Archive for August, 2008

East with Edward

August 30, 2008

I put the 2nd edition book galleys to bed in Jonesport, the manuscript spread out on the boat table, on the cell phone with Joannah’s lilting brogue from Edinburgh, we leafed our way through the final changes in each chapter.  With this year-long project finally in the bag, we leapt out of Moosabec Reach on a singing north wind, with only jib and jigger (two of the three sails) up.  Two were enough – we roared around the corner in gulps of air, the rigging keening in the wind, up into Chandler Bay, pausing only because we caught a lobster pot on the rudder, which in the end we had to cut.

My dad used to chant “Robert Augustus Gardner Monks carried his money around in trunks”.  The Gardners (or the Monks, don’t know, they married) own stately and beautiful Roque Island, the easterly goal of our cruise.  I had been there once, years ago, and had put my boat on a rock and otherwise not acquitted myself well.  My father, alive at the time, had been philosophical about my troubles, having gotten himself into many scrapes in his sailing days.  I hated sailing with him when I was young – he was a yeller, which I now realize from my own tendencies happened when he was scared – but had reveled in it since I had grown and become the captain myself.

As we rounded from Chandler’s into Englishman’s Bay on the north point of Roque, the Gardner-Monks compound revealed itself – house after large house on a beautiful green sward, surrounded by the grey granite cliffs of Roque, to which the trees cling with Maine tenacity.  As we changed tacks in Shorrey Cove, there was a strange thumping roar we didn’t understand, and then a helicopter lifted out of the trees, and tilted off through the thick northerly air toward Bangor.

We worked our way up the bay to Roque Bluffs, where we anchored of  frigid beach, and I went overboard to check that the lobster pot and all its line was well and truly out of the propeller.  The water was so cold that after surfacing I could not find my testicles for some time, except by the ache.

By the time we left, the wind had risen to a shriek, and we roared down Englishman’s (past a castle – three stories complete with crenellations, the whole Rapunzel bit, on a small island that marked the border between the two bays – like an English folly.  Who pays to cart an entire castle – every worker had to be imported, every stone would have to be loaded into a boat and unloaded again – to be carted out to a small, remote, treeless island?  Another Monks?) into Machias Bay, with the huge round antennae of the sinister Cutler naval base.

The sky was grey, the sea was up to a steep chop, and the boat was straining downwind at 7+ knots, but we were exhilarated – this was as far east as either of us had been, and certainly the farthest east I had been with a boat under my command.  At that moment I decided “This is enough”- as modest an easterly run as it might be for real sea sailors – and shaped around the Libby Islands to turn back to Roque for the night.  Just as I uttered that order to myself in my head, a large dark blue dragonflty flew under my arm, around between Annie and I, and then disappeared upwind.  We are talking a mile or more offshore, with a heavy wind – what’s a dragonfly doing out there?

My father always appears to us in dragonflies – even when he was alive, it was his totem – he often commented on them and their colors and their flying ability, and a dragonfly swept similarly through his hospital room at the moment of his death.  So forgive me, it’s unutterably New Age, but I believe Edward paid us a congratulatory visit, toasting our easterly achievement.  I am glad he’s still around.


Hitting a bridge with a boat

August 30, 2008

Now, it’s not like that barge hanging up on a bridge abutment in the Mississippi, but:

The Beals Island bridge over Moosabec Reach way Down East by Jonesport is on the chart at a 39’ clearance.  Although I have never measured my mast, I approached this bridge with a measure of confidence, born of my previous experience.  That first time, 10 years ago, I looked at the bridge with trepidation, and my sailing companion took the outboard dinghy and went well away from the boat as we approached the bridge, and came back reporting that he could see light between the top of my mast and the bottom of the bridge.  Not being a geometer, I pressed him on the math until I was convinced, and we passed under the span with several feet to spare, as he promised.

