Saturday, July 28, 2007

Samana Cay, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: ESE 10 knots, squall with lightning and heavy rain at dawn

We got into a big fight today. It doesn’t happen that often to us, but sometimes it does. I feel weird writing about it because it seems private, but what else is this bizarre medium for, if not for self-congratulatory self-exposure? As I get more and more distant from the internet, I get accustomed to the idea that no one’s actually going to read these words, or if they do, it’ll be at such a remove of time and space that anything I say won’t matter. Which enables me to tell the truth much more thoroughly.

So: we got into a big fight today. I’m not even sure what about, anymore--I think it had to do with me wanting to take a shower in the cockpit and being unable to lift the shower bag filled with five gallons of water over my head to hang it from the boom. I hate, hate, hate having to ask for help, and on the boat I have to do it all the time. I’m not strong enough to lift our jerry cans to fill our water tank, I’m not strong enough to unfurl the jib, I’m barely strong enough to trim the sheets. It drives me crazy sometimes. It makes me feel immensely inadequate to be so dependent on Karl, and at the same time it makes me frustrated and angry with him for not doing the things that I can’t do, or at least not making it a priority to make those things easier for me to do. My favorite Lin Pardey-ism is: “If it’s too hard, you’re doing it wrong.” That seems to be the one Pardey adage that has utterly escaped Karl’s notice: lube the winches? Why should we when we have muscles? Simply because he is so strong, he thinks that he can overpower any system on the boat instead of just making an effort to make it easy enough for a child to do it, so that we can both participate thoroughly in all activities on the boat without exhausting ourselves. He often tightens things--jar lids, water-bottle caps, the soy-sauce container--so tightly that I can’t even open them again without his help. This is a sign of either preternatural superhuman strength on his part, or mammoth baby-like weakness on mine.

To get away from the debacle on the boat, where we were engaged in a battle of silence interspersed with brutal, cutting comments, I decided to swim across to the main island, about a half-mile. Swimming with fins and a mask and snorkel is a breeze. I don’t even have to move my arms, just power across with my legs, spotting conch and fish and mysterious strands of seaweed and coral the whole time. Swimming with a mask and snorkel takes away all sense of time. The bottom drifts by, distant and hazy through the blue water and dense with weed, fish dart by at the edge of vision, and masses of black coral loom out of nowhere, like spaceships landing on an alien planet. If I let my mind drift, I can get spooked easily, even though swimming is one of my favorite things in the world: I imagine monster fish or sharks swimming behind me, just out of the range of my occluded peripheral vision, or finding horror-movie shipwrecks scattered among the rocks, bloody bodies, or the skeletons of ancient ships. Even giant rotted anchor lines, snagged by the coral and draped with decades of algae, take on a spooky and surreal aspect.

Today’s swim, so long and so far away from the boat, having not told Karl where I was going, and in my negative frame of mind, was spookier than most. Just as I was approaching the far shore, a giant barracuda, at least four feet long, darted forward at me, making my heart clench with fear. I’m generally fearless when I’m snorkeling, at least of fish and sharks, but this one was watching me closely and had probably been following me for a while, hoping to get a fish or two. I had nothing to do but keep kicking, trying not to disturb the water too much, leaving it behind and hoping it didn’t follow. I didn’t turn around.

Then, out of nowhere, a dark, jagged reef jutted twenty feet up out of the sand, right at the edge of the reef. It seemed impenetrable, and the surf was carrying me forward towards its sharp edges, its colors washed out by its closeness to the sun, and fish that seemed menacing swimming into its caverns. I spotted a monster parrotfish, easily three times as big as the biggest fish I’ve seen on the reef, its body blue and swollen, a parody of a fish. It ran away, but its sheer scale, and the scale of the reef, made everything seemed alien and foreign, like something from Mars. As I swam closer and closer to the reef, a gap finally appeared and I squeezed through it, manipulating myself closer to the shore, swimming over the pitted, rocky shallows now, the purple tips of the fan coral grazing my belly. I swam until I thought I could walk, and then blundered ashore, my fins making me waddle and stumble on the rocks in the surf.

The beach, of course, was covered with trash, the plastic detritus that thousands of ships throw overboard--water bottles, battered nylon rope, half-melted plastic crates, plastic bags--even the rusted-out hulks of old washing machines and refrigerators. The sand was coarse and pebbly, and immediately stuck to my body, and flies buzzed everywhere. It was far from the peaceful, idyllic place of retreat I had imagined. Still, my plan at the time was to spend the night over there, so I looked around and found a flat sun-warmed rock, a fair ways from all the trash, took off my bathing suit, and stretched out.

The sun, my instant Prozac, immediately went to work. I forgot about the flies, the trash, the barracuda, the fight. There was nothing but me, the sun casting red light through my warm eyelids, and the waves murmuring ashore. The incoming tide occasionally brushed my toes with water. (I probably wouldn’t have been as much at peace if I had known what the Bahamian fishermen told Karl: that strange, unknown people live on the island, that when the fishermen come back to their camp they find things moved, odd markers, paths into the trees. But I didn’t know that.)

After a while, I sat up, and began to realize I was surrounded by snails. Little ones, called periwinkles. We’ve seen them before, gathered on the trunks of trees and in rocks, but I’ve never seen so many. They were buried in the sand in heaps, gathered together in hollows in the water-beaten rock, and piled on top of each other in shady spots. As I watched, I realized some of them were moving, slowly, sliding gently towards me and away from the incoming tide on little pillows of ooze. I must have watched them for hours, entranced. They were an utter mystery. Why were some of them running away from the water, when I could see others being bashed by the waves not ten feet away? Did they prefer the sun or the shade, and why did some of them choose the shade and others the sun? What goes on in their heads? Why did they press so persistently forward, crossing chasms that must have been vast to their little antennae?

It sounds silly, but it really put things into perspective. How much does my life matter, the little decisions I make, the petty fights? No more than a snail’s. I’m sure, for each one of those little crustaceans, each moment crawling across the hard stone was fraught with importance and difficulty. But I could crush them, unintentionally, with a careless shoeless step. What did Jesus say? “Consider the lilies of the field.” Well, I considered the snails.

When I got back to the boat, after a long swim keeping a close watch for my barracuda friend, I apologized to Karl, sincerely and truly. He was cooking a big pot of doctored-up canned clam chowder--New England comfort food--and had been worried about me. We were quiet and shy for a little while, prayed together at dinner, and then slowly made up as we timidly told each other stories about our day. Life is good with this man I love.

1 comment:

rgatens said...

Melissa,
Your are not weak, but it would be good to get into broken-record conversations reminding Karl that you would appreciate his not tightening things up so much, lubing the winches (or letting you rachet them on the reverse handle slow speed), etc. Regarding your inability to hoist a five gallon shower bag up for a shower, why not fill the shower container of about a gallon or less and do it yourself? Five gallons of water is way too much for a shower in the Bahamas anyway, isn't it, except for tourists in hotels.
Seems like, above all, you being the talker, you need to communicate your needs and the helpful results that will come from them, relieving him of all but the necessary hard labor stuff.
Just a thought.
Walter Renn