Sunday, September 29, 2013

Bridgewater, Maine

September 29 -- 2009

Leaving the farm is going to be harder than I at first thought, I must admit. I also must admit that I've been grieving for much of the last month, maybe still grieving even for the objects I lost at sea—not exactly the objects but the ideas. The leather notebook with five years of story seeds. The dream journal with four months of dreams.

I know I must regard these things as ephemera, as things that are lost, and I feel I should be strong enough by now to let the things go. To let all things go. As I must let this place go if we really decide to adventure again. But I am dragging my feet.

The longer I farm, or whatever it is we're trying to do here, the more I realize that it's simply an act of heroic emotional resilience. I understand why farmers don't want their kids to be farmers. Because there's tragedy in it, and death, and I simply can't bring myself to eat or harvest the food in the garden as I write, knowing that I'm leaving it, that I'm leaving this land. I simply don't have the emotional strength for it.

Which maybe is okay. Maybe all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well. Maybe it's okay that I just ate four leaves of kale with my rice tonight. We've learned, also, that the boat needs its wooden mast replaced, so whatever departure may not be as imminent as I'd hoped. And of course as soon as I learned that I was desperate to leave this place—leave this earth, these roots—always wanting what I cannot have.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Aroostook County, Maine

I came back home to find a house infested with fleas. It's our fault, really—not for the fleas but for the mice, and not really for them either but for the cat, which was left out to become feral and live in a truck. Which didn't work to keep the mice away. Mice are the reason we adopted him in the first place, less than a year ago. It's the reason why, catless, we had fleas last summer—we'd catch one mouse, and the next would move in, bringing with it its own troop of fleas.

So I was unsurprised to find a mouse dead between layers of crocheted afghan on my second day back. It was big, too, bigger than the tiny field mice with tails as twice as long as their bodies, the ones that generally move in. I thought it was dead because of the clouds of methoprene I'd sprayed on everything for the swarming fleas. I kid you not. I could see them squirming on the kitchen floor.

The mouse was big, with a big belly, and the next night the cat caught three baby mice in a row, in the same spot, and ate them all, nose to tail. I was told, later, that I should have snatched them away and bashed their heads in. I was cowering in horror in the back part of the house. However strong my fear of being a girly girl, I hate mice.

So the fleas are driving me to depression, and new appreciation for the quotidiana of medieval life. One day, I thought to myself: if they're like that here now, we're going to have to start preparing for black plague. (One should assume by now that I will correlate any entomological shift to climate change.) That same day, driving to the store for yet another chemical (I'm on my fifth), I heard there's a case in Kyrgystan. Black plague. The first in twenty years. Probably from fleas.

Fleas also bring a form of shame. It's not the shame that comes with bedbugs or lice, but it's pretty close. It's the same feeling as when you find mouse turds in your condo--everyone leaves bread in the bread box, fruit on the counter, dry pasta in the cupboard—but suddenly your doing so is a condemnation: you! You there! You're not clean enough! Do you see the way you live? It's disgusting.

And that empty popcorn bowl that you leave for morning becomes a scarlet badge.

So the last week has been a bit depressing for me. But the fleas—and grief about the things I have lost, still—and grief at leaving this place for an uncertain expanse of time--and leaving now, with summer's end in full bloom, giant crickets jumping away from the weeds around the back step, echinacea with drooping purple heads, yellow jerusalem artichoke named for the sun and smelling of honey and love, burdock beginning to tangle, and sugar maple beginning to turn—all of it is breaking my heart.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

From Aroostook County, Maine, to Newburyport, Massachusetts, and back again

I have awaited long the day when I could announce with a drumroll that I am again Casting Off, not merely metaphorically, but actually. I thought I'd be able to say that last month, when K. signed on the dotted line for our new boat, a 36' Mao Ta cutter, Spirit, Secret's successor. She's a blue-water cruiser, a double-ender, an ocean crosser. We are, or will be soon, at last Casting Off. Here she is:

Three feet longer than Secret, but wider, beamier, bigger in every dimension. Already I am in love. So this post was intended as triumphant, as with Caesar's armies returning from Sparta, or wherever—but instead I have chaos and disaster and loss to report—although also their underbelly, their paired twin: hope and light and freedom. Here's how it went.

It's our second day on the boat, August 1, and there's a grand festival going on in swanky Newburyport, our current hailing port. The Yankee Homecoming, of all things, featuring live music all week, dinghies piled up on dock, fireworks, fried dough and clam chowder in the streets. The whole nine yards. We come to town to buy a guidebook and charts and an Eldridge for tides plus to stock up on groceries and water. We drop $350 among West Marine and Home Depot and Market Basket. I send out my money-earning email at the library. Then we wait at a bench beside the dinghy dock as the RIBs motor drunkenly away, and the band cleans up, and the teenagers engage in elaborate mating rituals.

We await the turning tide so we can cruise gleefully back to the boat with nary an oar stroke. Two days before we'd been unable to row against the outgoing current on the Merrimac River. This time there's almost a full moon, and we use the oars more to steer than to row. We get back to Spirit briskly and tie up. K. hefts a few bags on deck but leaves more bags below to steady the dinghy while I clamber aboard.

