Archive for the ‘Summer’ Category

A Nation in Mourning

September 20, 2010

I root for the Red Sox and the New England Patriots, and I love it when they make it to the World Series or the Super Bowl.  But if they lose, I can’t imagine giving it more than a minute or two’s rueful commentary with my viewmates, and then we get on with life.

Now for the players, whose salaries and status depend on such outcomes, and who put in such effort to get there, I can imagine a top-line defeat can be a bitter pill.  For the managers and owners and coaches, I have always subscribed to the idea that anyone hiring them would be looking for someone smart enough to play the game, and dumb enough to think it’s important.

At the end of my workshop yesterday (a confused but earnest attempt to set out my views on somatic perception to a mixed group of body-oriented psychotherapists organized by Misty’s mom, Giselle), she unwisely put the England – Germany score in the World Cup on the board: 4-1 in favor of Germany, a horrible score for those of you not conversant with the beautiful game.  Bad move: some of the students literally went into shock – bent over, having difficulty breathing, others collapsed into an exhaled depressive position; manifesting all those outward signs of trauma we had been examining during the workshop.

Paddington Station, always a bustling throng, was praeternaturally quiet; the train back to Oxford was best described as stunned into silence, with no one speaking to their seat mates.  When I got home, I looked at the highlights (endlessly playing on all four England’s channels), and, although England was robbed of a goal (why don’t they use video to decide these things?), they were simply outplayed start to finish, so let’s just get on with alleviating suffering, appreciating the beauty, loving our children, and cleaning up the planet.

I cannot for the life of me understand why a game – a game! – should take on such identity and importance for those not playing.  Let’s be stunned into silence by the oil spill or the war in Afghanistan or genocide or the use of rape as a weapon of war, or conversely by ‘La Boheme’ or a glorious sunset or the exquisite economy of fractal mathematics or something.

John Cleese has the silliness of American football down:

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Judgment

September 2, 2010

I’ve already mentioned my scythe in these pages.  An impulse buy at our ‘Common Ground’ organic fair, it has not languished like so many of my ‘good ideas’.  A well-handled scythe is as deft as any weedwhacker, with the added advantage of waking no one up at six in the morning, when the grass is wet and so falls easily before the blade’s arcing sweeps.

Scything requires an unexpectedly lovely total rotary movement, Spiral and Functional Lines working around a stablised axis from feet to neck.  Like Tolstoy’s peasant workers, I march slowly forward with an easy swinging motion.  Unless I am working around a rock or tree, I watch out for using my arms, as this changes the movement from ‘being’ (axial) to ‘doing’ (appendicular) in an instant.  You can carry on with the core movement for a long time without fatigue.  And about the time you do feel a bit tired, you pause to hone the blade with a few singing sideswipes of the whetstone I carry on my hip.

This morning’s task is to clear out around ‘Lake Julia’, our small pond by the road.  With my larger blade, even the tough-stemmed ragweed and Queen Anne’s Lace (must be almost time for school) is cut off at the knee, releasing bursts of pollen to which I am happily immune.  An unfamiliar runner passes and asks, “Is this your farm?”  A bit aback, I look around – here I am with a scythe, across the country road from where Donna is turning out the horses and feeding the ducks – I do indeed live on a farm, though I have never aspired to the romance of farming, and don’t think of this my home – which has had three names in my lifetime: Saltwater Farm, Abandoned Farm, and Mudfog Farm – as a farm at all.

I turn back to my scything, where we can leave me working the next hundred feet or so of weeds along the shoreline with the ducks and geese eyeing me warily while we set up the next and more interesting encounter of this dawn’s light.

I believe I also mentioned in my autobiographical posts that I have been stuck between town and gown my whole life here.  As a boy, I was a Mainiac, born right here in Damariscotta and raised right here on this ‘farm’.  My parents, however, were ‘summer people’ who had graduated to ‘from away’ when they moved here in ‘49.  Long story short, I never felt at one with the native kids with whom I went to school in the winter, but nor did I feel much kinship (nor they with me) for the kids from Darien and Scarsdale and Wellesley who came in for the summer, with whom I did sailing lessons and scampered among the granite boulders while the adults with drawling  upper crust New England accents held evening shoreside boozy picnics.  I was a half-caste in both groups, and learned to enjoy my own company.

I have great sympathy with the locals – almost all of the shore property has been bought up by these out-of-staters, so that only 20 miles of the entire 2000 miles of Maine coast is accessible by commercial fishermen, and few locals can afford the kind of access that these Boston bankers can easily buy to occupy only one or two months a year.  In order to have a chance at buying this farm from my family, I have had to live away from here to make my fortune before returning, and still board planes regularly to keep me in funds.  So my cultural sensibilities are of the over-educated foreigner, but my political leanings are with the locals who wrest their living from the river – and thus our wharf is available to local lobstermen and aquaculturists as well as yachts.

The confusion extends to the locals themselves.  On the one hand, I am ‘little Tommy Myers’ whose crewcut, bottle glasses, knock knees and Keds used to climb the hill to the two-room schoolhouse; on the other hand, I don’t speak like a local, clearly have resources, and the whole bodywork thing is certainly a puzzlement.  Mervin Rice offered the opinion that I must be teaching these people to grow marijuana, because ‘no one would come way out heah to learn to rub bodies’.

And it is to Mervin’s son David that we now turn.  David and I grew up here together, under Mrs. Thompson’s watchful glare.  ‘Thompie’ once caught David ‘feeling up’ Cheryl in the back corridor, and furiously pelted him through the schoolroom, punctuating her words with blows: “David Rice, how dare you, you, you…” and forced to use a verb: “fighting with that girl for?”  We managed straight faces until they were through the far door, and then we burst into wild giggles – she was the last one to know what was going on in behind the wall, all of us having seen that ‘fighting’ was the last thing on precocious Cheryl’s mind.

