Archive for June, 2009

Tragedy

June 27, 2009

I cannot be the first to observe that Shakespeare’s tragedies are linked to a man’s decades. Hamlet is a play for a man in his doubting twenties, Othello for a man in his prideful thirties, Macbeth for an ambitious man in his forties, and finally Lear for an aging man in his fifties. Of course an ‘old’ man is older now, and I just feel myself coming into Lear as I enter my sixties. Oh, let me not be mad!

Yachties

June 26, 2009

Just a few boat notes:

Careening the boat

When you need to access the bottom of the boat – as I needed to to change out a faulty depth sounder – you can haul it, but that’s expensive, so I careened it: brought it up beside the pier near the shore at high tide, and tied it in.  As the tide went out, she settled onto her keel.  I tied her in with many lines – it looked like a spider web or a Jacob’s Ladder between the rail and the pier- you sure as hell don’t want it falling outward. The boat could also fall on its nose (bow) in this situation, but mine stayed poised on the forward part of the keel.

Once the tide went beyond the transducer, I stood in my boots and went to work.  It’s an odd feeling to be looking down through a 2″ hole in your hull knowing the tide has turned and is flowing in inexorably.  I needed help, and got it from a neighbor more versed in marine carpentry (I don’t have the decisive surgical confidence to slice into my boat), but we got the new sounder in and sealed before the water once more enveloped the hull and set her free.  As evening fell, the 12-hr cycle was up and I eased her backward off the pier and back onto the mooring.  The way I traverse the edge with this boat, I need a reliable reading of the depth.

Going ashore

Thus equipped, I went out in the rain and wind (the choice this June is rain and wind, or rain without wind) with a friend not so versed in sailing.  We raced downriver to the sea – out the river in less than an hour.  We turned and beat up the Thread of Life against both the wind and tide in a quartering sea.  The wind funneled down the thin passage, working up spume and froth. I was doing pretty well for such adverse conditions, doing smart short tacks and working our way up slowly.

But on one tack, I didn’t bring her around smartly enough, and we were caught in irons (stopped dead, into the wind, with the sails flapping like flags).  The boat fell off toward the shore.  I tried one tactic of turning downwind (Tycha will turn on a dime sometimes) but the wind was too strong and the space too small, and you have that realization that slows everything down: It’s unavoidable; I’m going up on the rocks.

I let everything go and turned upwind, and the bow nosed in amongst the ledges, finding so much kelp that we hardly felt the bump.  The stern swung in, enough so that I could back the jib.  She filled away, and we sailed off the rocks without even turning on the engine or having panic anywhere other than the pit of my stomach.  I don’t think my mate even knew how much danger we were in, or what a close call it was: we could have been held there by all that wind, and the hull cracked by the waves on the rocks within a half an hour.  I was chastened, and turned tail back down the passage to try again another day.

Rescue

A lobsterman came up to the pier as I sat on the end on my cell phone, telling me that one of the cove’s sailboats was drifting off downriver.  My own sailboat is the only reliable engine I have, so I jumped aboard and headed out after this sweet little wooden day-sailer.  By the time I caught up with it, the mooring had caught again, but the boat was only feet from some ledges at the north end of an island.  The rain is still here, and the north wind that plucked up the (too small) mooring was still with us.

I brought my boat up to windward of the little one and anchored it, letting out the anchor line to come down as close to the adrift boat as I dared.  But a strong tide was running, so I was still too far to get a line from my boat (which requires 6′) to the day-sailer (which was in 2′, but happy enough for the moment).  I pulled up my anchor, repositioned myself, and set it again, this time as I let out more anchor road, my stern came back in line with the little one’s bow.

Now comes the tricky part: I spliced together several docking lines and, tying one end off, rowed back (correction: steered back – the wind was howling by now and blew me backward on tis own) to the little boat, took off the buoy and line to the anchor (the owner can fetch it later) and bent on my docking line on his cleat.  I raced back up the wind in my dinghy, because the day-sailer was now free to go backward toward the rocks.  Leaping aboard, I yanked in the docking line so that he was off the rocks.

