so by backtracking I was soon back on course, but not before witnessing a flock of geese flying right along side of me, honking almost as if asking me to join them. I would have missed that had I been on course. Sometimes you can find yourself by getting lost, by looking out and down on the world and reinterpreting it as a consequence. Rather than being shaken by my error, I simply laughed in surprising coincidence, as a goose dived from the sky in salutation.

As I descended the view of the sky transfixed me and for a moment I felt intensely aware of everything below and above me. The Greeks wrote of Hyperion, the Titan god of light, one of the sons of Ouranos (Heaven) and Gaia (Earth), and the father of the lights of heaven--Eos the Dawn, Helios the Sun, and Selene the Moon. His wife was Theia, lady of the aither--the shining blue of the sky. Hyperion's name means "watcher from above" or "he who goes above" from the greek words hyper and iôn.
Up there among the clouds, I felt for just that moment, that mythical sense of watching from above, looking down on a world. The realities of the earthbound life took on the substance of dreams , while the wild freedoms of dreams became this reality, this moment, a reality in and of itself. I was a watcher up above, looking at my life as it laid out before me, noting each and every small detail

But this week I am earthbound, and by the time I get a day off, I'll be worn out from many days far away, delving into depths of things most people would rather not see. Yet, I am still the watcher of all around me. Though the boats are off on the horizon, I work in rythem with them, with the motion of tasks that keep me on course, the choreography of brain and hands, making sense of wood and metal.Hard work, silent work, a spray of sorrow, salt water, salt tears. Closure if we're lucky. All of us here are much the same, 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.

We understand the call of the water and the sky, the 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 myself; 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. For 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.

Others are not so lucky as I, and find that still and final quiet beneath the hot and copper sky.

So I watch, finding sense in the senseless, finding my purpose even as sparrows fall to earth. People watching from a distance would think me in the doldrums, listless. But there is great activity in being the observer from above, standing in a stillness that smells of grass, breathing in so many scents in damp warm air. Sweat, blood and a flower that only blooms in the dark, the wind so scant it's like breath on a mirror. Each smell blended yet distinct, always overlayed with the copper tang of life spilled. The air hums along to the oceans quiet as all I see, smell and feel forms into a substance I can almost feel on my flesh, capturing it, recording it there in the stillness. The truth is often still, inarticulate, not knowing it is the truth.

I feel the trickle on my cheek, the taste of salt, but I leave it be, for if I deal with it I'll have to gear up again. And so I work, in seas now calm, with that power that Sophocles wrote of, of man over the wind. I bend back to the task, clothed in white, hands on my tools, the clouds anchored above, the only sounds, the beat of my heart, the flutter of wind against fabric.