Fast forward to a few years ago, when David ‘inherited’ the cottage in the corner of our field from Eleanor, Mervin’s patron and girlfriend (they were so cute – even at 90 they ‘didn’t want anyone to know’).  As Adam, David’s son, said, “He ain’t goin’ to hurt her none.”  The gift of her house was a surprise, as Eleanor – still very much alive, the feisty old curmudgeon – went around her only daughter to do so.  This raised some eyebrows around the neighborhood and there were murmurs of ‘undue influence’, but honestly, this was none of our business.  I mention it only to set the context for the larger issue – once ‘in’, David applied for permits to build a large pier out from the cottage into the cove.

Yesteryear, you could build what you wanted on your own property, but now laying a single plank over the water requires all manner of licenses and public notice, which brought the neighbors, a mix of locals and summer residents, out in true NIMBY fashion, me among them.  I sat uncomfortably in this group – we have a large pier, and the cove (and my neighbors’ view) is cluttered with lobster boats and aquaculture gear we have initiated and encouraged.  Who am I to deny a local fisherman access, no matter how dubious?

The neighbours were pursuing various means to stop David in terms of misrepresentations on his permitting application, but their ace in the hole was that the right-of-way to Eleanor’s cottage (and thus his projected pier) run over our land, so that we could conceivably stop any commercial operation David might want to commence.  I offered for David to have a mooring  and lobster from our pier, but that offer was declined with some salty language thrown in.

Last chance to talk was a highly emotional shouting match down on her property when the DEP had a meeting for airing the issues – and this was a couple of years ago.  The DEP was not impressed with our arguments, as they tend to side with the fisherfolk; and with the bitter words spoken (nay, shouted) at that meeting, the rift was complete, and none of us spoke to Eleanor or David any more, and a tense silence has reigned in the neighborhood. In due time, David (whose family is well-connected in town) got his permits and the pier went up, in spite of the efforts of the neighbours and their lawyers to delay or stop it.  It was indeed a large pier for a one-man show, but honestly the overall negative effect on the cove was underwhelming.

The neighbours, who include good and decent folks, as well as those summer visitors concerned only with their view, continued their legal efforts to get the pier restricted or even removed, but now that it was in, I could no longer find much adamance inside myself.  The pier wasn’t so bad, and he only seemed to be running a traditional single lobster boat operation off’n it, and I could hardly object to that in good conscience with three lobstermen doing the same off our pier.  And also (again, none of my business, but I couldn’t ignore it), they seemed to be taking good care of Eleanor, giving her 24-hour care and keeping up her home, where she had clearly voiced for years to all of us that she wanted to stay – so they certainly weren’t neglecting her.

So one day I called up David’s brother, de facto mayor of this tiny town, and confirmed with him that all David wanted to do was run his lobster boat, not anything bigger – no trucking operations or multiple fishermen the large pier would suggest.  “If that’s all it is,” I confirmed, “You’ll get no trouble from us.” A few weeks later, our family lawyer conveyed this sentiment in legal beagle language.  No good deed goes unpunished: I heard that David was crowing that the Myers’s had ‘backed down’, and the neighbours group was quietly furious at me for tossing away their ace in the hole – so I found myself again in the middle with no friends on either side, but my conscience was clear.

Since then, my feelings continued to be in sympathy with David, an unpleasing man who is just ‘not a people person’ according to the local philosopher, and I found myself increasingly frustrated with the neighbours’ huffy objections, which seemed petty, superior, and without much standing.  David and I hadn’t spoken, but he took to waving at Quan, and then to me when we passed on our little road.

One of the neighbour group opposed to the pier is wealthy enough to own a beautiful sailboat, but he isn’t much of a seaman and checks on it very seldom, and scarcely uses it all summer.  One day on a spring tide his boat lifted its inadequate mooring and floated off down the river on the ebb.  David, coming back from his day’s lobstering, noticed it.  I was on the phone at the end of my wharf, when he steamed up close and points to the boat as it was turning merrily out of sight, calling over his engine (the first words to pass between us since the shouting match), “Damned if I’m goin’ after it after what they done t’me, but you can if you want to”.

The law of the sea is clear: you don’t let a boat be destroyed if you can help, so I jumped aboard my sailboat and went and chugged off to rescue it off the ledges where it had lodged, calling the owner when I had it in, so he could come and reset it.  Scant thanks I got for my few hours work, but if you will allow it, I know the boat itself was grateful and bobbed its thanks to me, and that was enough – she’s a beauty.

Truth is, I have more respect for a man who can care for a boat, no matter who small or humble, whereas the one who just buys it for status is not as much of an ‘owner’ in my book.  Participation = ownership = democracy.  When he first wanted to access this boat off my pier, it was his idea that since he wasn’t using his boat for a commercial operation, he should pay less than the others, the fishermen.  Now that’s noblesse without the oblige,  My idea was that the fishermen had bait and fuel and traps and permits to pay for, and that he, a man of leisure, should pay more.  My respect for the neighbours’ position continued to deteriorate.

So back to scything along the farm pond, and by now I am down near the dirt road that forms the right of way down to Eleanor’s.  A new black pickup pulled to a halt at the head of Eleanor’s drive (actually ours), and out rolled David, and he came over to speak to me.  He’s my age, but he feels older and short of breath.

The details of the conversation aren’t important – he still feels persecuted, though he has largely gotten his way.  He wanted me to know the neighbours were speaking against me also – all that aquaculture gear out in the cove – but I don’t set much store by that either way.  We agreed the river is there to be fished as well as enjoyed.  I asked after Eleanor, and asked for permission to go see her, as I really enjoyed the old battleax before this neighbourhood falling out.

Up close, he was still unpleasant, but sad and just incompetent at communicating, not a villain.  As we finished, I stuck out my hand in a way he could not refuse, and in that handshake a wave of relief came over me.  I was not afraid of David, nor of the neighbours, and am accustomed to the cognitive dissonance of being at odds with either or both.  But how sweet to put this chapter behind me, to be at peace with the surroundings.  Neither David nor the errant sailor will probably ever be my close friends again, but I can handle them both.  It set my teeth a little on edge to have a two-year silence after a shouting match with the guy who (de facto until Eleanor goes, and de jure after) lives next door.

I heard his boat going out into the harbor a few minutes later as I finished edging the pond, and shouldering the scythe, I stepped off my country farm and back into the management of the worldwide Anatomy Trains ‘empire’.