I then started pulling in my anchor line, and this is another tricky moment, as there is a period when the anchor is no longer hooked to the bottom, but not yet aboard either, and during this time the wind was pushing me (and him) back into the ledges of the island.  But I got the anchor back in place and secure, and then ran for the wheel to get her out of there.  The last part was easy-peasy, towing it the mile back upriver to a free mooring at our place.  Now comes the hard part: dealing with the owner.

Eagle 2

June 26, 2009

I was sailing back upriver through the Narrows, sluicing through with the tide and wind both.  Gulls and osprey hover over this area,  diving into the back eddies to fish.  The current swirls so much I wasn’t paying attention to them, trying to keep the boat from getting broached.  One osprey (sea-hawk) dived in front of me, and I thought, “He was big,” and sho’ nuf, what surfaced was the white head of a young eagle – probably last year’s child of the mother in “Eagle”, back a bit in this blog.

I’ve seen eagles hit and grasp at the surface with their talons, but I’ve seldom seen one dive head-first like this.  And then: Instead of flying up, his white shoulders came above the water’s surface and he swam – literally doing a slow breast-stroke beat of his mighty wings underwater, lifting them mostly up and out to get them forward – as if carrying a heavy weight to shore.  When he got there, the reason was evident – he dragged a big bass up on the gravel beach, secure in his talons.  The fish was too heavy for him to fly with.  The ospreys and gulls tried to dive bomb him and drive him away from the sivery white fish, still flapping a little but held very firmly.  Between them and the huge ‘bird’ of the sailboat, he flew a few feet, but had to set down again – the fish was almost as big as he was!  My last view was of him starting to eat his meal al fresco, with the other birds circling around him like a horde of over-attentive waiters at a bistro.

It makes me remember: I have actually seen an eagle swim another time.  We were sailing in the Bras d’Or lakes in Nova Scotia.  Brackish and large, they behave somewhere between lakes and a sea.  The wind started out mild, so we set a mackerel lure behind the boat to see what we could catch for supper, enjoying the tall pines and sweeping fields that attracted Alexcander Graham Bell when he was developing the telephone in Boston and had his ‘little Scotland’ out here.  Bell was a polymath, and well worth studying – he built a submarine, tetrahedronal kites, all kinds of stuff beyond the telephone.

The wind picked up and suddenly we were all hands on deck doing the sail management thing – winds will take you by surprise on lakes.  By the time we got out of the worst of it and in the lee of an island, we had forgotten all about the lure.  And then we saw a huge eagle descending to about 100 yds behind us.  We were admiring the outstretched wings, the huge claws – until suddenly we realized, “Oh, no, he’s going for the lure!”.  We reeled it in madly, but we were way too late and he was way to accurate: wham, splash, and oh my god, we caught an eagle.  Tangled up witht he line and the hooks, he swam in that same way – white head out, shoulders shrugging through the water.  He (I’m assuming) made it to the shore of an island, and somewhere in there the line broke between the lure and the boat, but it was still tangled around his legs.

Annie and Ros got into the rowboat while I stayed on the boat to keep it sailing around, and they went toward the eagle.  Before they could get there, he thankfully disengaged himself from the gear and flew off into a nearby tree, to our shouts of relief and delight.  I don’t know what thay would have done anyway: ‘Here, Mr Wild Eagle 30″ tall, let me just untangle our fishing line from your talons right in front of your beak’ – I don’t think so.  They recovered the lure and we were careful about it for the rest of the trip.

But eagles can swim, if compelled.

Jack-o

June 26, 2009

Churlish, I suppose, when the whole world is mourning Michael Jackson, but when the media swirl is done, I expect that his contributions to music, dancing, and certainly jurisprudence may be safely ignored. His music, especially, falls into that category Phil Spector nailed precisely, referring to the Bee Gees Saturday Night Fever, as “dolphin music”.

I worked in Hollywood during my early 20’s, and can personally attest to the vernix of leeches and self-serving scum that attaches itself to the skin of fame, buffering the performer from the hot breath of the public but at the same time parasitizing the host until there is little of what made them a star left. Without knowing anything of the actual story, I feel sure this was Jack-o’s fate, and pity him his post-We Are The World isolated surgical insanity. I expect he was just really tired and couldn’t face another tour. Rest in peace.

