Log of the Child's Return
I am restoring and living aboard a houseboat--named Child's Return--which is, as this log begins, hauled out of the water propped up in the air in a small boatyard in a tidal creek off the Chesapeake Bay. The news is bad. "She needs a whole new stern drive." so the mechanic says. " The good news is that is should arrive from Sweden in a couple of weeks." I return everyday to scrub and polish or to just standby , worrying. I play Anne Murray tapes to help the motor cope with what amounts to open-heart surgery. (Ok, so what would you do?)
A houseboat is more that a house on a boat, its a friend that greets you with, "Ah, there you are, " and smiles at your arrival. There is a beautiful African (Kanuri) proverb that comes close: "Hold a true friend with both your hands."
Its a weird life. This is like taking your house to the hospital because it won't go in reverse. I keep think that if I work hard enough and if I drop enough of the rocks aboard my life (such as the fear of death, ignorance about boats, a mountain range of debts, excess pounds) I'll soon be out of in the wind and stars.
My mother, concerned about my living alone in a marina, asked, " Why leave land?" After Year abroad, living at sea level has become exactly where I want to be.
For glorious dawns and coffee with the earliest birds.
For the smell of bacon from the galley stirred by the salty breezes arriving across thousands of miles of open South Atlantic Ocean.
To watch the morning mist rise, as it does, with my spirits.
For the seas early lesson: Live now, this day, because today is what you have. Give it all you've got and give it now, because you can. Carlyle said, " it is one of the illusions that the present hour is not the critical, decisive hour." ( Yes, I'm scared sometimes, like now. Do it anyway.)
For the mind-blowing radiance that the sunlight gives to the mirroring sea.
For the songs the wind sings - forever changing the melody - sometimes striking chords so deep you'd swear your heart is singing.
For the front row center seats to watch the ships passing by, from sailboards to schooners. I answer every greeting, every wave, shout, whistle, and horn.
For the sweet slap of the waves against the hull, tapping a secret message. The seas says, "I like you little boat. Its well made, strong , warm, dry. I like the way it rides gently on the waterline. I like to watch as it rolls lightly on the wakes of passing boats but never leaks or spills noxious things into my eye. I know what the feel of a deck under your feet does to you! It is my present to you. Happy Today!"
For the solitude. It is often very quiet here, except when my flying companions soar in and dive for the fish right beside the boat (that takes getting used to). Or the bob along and suddenly slip below the surface on alarmingly long hunts. They glide by, breathtakingly beautiful, skimming low, searching the out-going tides.
For the seven gorgeous swans who live near the marina and visit often. For the gulls, ducks, herons, egrets, and geese who call loudly to all who will hear, to lunch, to play, to fish, or to just swoop for the fun of swooping.
For days filled with adventure, work too, always. But enjoyable work, full of new things to learn,
new (often ancient) skills to acquire. The more you learn about boats the more interesting they become. ( I work full time and overtime to pay for all of this. It is now low rent housing and talk about high cost travel! (But it is always worth it!)
For all-night fishing parties without having to leave the dock when my water loving insomniac friends arrive without bait and chum and their new CD's and a yen for the phosphorescent tides and an unequaled view of the night sky. Usually we don't catch much alongside, but who cares, it is fun. Damon Runyon (I'll bet he fished) said, "All life is 6 to 5 against."
For the camaraderie of the sea-going community, which has to be experienced to be believed.
For the freshest seafood. My traps are a success. (I bartered crabs for this computer plus a car-top carrier for my "someday I'm going to have a kayak" dream.) I have a fish trap, four crab traps, an eel and minnow trap (for bait), and five fishing poles. So, no matter what, I always eat. Even though the boat is tied to the end of a long pier by power lines and a satellite dish, and meals are prepared from a refrigerator and propane stove, still the mooring lines are just loose enough that the boat can swing slightly, responding to tides and winds, almost as if we were tacking at anchor the most delicious of all treats. It is my intention to become so self sufficient that we can anchor comfortably out over clam or oyster beds or bottom-fish at the edge if the bay-floor drop-off, a twenty minute drive out into the Chesapeake.
For my fishing friends, my most precious cargo, who hope to fish on the weekends with me (and also an Italian cook and a masseuse, who
don't fish but volunteered to ship out with us on a "working vacation." HEY!)
For the ship lights. There is a special feeling, almost romantic, when a ship coming from someplace, perhaps bound for another, makes it safely into port at night. Truman
Capote wrote, " The faces of the truly beloved's of the world are, in their lovers' eyes, ship lights, lilacs opening and memory, yes - it being the earth and water of existence - memory."
For the gentle-rocking, cradle-soft bunk below at the bow, lined with books and family albums, where sleep invites me, irresistibly. It smells of cedar and the salty air that comes in through the open port beside my pillow, one small foot above sea level.
I've done everything possible to make this poem called a boat safe and seaworthy, capable of carrying us wherever we want to go together. T. S Eliot said, "Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go."
At last after nine months of almost, nearly, any day
now, and very soon, the boat and two trusty crew and I "took to sea." For five hours out on the Bay we checked out all the systems. At the helm was a friend, captain of her own four boats over seventeen years. The other, handled the bow lines ad was the "forward lookout" keeping us between the marker buoys. It was not the best of weather. The fog was, as down-easters put it, "thick enough to cut and stack."
We couldn't see more than thirty feet in any direction, let alone scan the horizon for oncoming traffic ( we were nowhere near the shipping channel.) We blew the new horn which was glorious (but no one answered since no one else was lucky enough to be out with us.) We had the whole Bay to learn the helm, troll for fish (no) , and anchor for lunch.
I have never seen so many shades and tints of gray. Even the only bird dumb enough to hope for a leftover kosher hotdog was a pewter-colored seagull bobbing alongside. Usually the interference between the sea and the sky is sharply edges, the elements meet but the realms don't mingle much. This was eerie, to see nothing but misty silver clouds hung on limed walls. The sea's surface was as soft as skin. It was as if the Bay had shipped a great gentle arm around us and tucked us into a watery envelope.
We had topped the tanks and checked the charts and caught the out-going tide, it was the ;last possible week to test the boat before winter lay up (enforced by the insurance policy.) So out we went.
only regret was that my son, who is designing a homepage for this log, couldn't be with us. His connection to water ( he lives in Arizona and is into Zen) is like saying, "When you boil rice, know that the water is your own life." Ok.
We took turns trying to get the helm to hold properly to the compass heading (it never did until I moved the computer away from the compass) (Yes.) We had no rocky shoals or treacherous tides or evil currents to contend with, but slipping over an chartered sandbar with two feet of to spare scared the daylights of of me. The ancient mariner's rule was in effect: "Hang onto something. Move only one hand and foot at a time." The decks we so wet they were greasy.
The crew kept taking pictures I couldn't get rid of my silly grin; after two years of several false starts and disappointing results, all the systems were working so perfectly! In this monochrome world, rockets were blasting off! Ah, the child's return!
We floated home, we must have I suppose. Its hard to write in mid-air but I'll try. And I'll share this journey too with you, if you like.
And Pulitzer prize winning author Annie Dillard wrote: "Get to work. Your work is to keep cranking the flywheel that turns the gears that spins the belt in the engine of belief that keeps you and your desk in midair..."
Pixel, Mauser, Ruger, Oreo,