Stern Watch

August 2, 2010

There’s a lot of ingenuity where the land meets the sea meets the sky, where the Fire of our imagination stirs the three elements – Earth, Water, and Air.  The hull is made of heavy ‘earth’ material, yet it floats through the water powered by the air.  While not everything to do with boats is ingenious, it does involve engineering, or what my old mentor Bucky Fuller called ‘comprehensive anticipatory design science’.  Never use one word where four will do: design.  But it is anticipatory: you give it your best shot, but you never know what a boat’s capacities are going to be until it hits the water.

Simple ingenuity: Take rowing, for instance: get into anything that floats with two sticks, and pass them one way through the heavier element – water – and back through the lighter – air – and you will propel the boat along in a ‘preferred’ direction, as Bucky would say.  The more the wind, the more substantial the air element becomes and the more you want to feather the oars to keep your progress.  There is something in the sea’s movement and malleability that begs for a cleverly considered solution, not just the westward-moving sodbuster’s hard work and determination.

I am sure it was long ago that someone first held up their arms – and then an animal skin, and then a piece of cloth – up to the wind’s resistance to propel their primitive craft across a lake, down a river, and eventually out to sea.  But it took observation, experimentation, and a ping in the brain to shape and fasten the sail in such a way as to run side to the wind and then more refinement to climb up toward the direction of the wind, if not actually into it.  While people trickled or poured over the Bering land mass from the East to people the Americas with Anasazis and Abenakis, others moved west – from Babylon to Greece to Rome to Spain, to Netherlands, to England.  Finally their boats were good enough to leap off the face of Europe across the mighty Atlantic, starting with Columbus and Vasco de Gama and Amerigo Vespucci and John Cabot, followed by successive waves of fishermen, trappers, missionaries, and outcasts in an East-meets West confrontation that was disastrous for the industrious land-based AmerIndians and a ‘success’ for the upwind-sailing Europeans.

Bucky introduced me to this idea of the history of civilization being tied to the ability to sail ‘uphill’, so to speak.  He tended to dwell on the cleverness of going upwind and the design of boats having to withstand a ‘24-hour earthquake’ in the form of waves; the consequent decimation of the Indians is my own sour note, added to Bucky’s cheery techno-boostering.

Such are my thoughts as Annie and I bear down in the afternoon southwesterly on Bear Island, Bucky’s spiritual home.  I have been visiting this perfect Maine island for many years.  It has a little cup of a harbor at the leeward end with a couple of small beaches, rising through the woods to a meadow, with a huge summer house on the edge of a cliff looking south.  These islands were purchased by such aristocracy as a young country like America can boast (the Porter’s, with Eliot the photographer as the most well-known member, own Great Spruce, just to the north), and the Fuller family took this one over in 1904, building this house and a couple of others on the island, summering in successive years with successive projects that left the island in a state of genteel playground for the ever widening family.  Right through the 70’s the island was run by Bucky, my teacher, and by his sister Rosie, my friend.

She lived in the winter near my home in Newcastle with her husband Alphonse, who struck me as a patrician buffoon, but Rosie was anything but.  She might have had the education, and the mid-Atlantic tones of the Boston brahmins, but she was a pint-sized bottle of energy with her short Camels and long opinions.  I recognized in her determination something that I only half-recognized in the kindly Bucky, but must have been there: a ruthless ambition to be right.  It was she who stayed on the island all winter during the war – not an easy billet – to keep it from being sold.  In 2004, I attended the centenary of the Fuller family owning Bear Island, and though tributes to Bucky were much in evidence, it was really Rosie who should have been getting the accolades for keeping this jewel in the family that now sprawls over the world, and takes each summer in turns, like so many inherited properties.  As we pass a little beach on the south side, we see some children swimming who could be Bucky’s great-grandchildren, still on the same island as his grandfather.

I sailed myself here first in 1970, on a cruise with my older brother and our respective girlfriends.  My brother, a bit diffident, was loathe to bother the family, but I led our troop up the rutted dirt road traversed only by an ancient Land Rover they kept going from year to year to haul things up from the harbor the great house.  And sure enough, we were welcomed (this was before cell phones, my children, before you could announce your every few yards of progress through the world to all and sundry at any time of the day or night) to the table at Rosie’s house, our bottle of wine cracked and food shared at the groaning board of the family table.

After dinner, Rosie took me aside – “Go on, down to the Tea House, he’s waiting for you.”

The Tea House was just over a knoll, and in the gathering summer dusk we heard the unmistakable tones of Bucky’s Boston drawl, and we entered the soft ball of light from the kerosene lantern.  Bucky was sitting at an old wooden table with a man (the mathematician E. J. Applewhite, as I found out later).  They must have been hard at work on Synergetics, Bucky’s masterwork, but Bucky could not have been more gracious, turning our attention to us.  A  tiny milk-bottle of a man with thick glasses that made his eyes large and swimmy.  The original nerd, the glasses were held on by a string, and the ends of the bows were extra large with embedded hearing aids.  He had a ready smile, but only some really lit up the corners of his eyes.  His mind, so capacious and quick, must have reeked with impatience for the rest of humanity, but Bucky was always kind, always attentive, always patient.

As I was his student, they deferred to me and I asked Bucky some questions.  But since I was his avid student, my questions were coming from his point-of-view, so there was no contrast, and the conversation faltered.  My brother, an artist and literary polymath, broke in and started asking questions I would never have thought to ask: what about Freud? and Robert Frost? what about Communism? what about various schools of art?  Andrew Wyeth?

These questions started the old Fuller gears a-moving, and I have never been so rapt as I was for the next two hours, as Bucky soared through the major movements of thought in the early 20th century, as at home talking about the Impressionists and Jackson Pollack as we was about Lenin and Jung (whom he preferred to Freud, let the record show).  Bucky developed tensegrity, invented the geodesic dome, created the only new projection of the earth to get a patent, as well as making the first aerodynamic car, a manufactured aluminium house, and a lot of other things as well.  What attracted me from the halls of Harvard to sojourn among the hills of southern Illinois was World Game, an attempt to be comprehensive and holistic in addressing the world’s energy and food needs (still in existence: http://www.osearth.com).