Aladdin

June 26, 2009

Aladdin (originally Ala ad-Din, often mistransaletd as “Allah’s duke’, but actually meaning ‘the nobility of faith’) first appeared with his magic lamp over a millennium ago in the stories of A Thousand and One Nights, where Sheherazade, a girl from the harim slated for beheading after one night with the king, supposedly forestalled her execution by intriguing him each night with a different story until he finally gave up and let her live.

Aladdin rubs his hands together while trapped in a cold cave, rubbing a magic ring, and inadvertently setting free a djinni.  His mother, again without knowing, rubs a magic lamp to clean it, and sets free an even more powerful djinni.  Although the djinni does his bidding, Aladdin is not the first to discover that it is easier to let the djinni out of the lamp than to get him back in.

Nor is he the last, as the modern mullah Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will find out for himself in Iran.  No matter what the outcome of this particular election or uprising, the Iranian government is about to find out – as the Chinese did in Tiananmen Square, and as the British did in Boston some 240 years ago – that you can repress an incident easily with the powers of the state, but that the spirit energizing the incident is not so easy to dispel.  The spirit of freedom, once awakened from the lamp, finds ways of slipping out that are beyond the power of the state to cork.

There is a conspiracy theory that says the Iranian government is allowing texts and messages to get out through their network only so that they can identify and persecute the senders after this initial fracas has calmed down.  Even if they do manage some prosecutions and intimidation, the damage they have done to themselves in showing the world these beatings, roving motorcycle thugs, and the tragic shooting of Neda is far, far more dangerous to their autocratic rule than anything they will gain.

In Russia, Brezhnev at first suppressed computers, but then succumbed because of the disadvantage in engineering education that would result.  Once the computers were in, information was hard to confine, and Andropov, Gorbachev, and the fall of the wall all followed as the night the day.

“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others” said Churchill, and modern math is proving him right.  It is the wiki method of government. We have all seen the problems with American democracy – right and left created he them – but some sort of representative parliament with a leadership accountable to the masses every few years seems to provide the opportunities for an unlikely runner like Barack Obama, whereas the best laid plans of even benevolent dictators so often end up like Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.

The key to the downfall of the modern Middle East caliphates will not be democracy per se, but the unrestricted flow of information.  A democracy without the fifth column of a free and critical press is not viably a democracy.  It will be as much of a shame if Barack does shut down right-wing radio (as blissful as the silence would be after their cheap and small-minded blaring) as when Pinochet shut down the press in Chile.  But ‘the press’ is a more diffuse and dispersed than it ever used to be in the Wiki whacky world of Twitter and videophones.  The ubiquity of information may be the most powerful force for democracy the world has ever seen.  It is playing out right now in Iran, but all tyrannies – in Myanmar, in Egypt, in Saudi Arabia – having learned the value of ‘controlling the narrative’ should shake in their upturned shoes, as they are going to find that the air is filled with wild electrons, dancing across borders, current slipping from person to person.  There will be no hiding in the new information world.

Oxygen Bar

June 1, 2009

Across the street from Suchi Tora, my favorite in Boulder, is an oxygen bar.  Never having tried one, and being loaded up with formaldehyde from the dissection, my friends and I slipped in.  Talk about throwback – felt like a 60’s Amsterdam coffee shop hash place – the scent of drug deals.  The man behind the counter was perfect – balding hippie, cadaverous, obsequious in a Uriah Heep kind of way – but I know this place has been here for several years, so he must be doing OK.

Having selected our scent from the menu – I chose ‘Valor’, others ‘Release’, ‘Serenity’, ‘Purification’ or some such New Age solipsism – the glass of water beside us started bubbling like a hookah – still in the patchouli 60’s.

He opens and plugs a plastic tube into the end of the bubbling glass and wham!, suddenly it’s the throwforward: the plastic tube goes round your ears with two little bits up your nose like my Dad on oxygen in the hospital, and we’re all looking around at each other, slumped in our overstuffed chairs with plastic up our nose like some old farts in the rec room.

Breathing up a storm – I’m paying to breathe now – we inhaled the scented oxygen for all we’re worth.  The guy forgot us and left us on for twice our allowance, or maybe that’s just the ‘first one free’ mentality.  They say that cocaine facilitates oxygen uptake in the brain, and that’s the feeling as we get out – a bit of a coke high: invincible, floating, alert.  It lasts a couple of hours, but I cannot say I would go back again, except to clean out the smell of death.