Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Flutter of Wind Against Fabric

Yesterday did not seem like winter, temperatures almost 60 degrees clear, cloudless, with just enough breeze to kick up a little whitecap on the lake. A good day to be out in a Triumph with the top down, or a boat, if most of the boats weren't put up for the winter that will soon be tapping at the door, 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, in front of the fire, lazing under thick soft blankets after that half hour bubble bath. Evenings spent tinkering in the shop with metal and wood, tools and lead, a small heater my sole companion. But yet, what I want is another day of summer.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 .

For many years I seemed to divide my quality time between either the sea or the sky. A vagrant gypsy life of the spray of laughter and sorrow, salt water, salt tears. Either in the waters of the womb or as far above it as I could be. Both environments so different, yet so essentially the same. There is is probably a reason that many pilots also own 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. Most 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 pilot. 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.

It was one of the better times in my life, living my life running hard towards horizons colored by both hope and catastrophe. It was few possessions, and houseboat living between flights and tagging along with friends, one of the Air America guys with a large Taiwanese ketch on which we'd race the locals up and down the waterways. The times were few and far between with our flying 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 its seams.

My Dad has settled further West, on the water, leaving the cold hard winters of Montana behind for his remaining years. When I visit, we ride the ferries, or simply drive to watch the rivers and the ocean. Like looking at machinery, I can just sit and stare at the large ships coming across the bar in wonder, tens and thousands pounds of enigmatic and curious metal sighing and surging, groaning with use, the sound simply the galloping language of metal and wood and motion, fighting both reason and nature in its very purpose.

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. 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.

If you don't learn, you die. If you do learn, the danger becomes part of your knowledge; 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, or life can throw at you, is not enough to destroy you, as you have the power that Sophocles wrote of, of man over the wind.

The deceptively warm breeze of winter brings it back to me, the intake of breath, the rush of water, the deceptive power of blood and nature that beckons us, even as it wishes to betray it. There is no slumbering boredom, no living within the limits set by others, only those things set by our own fluid need. We watch every wave, aware of the seas fury, weighing and measuring events against eventuality, circumstance against nature, refusing to compromise either dream or future for that which makes us whole.

That is why I wish I could get out into the blue again, to test my mettle before this long dark winter. To simply 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 roll of the sea, the grip of my hands on the wheel, the clouds anchored above, guided only by the flutter of wind against fabric.


  1. I like winter too. (except when it's cold.)

  2. Jealous! -- of the narrative, phrasing, lyric tempo, great heart, lively spirit, superb photos!


  3. Alan - thank you, and my best wishes for Christmas for your wife and daughter and you.

    One thing the pictures don't convey. During the ferry ride, the menfolk disappeared. It's a FERRY. Where could they go? I look around. On the ferry at the front is a Snap On Tool Truck. Yup. Guess where everyone was. Inside the truck buying stuff. :-)

  4. Beautifully written. Unfortunately, winter has already arrived here.

    Do you have an ice breaker? Kids were playing on the ice in the marina by the library the other day. The ice was not very thick yet, but thankfully the dam was closed and nobody fell through.

    Think it's time to just enjoy the benefits of living indoors for a while.

  5. Brigid,

    I've read this three times now and I continue to be impressed with your skill as a writer. Certainly there are layers of meaning here. I don't pretend to grasp them all. But, they are there.

    I do not believe I have ever met a person more driven to life.

    A wonderful piece.

  6. I've always wanted to live on my boat - but also have a land base. I am lucky enough to have realized that dream.

    All you say is true. In particular, I have never slept so well in my life, although a part of me is always on alert. As they say, I sleep like a dolphin. One half of my brain at a time...

    A Formosa Ketch. I've been on a few and known more than a few. Lovely boat albeit the 5' draft is too deep for most of my gunk-holing activities. (My boat is a 34' catamaran and draws about 18" boards and rudders UP.)

    I escape into your blog daily! Even though it is not written for me, sometimes the fit is just perfect.

    Fair Winds and Following Seas...

    Cap'n Jan

  7. I walked outside into the chill wind and eyed my little sailboat, longing for weather and schedule to have mercy on me for a change. Then I came in and read your post. Thank you Brigid, for the voyage of the mind...

  8. You post of ferries, and it brings to mind this one:



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