This systems approach to problem-solving informed my reworking of the human locomotor system – Bucky Fuller meets Ida Rolf.  But that was all ahead of me – back on this night I was the acolyte, and once I had receded and let my brother run the questions, we had a glorious tour of the intellectual landscape.  After a couple of hours, Applewhite gently intervened and suggested it was time for an old man like Bucky to go to bed, and we left them and adjourned to the bluff at the high end of the island.  Perched there was a platform with just the frame of an odd geodesic dome (the ‘thirty-verty’), made of rough-hewn lumber, woven and tied together.  Lying on our backs with our heads together, looking up through the hexagons and triangles at the stars, it was easy to see the earth turning under the sky.  At the centenary in 2004, I helped rebuild this dome, which had sagged into asymmetry, as part of the event.

Our perspectives, we agreed, had changed.  We reviewed the night’s conversation, cementing in the salient and oblique points.  We stayed there another couple of hours – the night was warm – and then ambled the full length of the island back to our bunks on the boat.  As we past the Tea House, the ‘old man’ Bucky and Applewhite were still deep in conversation, having never moved.

So here I am, 40 years later, back at Bear.  I sailed into the harbor, but by now Rosie and Bucky are long gone, and my connections to the family with them, so we cast an appraising eye on how its being kept up (well) and then turn our attention another problem, which we solve by clever and unexpected (or so I think) use of the boat’s design.  The rest of this is just for sailors:

One of the welcoming arms of Bear’s harbor reaches up toward Great Spruce in the form of a long ledge and another reaches down from Great Spruce. There is a chink in the middle that I know is deep enough for us to get through, but it is small and I am not sure exactly where (the water in Maine, rich in plankton, is not penetrable with the eye below a few inches).  The trouble is the wind is blowing straight into it, so we either hold our breath and barrel through before the wind, hoping for the best (and maybe experiencing the worst: hung on a rock with the wind pushing you onto it), or go all the way around one island or the other.  Don’t want to waste that time; how to go through slowly?

This trick was actually taught to me by my father, and it makes use of the special characteristics of a yawl.  The yawl rig has a tiny little handkerchief of a sail on the rear, the mizzen, which takes a lot of ribbing, sometimes from other sailors who don’t see the point or like the look.  A small mizzen adds little power but a lot of maneuverability, in my opinion.  Put it up at night and you will lie comfortably in the wind at anchor.  Adjust it under sail and she’ll sail herself long enough to get a cup of tea below.  And you can do little things like this:

How to go through a dodgy passage when the wind is bearing you through it:  Turn the boat up, so it points like an arrow into the wind.  Take the jib away, but leave the main up – this sail is now flapping, acting like a wind vane.  Stand at the back of the boat with the mizzen up but loose.  By pushing the mizzen boom this way and that to catch the wind port or starboard, I was able to push the stern to the left or right, backing the boat slowly down through the passage.

Annie knelt below the boom on the stern with me, watching for rocks.  We have a ‘bow watch’ frequently when we are unsure of our depth – someone high on the bow can see dark or light patches that signal thin water.  But this is the first time we have need a stern watch.  By pushing the boom of the mizzen and occasionally tugging the sheet of the main, we were able to go through the passage at less than a knot; even if we had hit, it would have been a bump and a scrape, not a disaster.  Annie, dubious in the extreme about undertaking this, favouring the longer but safer trip around the islands, was delighted and impressed.

As it was, we never touched, and when I judged it safe, we unfurled the jib and backed it, turned on a dime and sped out of there in the usual forward way, to round up some minutes (instead of some hours) later behind the Barred Islands.  Here Annie left glass ten years before.  This habit she has of going ashore to break bottles on Maine beaches is not one I approve of (she does it out of the beaten path – swirly places are best, and she stirs it in), but damned if she didn’t find some pieces of glass she left there when last we stopped here ten years ago – now polished to a soft frosty matte: sea glass, a vanishing phenomenon in our world of plastic.

Wings of Steel

July 27, 2010

The rain falls straight down this summer, and the sun sucks it up again – muggy and still, day after day.  So when Canadian air broke through yesterday morning, I slipped the surly bonds of a fully-scheduled Monday, and by 7:30 I was fully loaded with iced-down food, layers of clothing, and a goal of Rockland by sunset, some 75 kliks away (just over 40 miles).

The morning breeze was fickle, but definitely WNW, pushing the boat onto the dock, requiring that I maneuver it around with the lines, backing it down off the end, throwing the bow line aboard, and using the stern line first as a lever to pull the stern in to bring the bow through the wind, then as a sling shot imparting some forward momentum.  This procedure – a complex way of avoiding turning on the engine – involves grabbing the mizzen stays to jump aboard at the last possible second and vaulting into the cockpit to tighten the sails and catch the wind – no steenking engine for me!  (I did actually turn it on later when things got hairy just to make sure it was working today – discretion is the better part of valor.)

The fishermen are out in force in the river, so I dance between the lobster boats, seeking out the back-eddies in the rising tide that tries to set me back. But the wind is coming over the beam, the easiest point of sail, and by 9am I am skimming past the Devil’s Washbowl, and by 9:10 I am turning left – sorry, easing to port – around the rocky end of Thrumcap, the last string in the Thread of Life. (With no light on the end of Thrumcap, ships often floundered there, and surviving sailors had to swim from island to ledge to Crow Island, the last in the chain, where they could call to the mainland for help – hence the Thread of Life.  The biggest gap, about 50 meters of swirling sea, which I have sailed through with my heart in my mouth, is called the Needle’s Eye.)

This is the open sea, and there should be a swell, but with such a leaden atmosphere this last week, there is nothing.  Just as I turn the real wind arrives.  For the next 5 hours I am stuck to the binnacle and the charging wheel, a pound of cherries and a jug of water the only thing I can reach. With no swell, I barrel along at 6 knots.  At 11, I had the chance to stop at Allen Island, the home of the Wyeth family.  Tycha and I pass through the harbor between the two islands.  Andrew is gone now, of course, but Betsy is keeping the place up well, and it is a pleasant place to stop for breakfast, with a mooring and a view of the 19th century community (in terms of architecture, I have no idea how they order their lives) – spare salt-box capes with clapboards silvery with sea-salt, a curvy greenhouse the only nod to modernity, a flock of island sheep to keep the brush down – they have built over the years.  When the Wyeths are done with it, someone will turn it into an island retreat.