Then the fatal flaw of hubris. We don't drop the teak ladder. I don't ask for it, and it isn't offered. Both of us think I can make it over the freeboard (far higher from the water than was Secret's) without assistance. After all, I did it more or less effortlessly two days before.

I don't. You can see what's coming, but I couldn't. It's just like when people talk about car accidents. All I remember are brief snapshots, everything happening at once. I remember having one foot on deck and the other back in the dinghy, and feeling spreadeagled, like I wasn't going to make it. I remember looking back at the dinghy and seeing water coming over the side. I remember floating away, with the blue-colored paper bag from West Marine floating away in front of me, and thinking: that's $100!

K. yelled after me to grab the next mooring ball. (Moorings, for the uninitiated, are like anchors permanently affixed to the bottom of the harbor, to protect the ecosystem and to aid the mariner.) I tried, but was unable to. It was then I realized what a fix I was in. The current was sweeping by at a rate of at least six knots. I realized I had to swim, and swim hard. The next mooring was the last before the open Atlantic. The water was cold. The tide had already swept off one of my shoes, and was threatening to carry away my flannel.

I swam hard. I caught the mooring ball. And then I realized I was in a deeper fix. Could he see me? Would he know I was safe and not swept out to sea? How long would it take for someone to find me? How long could I hold on? How long before hypothermia set in?

I didn't know then what I know now: that the dinghy had completely overturned. That everything in it was lost. That my partner in crime managed to hold on, barely, and pull himself on deck to immediately radio the Coast Guard. When I thought of my backpack, containing my computer and my camera and my purse—everything of value I'd brought with me onto the boat—I assumed K. would have rescued it first thing. I just worried about my computer getting wet.

I used my yoga breath. I took turns with my arms, holding on with one side, then the other. Even then, I realized how quickly I'd become tired. I thought about letting myself drift back, thinking that maybe I could hoist myself onto the stranger's boat and find a way to get warm and to radio my location. But then I stopped that line of thought: if I let go, there was almost no way I'd be able to grab onto anything again. My body was carried back in a straight line by the current, parallel to the boat's waterline.

Then I saw the Coast Guard light up its boat. I started to yell for help, worried that they'd go out to sea rather than see me at the mooring two boats down. They heard me, and minutes later I was wrapped in a blanket and safe. I can testify that the major emotion one feels on being rescued by the Coast Guard is embarrassment. I couldn't believe that I'd made such a fool of myself. If only I'd been skinnier, stronger, more limber, I could have made it over the freeboard. If only I'd been humble enough to ask for the ladder. If only I could be a responsible human being, for once in my life.

As I expressed my humiliation, my apology, they were resolutely affirmative: “It happens all the time. There's nothing to be embarrassed about. It's our job.”

Thank God for the US Coast Guard and George Washington who established them, lo those many years ago, at this very port, Newburyport on the Merrimac River, for exactly this reason—wicked tidal currents and related carnage.

After I was warm and safe and drinking hot tea, I began to worry about my computer. Had K. put it on deck? Of course he had. It would have been his first priority. It had to be safe.

But of course it wasn't. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde by way of Dave Eggers: to lose two computers is a tragedy. To lose three seems careless.

These are the things I've had to think about over the last three weeks, as I've begun to process not just the loss of $2500 worth of gear, but also a five-year-old Moleskin, almost full of story ideas, my dream journal, my everyday journal, my legal pad with assorted yoga notes and boat lists. I am attempting faux Buddhism about it: they are just things, after all. It's just money. The important ideas I'll remember.

And in another universe, if the abstract mathematicians are to be believed, I am dead. In another universe, the computer is salvaged and we are just pissed at each other. In yet another, we're still looking for the perfect boat. In another, we have never met.

In the last universe: I didn't lose my data when I bought a computer two years ago. I didn't institute a rigorous weekly backup process. I didn't recover everything despite myself, as a result of my own insane persistence. I'm not typing right now into a file recovered from my Aroostook backup, on a program recovered from the backup, listening to music recovered from the backup, using settings recovered from the backup.

All this to say: nothing was lost except some money, ephemeral ideas, and my pride. God has his reasons when we don't understand his reasons. If you'd told me that when I was beating my breast over my computer data loss two years ago, I'd probably have hit you. But you would have been right.

So maybe now, in my 35th year, halfway to 70, I'm starting to learn some things. I'm learning that the life I've chosen is one of risk. I haven't lost three computers because I'm careless, but because I've chosen to risk valuable things in order to achieve a higher goal. To some sheer adventure as a cause celebre is insufficient—especially maybe to our families, our parents. But we've chosen this life because it's the one we want, even if it means losing things. Losing money. Losing health, whether by hypothermia or by shoulder bursitis from too much backpack-carrying. Losing dreams, and ideas, and the stories that may have been borne from them.

That's our tax on the life we've chosen. The life we continue to choose. So all hail Spirit, our new vehicle of destruction and rebirth. We live in Spirit while Spirit lives in us.