So this time, as I neared the ominously low-looking span, I was blithely assuring my sailing companion of this time that there was plenty of clearance.  Even so, we reduced sail and put the engine on in reverse to slow our hull caught in the fast moving tide that was shooing us down the reach.  Turns out my confidence (oh, it was ever thus) had about a foot of arrogance in it, and the top of the mast struck the bridge with a clang, crash, and then a series of scraping, sickening metal noises.

My utter surprise and Annie’s utter shock stopped us for a second.  The very upper part of the mast has antennae, instruments, and a light on it, and bits of plastic and metal clattered onto the deck, followed by flakes and almost sooty stuff that I though was part of my boat, but turned out on later inspection to be shards and flakes of bridge paint – apparently we gave nearly as good as we got.

We caught on the first girder, turned sideways under the bridge, freed that one and caught the second, and then (the crashes!) the third, but the fourth was lower than the others, and there we caught more solidly.  We were in a pickle – if we tried to go upstream we would have to pass under the three girders we had already buckled under.  To stay where we were would slowly, as the tide rose another 5 feet, poke our mast up through the roadway, or (more likely) down through our boat.  Every minute the tide rose (13 feet in six hours around here) would mean we were more stuck.

Using the engine, backing and filling between the two girders penning the mast above us, I got the boat sideways to the current, parallel to the roadway, and let her float back into the girder (crash, again).  Then I cut the engine, and the strong tide carried the hull out from under the bridge, tilting the boat and the mast until it slipped under the girder and with a shudder we were free.

Within minutes we were laughing between adrenalin bursts.  We are now sailing without a wind vane or a masthead light, but luckily the radio antenna was a whip, and survived, and all the truck that holds the top of the sails is scraped but intact.

Never again will I assume. (I assume I’ve said that sometime before.)


August 30, 2008

Sometimes life is to be lived, not written about. The past few weeks have been fully experienced, so no posts to this blog. But now let’s start again.


At the moment, I am surrounded by the child-like energy we identify as ‘cute’, not the usual aura for us old fuddy-duddies with grown children and no grandchildren, a harried lifestyle, and anti-social tendencies.

The word comes from a shortening of ‘acute’ – implying quick-witted intelligence and perception, relating it to the word ‘cunning’, which has two interestingly dichotomous meanings, both of which are related to the word ‘know’ – connaitre in French, gnosis in Greek – a cunning politician and a cunning baby.

Our 12-year-old nephew has been spending some time here this summer, and he is cute in the smelly sox, hair-across-the-eyes, finding-his-way manner of that age. Actually enthusiastic but trying to be cool, he is cute to us knowing adults because his nascent social stratagems are so obvious. Loves sports, hates to lose, loves to fish, hates ‘girls’ (Riiiiight – actually his sexuality, just cracking the husk of latency, has a hidden, almost predatory nature to it – we hate girls at that age for the power they have over us.).

Different from the ‘cute’ of the five and a half year old who showed up last week, a Chinese adoptee, whose sensitive but earthed father came to help me teach a class. He is totally besmitten, and why not? Mya is sma-art, a gifted mimic, disarmingly frank about her weaknesses or yours, and totally comfortable in her body. This is a kid to root for, one of the ones who will save the world.

Put them together, and Mya drove Joseph. When we stopped the boat at the picnic spot, she was the second over the side after her father. Though Joseph was unfamiliar with the sea, expressed a fairly profound fear of sharks, and clearly was opposed to exposing his body, he could not be outdone by Mya, and jumped in grumpily only to enjoy himself thoroughly.

(Another day, we took Mya out again, without Joseph, and she wouldn’t go in the water at all – the drive works both ways, I guess.)

But can anything compare with a kitten for cuteness? Hermes is the first animal I‘ve ever chosen for any house I share with Quan. Angelina was ostensibly ‘my cat’, but actually Quan brought her by when we were still just friends, 16 years ago: “You have Misty here sometimes – she has to have an animal.” I travel so much, I didn’t want the bother. Quan didn’t so much insist as simply act as if I hadn’t spoken – a trait I should have recognized before I married her, though it is one I have come to adore, and have watched her use on many other people besides me. It’s surprising how often she gets her way, and how often her way was better than what she didn’t bother to oppose.