But I am too excited to stop yet, so on the other side of the harbor I set it wing-and-wing – the jib on one side, the main on the other (the Germans call it schmetterlink – butterfly) – with the mizzen strapped in the middle so it doesn’t skew the stern around.  Straight downwind, especially in a stiff breeze, is a difficult point of sail, but I have to get past Old Cilley, another boat catcher: a long, low ledge just under the surface, in this tide a swirl of white water in the chop that the wind is beginning to create.  As I clear Burnt, Monhegan stands tall in the clear air to my right, the top of a mountain from the sea floor, the last one before the clean line of horizon.  To my left, the safety of Port Clyde inside the ledge and some protecting islands – but no, no run for safety yet.

As I turn left another 20 degrees to begin the long run up into Penobscot Bay, the wind chimes up a notch, maybe 25 miles an hour, gusting to over 30.  I don my life vest and hook it to the life lines – this is the most exhilarating sailing, but can turn to a dangerous mess in a minute if something parts.  I briefly wish I had reefed earlier, but then I find the groove and we barrel along at over 7 knots on a broad reach past Mosquito Head and Tenant’s Harbor.

As I approach Whitehead, with its lighthouse on a brow of granite, the wind is compressed as if through a funnel.  For several minutes I really wish I’d reefed, as the wind is so strong that I cannot hold the boat on course, and Tycha and I are forced to veer up into the wind and toward the sloping granite of Whitehead, sails flapping dangerously. (Although it does the sails no good to snap and flap like that, there is little danger of the fabric coming apart – although that did happen to me once in Montana, of all places to be sailing.  The danger is in the hardware – that violent shaking can break a fitting, or a shackle works loose or a pin breaks and suddenly you have a mess on your hands without a lot of sea room to fix it.)

No sea room, and lots of other boats, most less equipped than I to deal with this wind, or so it seems, for these lighter, newer boats are no good in heavy breezes, and several are dropping their sails in wrinkled messes onto the booms, and struggling out of the fray with their engines.  Whitehead is the entrance to the Muscle Ridge Channel, where I was sure to get some respite, but no, after a brief reduction behind Whitehead’s protective arm, it set the chop green out of Seal Cove, and I was rail under, standing on her cockpit sides, trying to maintain a steady-ish course and avoid those who were erratically coming up into the wind to flap, and then falling off again to be flattened sideways.

Sailing these channels one goes from one avoidance to another – Yellow Rock, Clam Islands, between the green spindle on Gardner’s Ledge and the red one on Otter Island.    Thank God for the GPS, as I could not sail the boat in this weather and consult a chart to plot a new course every five minutes.  At Ash, with three buoys in a row marking its outcrops, I really am cornered by one of these ‘Clorox bottles’ (our derisive name for the modern sailboats – high-sided, plenty of room inside, but not much for sailing) got turned up into my path by a gust, forcing me first up toward the rocks, but as that got too hairy, I turned and ran down below them.  Turning your back to 30 mph of wind is not fun, poised on danger if it gybes around, but it was only for a minute, and I got back on my beam reach , but shaking – ‘You shouldn’t be out in this if you can’t handle the boat,’ I mutter, but hell, I am on my edge too, and I am out here, all sails set when I should have shortened sail long ago.

By the time I am at Owl’s Head, a mostly fishing village inside Monroe, I have had enough for a moment – spotting a mooring I decide this would be a great time for a little something.  The current is pouring down the channel, and the mooring spot is shaded from most of the breeze, so after a couple of tries of doing my usual – coming up into the wind to stop dead (you hope) right at the mooring – and having it not work, I remember my lessons from the British Yachtmaster course, and veer away, drop the main, and come downwind (but uptide) on the mooring, letting the jib fly as I reach it to grab the pennant.  It is a small motorboat mooring, so I set the mizzen just right to keep the boat balanced between the current and the wind, so it tugs only lightly on the mooring.  It’s 2 o’clock, and I have been at the wheel for 6 1/2 hours straight. I could use something other than cherries and water – literally the only things I could reach for the last 6 hours. Time for making the boat shipshape – the ropes are a mess – making a boat sandwich (lots of everything, as much as you can hold between two slices of bread) and a few phone calls to the folks I left in the lurch.

Replete and rested by 3, I dropped the mooring, let the current ease me back away from it, and then set the jib to nose on out into the channel, where the wind catches me again.  As I round the light on Owl’s Head, I am by now hard on the wind (meaning close-hauled, all the sails pulled in as tightly as possible, sailing as close to the wind direction as God allows), so I can let the main sheet go and raise the main while I am underway.  A bit tough in this wind, but I git ‘er done and change my destination for Rockport instead of Rockland (no shortage of rocks around here – Stonington is just across the bay), horsing across the fetch of Rockland harbor and finally into the relative calm of the long sleeve that is Rockport.

I cannot bear to turn on the engine after such a fine day without it, but trying to maneuver the inner harbor by sail in this wind with such a crowd of boats in the mooring field sounds challenging, although it might well result in damage to someone’s boat, even mine.  So I settle for an easy pick-up of an outer mooring and a long upwind row to shore and my ride back to the real world.

No whales or porpoises – hardly any seals in that spumy chop, but the feeling I carry home in the car is like that of having been out dancing all night – tired, spent, satisfied.  And indeed, a boat is a device for dancing between the wind and the water – the heavier element that nevertheless moves prettily out of the way of the hull, and the lighter element that takes on the character of steel itself when it gets up to these speeds and comes in contact with the sail.

Wings of Steel I call my sails, sewn last year by Nate Wilson down river here.  The name comes from a Japanese fairy tale.

More than 40 miles in 8 hours, with an hour out for lunch and a nap.  Nothing like it, finest kind.

