Sunday, July 15, 2007

Long Bay, Bahamas

0 nm
E-SE 10-15 knots, gusting to 20

We’re living in such close proximity to nature out here that I forget that there’s any other way to live. It’s what I meant to get to yesterday, when I was distracted by history and the role of the audience for an artist. The topic of the essays I’ve been reading is “Nature and Civilization,” and they make me aware of exactly how different our life is, and has been, from that of most human beings in our age. I’ve been thinking a lot about nature--the moon, the stars, the fish, the ocean. Those words mean little to the average 21st century citizen, other than an abstract ideal of beauty, perhaps, but they don’t even mean that to us anymore. I know, without thinking very hard about it, what phase the moon is currently in. I guessed yesterday, to Karl, that it was about time for the new moon, only to discover that my guess was precisely right--yesterday was the new moon.

I didn’t even discover that by looking it up, but by looking at the thin sliver of moon that’s up today, the first moon after the new moon, the moon that sets an hour after sunset. I remember the shock of learning, through my mother’s astronomy class, that the different phases of the moon actually rise and set at different times, and that only the full moon rises at dark and sets at dawn. I knew, of course, that sometimes the moon was up at the same time as the sun, but in my citified life, it have never crossed my mind that there must be a reason for that, an order inherent in it. In a life lived under the glow of an orange nighttime sky, lit with thousands of menacing skyscrapers, there’s no reason to think about it.

Out here, of course, there is. I pay attention to the moon, because of the tides--I know when the moon is full or new we’ll have deeper tides and stronger currents, and most days, without stopping to think very hard, I can say what the tide will do. I remember the first day, a couple of weeks ago, that I was able, with a thrill of pleasure, to calculate the time of high and low tide, based only on what phase the moon was in. At places near the open ocean, high tide is always at eight o’clock on the morning of the full moon.

The stars are our entertainment, most nights. We look up and find constellations (generally we just make up our own. Karl’s favorite is a giant anime crab off on the eastern horizon) or the milky way. I figured out how to find the North Star for the first time recently, and now I can do it effortlessly. We have nothing else to look at it, nothing else to do, and it makes me feel like ancient man, looking up and telling each other stories about the pictures in the stars. As we get farther and farther out, the stars get more and more brilliant, more like those that ancient man would have seen as he crouched in front of his painted cave.

The closer we get to nature, though, the more dangerous we realize it is. Maybe it’s why modern man stays so distant from it. The weather controls our lives on the boat. One storm could wipe us on to the reef, with careless innocence. I listen to the weather at least three times a day, if not four. I wake up at 5:30 in the morning to mess around with the dials on the shortwave radio until it beams in clear from the ionosphere. I track the troughs and ridges, the cold fronts and the warm fronts, the low and high pressure systems, and scariest of all, the tropical waves and depressions, about which I knew nothing until two months ago.

I couldn’t do it without my expensive piece of electronics, just like we couldn’t be out here without our little boat made of plastic, or our sails and lines made out of nylon. I couldn’t be writing (or no one could be reading what I write) if it wasn’t for the wonder of computers, and the even greater wonder of finding wireless internet access in the remote corners of the world, however infrequently. We need both, I suppose, nature and civilization.

We’re not attuned enough yet to the bacteria living on our boat, however. We had to throw away our last four lobster tails tonight, thanks to the un-iced icebox and our own lackadaisical attitude (cue here the sound of rending of garments and shrieking wails of misery). Throwing away lobster tails!! Oh, the torture! The humanity! It’s the first foodstuff, since the bacon debacle, that we’ve both thought smelt off enough that we couldn’t bear to eat them. We tried, though. Karl grilled them dutifully, though we both thought they smelt bad and wouldn’t tell each other, and then we both took tiny bites and tried to choke them down. Then I recalled that day of filling the boat with my own vomit, and I decided that the torture of throwing away lobster was better than the torture of food poisoning.

The lobster didn’t actually get thrown away, so you can breathe a sigh of relief. Instead, it went into our stinky bait bag. Half a tail is skewered on a hook off our stern right now, and I hope one of nature’s little delicious morsels will come impale herself on ir. Nature, while red in tooth and claw, is also quite delicious.

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