Anyway, Misty is four and up for a visit, Quan shows up with three kittens, saying I can choose any one, but that one’s spoken for already and anyway you should really have two to keep each other company, and drives away leaving Misty and I with the impression that we had ‘chosen’ Angelina and Josefina, whereas Quan had simply delivered the cats she chose for us.

We have had a succession of maybe a dozen cats since then, sadly lost to old age, cars, and woodland predators, including Josefina. As well we’ve had horses, a hundred plus rabbits, a couple of chinchillas, the occasional wounded bird – not one of which have I had a hand in choosing. So when the doddering Angelina finally lost it and died this spring, I determined I would choose my next cat.

Quan tried to steer me, but I am by now hip to her ways, and went to the shelter myself. She still tried handing me one she liked. I saw Hermes right away, but you want to be fair so I checked out all the cats, a heart-rending parade of cages with cats showing all the five stages of grief, the newest giving their best ‘take me!’ silent appeals, hard on a cat’s dignity.

You can’t take them all, so I took Hermes – the Greek messenger god, associated with Loki in Norse mythology, Coyote in Native American lore – and what a love he is turning out to be. No point in detailing how he crawls up your pant leg (or, for a short time until he learned, your leg if you’re wearing shorts) or tears around after a feather, or how he won over the other cats – it’s all familiar.

Mya and Joseph both loved Hermes, so they were all cute together. Cute implies innocent – in its original sense of ‘no harm’ – and – every parent’s fervent and useless prayer – may none of these cute beings come to harm themselves. We can’t expect cute to survive – Hermes is growing out of it in cathood, and both of the children will hit puberty and become explicit about the inherent sexuality in their nature, and the long journey upwards to conscious use of sexual power begins.

Childhood sexuality is a hard subject. Of course we also describe our first sexual honeys as ‘cute’, but we don’t mean it in the same way as I have been using it. The British tabloids – I am told, we don’t see them here – have had Gary Glitter’s guts for garters for his having sex with pubescent girls in foreign climes (aging glam rocker – think a cross between Boy George and Paris Hilton 20 years from now).

While Hermes is definitely asexual, and Joseph stands on the edge of explicit sexuality, what are we to make of Mya? She is not asexual, she simply has a different relation to sexuality. All human energy is at base sexual – read The Selfish Gene. I have certainly seen young children with a high sex drive – disconcerting, how do you handle it without either playing into it or squashing it? I can understand an attraction to it, meaning I could find some resonance with it in myself, though I have zero desire to act out, and haven’t since I played doctor in 4th grade.

Then of course there’s the other side: Are these girls being sold or duped into sexual slavery, or are they choosing among options? It is very difficult in that pubescent age (people mature earlier in 3rd world countries, they have to) to determine what’s ‘choice’. I am told that each of the prostitutes in Bangkok supports an average of 22 Thais in the countryside, often their families of course. What would they say about the sex tours that provide the money that they send back home? It is easy to be righteous from the safety of our Calvinist homes.

Mya, growing up in America with the very best of parents, will escape this choice which some of her Asian sisters will have to make. May nothing or no one violate her trust of the world, but may no one stifle her natural energy either, as mine was carefully curbed, snuffed, and buried by my well-meaning parents.

In the course of my career as a therapist, I have treated many survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Here’s the surprising thing: for many of these women (it is predominantly women), it is not their relationship to sexuality that is disturbed by these early events – many of these women are orgasmic and perfectly normal sexually. What is always disturbed is their relationship not to sex, but to power. Every one of these people has a problem relating to power, wounded in either responding to it or wielding it, though how it manifests differs markedly.

The problem with sleeping with your clients, or children, or your groupies is not the sex per se, but the power differential in the relationship. Here’s where my own sexuality reaches its natural curb: I can find no desire in myself for a sexual relationship where I have to overpower. The heat for me comes with the joyous mutual consent – fully-informed consent as they say nowadays – and without it I would be a limp puppy.