Asunder

July 23, 2010

A fellow New Englander (and thus subject to that special kind of guilt) E. B. White wrote that: I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.

Yesterday I quoted that dilemma to my class, and expanded it into three, adding the desire to heal one’s family.  My desire to improve the world causes me to create and be present in this class about doing movement work with kids; my desire to enjoy the world is currently expressed in my favorite art – that of dancing between wind and water on this startlingly beautiful coast.  With the boat practically snorting as it horses against the mooring pennant in the northwest breeze that is bringing clear blue air to our soggy, muggy souls, my yearning to saddle up and head to sea was a physical tug.

But my beloved is in a bad way, a sharp fall in her energy after being in the best shape she’s been in years, and this tug was the strongest of all.  By mid-afternoon I wasn’t responding well to any of these three prerogatives – not managing the class well, certainly not appreciative of the world’s beauty, and not attending to my shaky partner.  So I gave up on E. B.’s choices and went for the third, leaving the class for Jim to teach, leaving the students to handle Jim, and went to wrap my arms around my poor vertiginous wife.

After a doctor’s appointment to set up some tests came a phone call with the funny little man whose encyclopedic knowledge and voluble display of it hides a keen and sensitive observer, as well as a talented healer who knows the depths to which one may fall.  “Humble yourself” Quan said (he’s a student of mine, and outwardly unprepossesing) and I am glad I did, for he seems to have unwound one of those dilemmas / arguments / Gordian knots that every couple I know winds themselves up in – the neuroses winding together over the years, positions hardening into a fibroid in the otherwise fecund relationship.

In this long call, which on the surface was about the details of cranial nerves and capnagraphy, he actually performed an hypnotic induction that synthesized Quan’s and my points of view, leaving us both with hope and work to do, but we are whistling happy to do the work if we see a path forward.  It’s the blindness at the end of a cul-de-sac that drives us both crazy.

So this morning I no longer feel torn asunder – Quan will attend to the animals and people in her care, I will return whole-heartedly to class, appreciating the world on the way (the sailboat, alas, will have to wait for its exercise), and we will work together to a new way of handling handling our individual and dyadic system.

Integration – what we hope to induce with our work – comes from unexpected quarters in unsought ways; indeed, such baraka, such grace or blessing is hard to produce at will, even with years of training and experience.  But without humbling oneself – keep it in the first person, Tom, without humbling yourself – it is hard for God’s cannonballs of change to penetrate the oaken sides of our pride.

Thank the Lord the feminine is still alive in me.  With all I have to manage – or fancy I do, anyway – the masculine gods within me sometimes threaten the female gods with banishment, but this morning I feel the balance again and can approach the tripartite dilemma with inclusive arms.

Thank the Lord for women.

Disaster Capitalism

July 5, 2010

Such a synchromesh trip I had yesterday from England to the US of A that we rounded the corner onto the bridge in my hometown just as darkness fell, in time to see the full fireworks display – the July 4th symbol of our bid for freedom from the oppressive boot of the British – exploding over the harbor.  Now, I am a total kid for fireworks – what an invention! To see the streaking reds and greens reflected in the water, and watching the gold coins fall through the sky under spiraling moths of white flame, the thumping finale a riot of colour.

Anyone who knows me well or knows me for a long time knows I am a positive person, an optimist with a similarly kid-like gung-ho patriotism for the possibility that is America.  Our charter documents are pinnacle statements of 18th century Enlightenment philosophy, imitated but unequaled since by any burgeoning country.  Despite our bad history with slavery and genocide of the indigenous, the promise of what the USA could be has held me since I first watched these displays growing up in Eisenhower’s fifties.  Even during the protests of Nixon’s sixties and beyond, it was America improved I sought, and not America dismantled.  I was incorrectly labeled a ‘Communist outside agitator’; my agitation was very much an internal matter: “America, live up to your constitutional principles.”  The Beatles said it: “If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao you ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow…” Even now, I have zero interest in promoting any –ism.

Those who know me more recently will be forgiven for their surprise at the above paragraph, given how often I express my rage, frustration, and discouragement at the Wal-Mart cheap, Burger King fat, robot-drone warmonger we have become.  We compare unfavourably in so many ways to the old European colonial powers, reborn after World War II as vibrant social democracies.  We compare unfavourably to Japan and even many developing countries have got it more together in terms of their ‘social engagement’.  We have become a bloated bully, unable to protect the Gulf of Mexico or the Gulf of Aden, a teetering empire on the edge of decline, a Rome waiting for the Visigoths, regardless (alas, we voted last time with such hope) of who is president.

In the jaded atmosphere of the early 21st century, I am as ready as the next to believe the worst (aren’t these Russian spies and Parliamentary scandals fun?), but that does not extend to grand conspiracy theories.  I don’t know how 9/11 went down, but while the idea of the Freemasons or aliens or the Trilateral Commission or the Illuminati running things behind the scenes has an easy appeal it does not really stand up to scrutiny – the forces of history are too great and the twists of external events too capricious for a small group to exert such total control for so long without being exposed, or so I believed.

But I have come as close as I care to in these last days: my daughter, disturbed by my defense of free markets in one of our free-wheeling sociopolitical discussions, handed me The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein (http://www.naomiklein.org/shock-doctrine) to take with me to England.  Jesus, what a gob-smacking belly punch of a book!  Trenchant writing and undeniable research chart the pathway back from the Keynesian bargain of the New Deal to the horror of Afghanistan and Iraq and America’s helplessness in the face of its own tromping feet.  The book brilliantly weaves and parallels the themes of individual torture and its effects, to similar principles applied to whole national economies and cultures.

Individual torture such as electroshock therapy and the other methods derived from the 50’s research breaks down personality structure, erases memory, and causes regression.  (Klein’s recounting of this line of ‘research’ is fascinating in itself, but she doubles down and applies it in a much larger context:)  Shock therapies to economies do the same to cultures.  This realization by followers of the Chicago School of Economics has allowed a wholesale but largely un-noticed shift in our operating philosophies, our levers of power, and the results for the happy few on the inside and the unhappy many on the outside.

Misty’s mum Giselle is involved with trauma work for individuals, bringing them back from the confusion and disorientation that overwhelming events visit upon the body.  This book documents the deliberate application of shock and overwhelming events to societies in a blatant attempt to remake them.

Starting from the CIA-inspired coups of the democratically elected Mossadegh, replaced with the brutal Shah of Iran, leading directly to the Iranian revolution and our current set of troubles there.  The second, the assassination of Salvador Allende in Chile, led to a ‘shock therapy’ on Chile’s economy and society in the form of American-supported Augusto Pinochet, whose reign of terror provided the first ‘blank slate’ for the Friedman theory of untrammeled markets.

Except of course in practice they are not free or un-manipulated at all (as I would argue back to Misty, in defense not of Friedmanism but of the evolutionary nature of truly free market forces); the theories are simply a front for the feudal use of power by trans-national companies like United Fruit, Monsanto, Bechtel, Halliburton, and other war profiteers.  Even war itself has become a profitable industry, as has health care, the post office, the transport systems – so many resources, that should be the world’s ‘commons’ belonging to the larger community, have instead been sold off cheaply to industry under the cover of whatever crisis comes next in the name of security and free markets, but with anything but free market intentions.

We were shocked by 9/11 – and in our numb, confused, and regressed state we accepted homeland security, suspension of habeus corpus, Blackwater’s private army, and – blacker than that, a repudiation of all our principles – torture in our name.  With 9/11, Katrina, and now the BP oil spill, the largest and most connected companies are cleaning up – not the oil, but the money – and making it ever harder for the populace to escape the feudal control of these robber barons.  And the American people sit around waving tea bags against Obama’s ‘socialism’ – it is nonsense, it is misdirection, and we should be ashamed of what is being done this minute with our tacit and silent approval.

The Depression of the 1930’s was supposed to mark the end of laissez-faire, unregulated money men with a free hand.  We don’t remember, except for those of my parents’ age, how much suffering came about then.  The New Deal regulated banks and industries and forges an uneasy truce between a strong government providing the river banks for relatively free enterprise to flow within.  Starting with these foreign experiments under Eisenhower and Kennedy, rising to more ambitious schemes through Reagan and Clinton, the shock doctrine has finally come home from 2001 on.  This is fascism, pure and not so simple: the binding together of industry and government in a way not even envisioned by Eisenhower in his closing, warning speech about the military-industrial complex.

The reforms of health care and finance contemplated by Obama tinker at the edges of a machine inexorably designed to make the rich richer and the middle class and poor more confused and impotent.  According to Klein’s analysis, it is working out quite well for them so far.  It will end, as the Shah did, in revolution, but there will be hard times before and after such an event – hard, hard times of starvation and war.

She has films as well as this brilliant book, check out the websites or read it and weep.  I am surprised that no one has shot her or shut her up yet, because this is truth to power.  It is a sobering wake-up call, a hard headed look at what we have done, neither tin-foil hat frenzied nor liberal anti-business ranting.  The USA took a definite turn on the road of history, pretty much unnoticed by its overfed, under-educated, and now cowed populace.  If we do not notice and correct our wrong turn, we and most others on our planet are toast for a long Kali Yuga.

Thanks, Misty

A Nation in Mourning

June 28, 2010

I root for the Red Sox and the New England Patriots, and I love it when they make the World Series or the Super Bowl, but if they should lose, I cannot imagine more than a couple of minute’s rueful recap before pouring the rest of the beer down the sink and getting on with life.

Now for the players, who have spent so much time and energy getting to that point, I can imagine that such a top-level defeat can be a bitter pill, and the trip home a long and largely silent one.  But for the coaches, managers, and other hangers-on, I have always subscribed to the idea that those hiring them have to be looking for someone smart enough to play the game but dumb enough to think it’s important.

At the close of my seminar yesterday (a confused but earnest attempt to lay out my thoughts on somatic perception to a group of body-centered psychotherapists), Giselle (the organizer and coincidentally Misty’s mum) put the score of the England-Germany World Cup game up on the white board: 4-1, a terrible score for those of you less familiar with the beautiful game.  Bad move: some of the students immediately demonstrated some of the signs of shock and trauma we had been talking about during the lecture: shortness of breath, difficulty speaking, a depressed posture at the exhale end of the spectrum, or lack of ability to focus.

Paddington Station, a burbling throng at any time, was palpably quiet, and populated by zombies.  The train back up to Oxford was best described as stunned into silence, everyone staring straight ahead.  When I got home, I looked at the highlights myself (looping endlessly on all of England’s four stations): England was robbed of one goal for sure (why don’t they use video? it would have taken 10 seconds to assure the officials it was over the line) but they were simply outplayed from start to finish.

It’s a game, for chrissake! – kicking a plastic ball around a field according to some arbitrary rules; let’s get some perspective – where does this over-identity come from?  Time to get a grip on real life and move on with alleviating suffering, loving our children, appreciating the beauty, and cleaning up the planet.  Why doesn’t starving Nigeris, the use of rape as a weapon of war, oil spewing over pelican nesting grounds, or the deformed babies from the use of depleted uranium in Afghanistan bring silence to a train station?

John Cleese has the silliness of American football down: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2sD_8prYOxo

Time for someone to bring a similar sense of perspective to the FIFA World Cup.  Enjoy it, sure, but identifying with it?  If the outcome of a game wrecks your day – even an hour – that speaks of an empty life. (Just my opinion)

Peninsulae

June 24, 2010

Flying out of Boston, a day late, the sun sits on the horizon, a squished red ball that hangs there not setting for a long time, even though we are going northeast away from it, so it should set faster, not more slowly. (Because we are rising in altitude? – such things occupy my fervid mind more than they should.)

It gives a flat but even light to the coast, whose shapes I idly watch from my window seat until familiarity grabs my attention.  I am used to looking at this coast from above, not because I fly across the Atlantic so often – conditions are rarely this clear – but because I often look down at the charts for this part of the coast.

Here are my sailing grounds, laid out like a map.  First I recognize the Kennebunk River, where Michael and I and Kathleen recklessly flew a spinnaker before Vagant, soon to be renamed the K’leen, on her engineless maiden voyage to Portland.  What were we thinking?  But it worked just fine, pulled before the wind and easily doused despite our ignorance.

Next past Biddeford, where to my shame, on the shores of Biddeford Pool, I delivered a very lame presentation to the osteopathic faculty of UNE a few weeks ago, one cog in the series of events that are pushing me away from the ‘healers’ and more toward the ‘educators’.

Next came Scarborough, where I can trace, from its sand bar at Prout’s Neck and Ferry Beach, the twists of the Nonesuch River winding all the way up through the marsh to River House on Roundabout Drive where Quan and I lived for the 90’s. I am too high to see the house, but I can see the bend in the river where it looks out across the marsh to the copse of trees.  That copse, almost an island the sea of marsh, is where the Saco Indians made their last stand, only to be chased out and cut down – mostly women and children, in a clean-up operation by the European settlers in the early 1700’s.  Quan, a warrior of spirit, set those souls free at great cost to herself, but that’s another story.

Up along to Higgins Beach where Quan would ride her horse at full gallop down the beach when she was well and kept Dakota on Sprague’s estate. Out to sea from here lies white-edged (from the breakers) Richmond Island where the Spragues kept sheep. Every spring I would boat out there with them and a team of sheep dogs, who would round up the very wild sheep into a pen with expert skill in response to a calm old lady with a whistle on her tongue and a snapping fingers.  It was my job to wrestle them from the pen over to the shearer, a messy but energetic couple of minutes in which I discovered the use of the shepherd’s crook, which up until then had been merely a prop in the Christmas pageant.

Around the corner of Cape Elizabeth the familiar shape of Portland Harbor, scene of my climb out from post-divorce despair, sailing out of Bug Light with a heavy heart on other people’s boats, until Annie got Tribe and our adventure began among the ‘Calendar Islands’ of Casco Bay – there’s 365 of them, supposedly, which made for great sailing.  I have reached and tacked along House and Caldwell, Great and Little Diamond, Chebeague, and Junk of Pork leading to Cliff with its strange currents, and Jewell with the fairy woods I discovered one day and never could find again.

The Basin is visible off the New Meadows River, than Cape Small protecting the Hermit Island passage where my father took my boat in among the rocks at a speed that whitened my hair.  Mighty Sequin sits off the mighty Kennebec River, and then there’s my home along the Damariscotta, a thin arm of the sea framed by Thrumcap on one side and Linekin Neck to the east, snaking up 12 miles into the hinterlamd.

Seguin and the peninsulas, each with a light glowing in the dusk, define the bays.  Mighty Pemaquid divides John’s Bay from Muscongus, and Port Clyde and Two Bush mark the entrance to Penobscot.  In the middle of Penobscot is Vinalhaven, looking from above like the swirl of a hurricane, written in granite.  On the water, it is a series of complex islands and necks with more harbors than you could visit in a month of Sundays.

Next door is Deer Isle, another complicated piece of geography separated from the mainland by Eggemoggin Reach, around which my brother just rowed – 33 miles, 10 hours – to celebrate 10 cancer-free years.

South of Deer Isle is the scattering of the small islands in Merchant’s Row, held down at the bottom by the abrupt mountain of Isle au Haut, which marks out Toothacher Bay, with Blue Hill Bay to the north, and Frenchman’s Bay on the other side of Mount Desert and Acadia National Park over to Schoodic, which marks the entrance to the dangerous, less populous and exhilarating ‘Down East’  – Ship’s Stern, Roque Island, Jonesport, Bailey’s Mistake, Jordan’s Delight, Great Wass with the Mudhole and the Cattle Yard.

I am just writing all this for the names, although to me each of these calls up memories of sailing adventures, close encounters, and lovely evenings – but by this time darkness has fallen, we are easing away from the coast, and I can no longer pick out the detail, and I return to the stale noisy world inside the plane.

One more trip to England, and then I get some time with my beloved rocky islands and my beloved rocky wife.  Dancing ‘tween wind and water on the boat lifts up my soul, while stepping on their granite mantle brings it in again, grounding it to the center of the earth.  Nice to look down on it so clearly from above, making the journey in a few minutes that would normally take days.

Father’s Day

June 21, 2010

A canceled flight allows me to spend Father’s Day with Misty.  Camped out on her futon in the living room, I get a chance to cook breakfast (don’t laugh, o you who know my cooking skills) to ease my daughter’s transition from college girl to working girl.  It’s the same fridge, but the apartment has gotten a facelift since graduation a few weeks ago.  Fun to see her worrying over what to wear on this muggy Boston summer solstice, and clicking out of here to the State House on her black high heels.  I’m so proud.

Federer v Del Potro

September 16, 2009

It is getting later and still later here in England; the hour of the taxi and the long travel tunnel looms, but still we sit mesmerized by the unfolding battle of the US Open finals beamed from New York.  The quality of tennis is the finest I have ever seen – long volleys of terribly fast and perfectly placed shots on the new blue court until someone is outdone and makes a mistake.  Federer had the upper hand the whole way, winning the first set handily, and being only edged out of the second in a tie-break that seemed stacked against him, getting the third with only a little more difficulty, 6-4.  He is angry, though, with Del Potro and the officials – Del Potro is taking too long to make his call challenges, throwing Federer off.

My friends are for Federer (for no better reason than that Del Potro is ‘too swarthy’ – a foreigner – isn’t Federer German?); I take Del Potro’s side (for no better reason than he has the most integrated shoulders I have ever seen). The fourth set was a titanic struggle, in which Federer had a number of break and match points, where he could have put Del Potro away, but the young Argentinian – tired to the point of sometimes looking asleep between the points – always found a way to reach inside and keep himself alive – and the fourth set again went to him in another high-wire tie break.

We are resigned to stay with it until finally in the 5th hyper-dramatic set, with our fingers tingling and our stomachs tight, Del Potro bests the older but petulant Federer.  The Argentinian fell on his back in exhaustion and disbelief that from so far down he has pulled it off – won his first US Open at 20, beating the cold, intemperate, but highly disciplined champion.

Earlier this very day I was railing against the watching of sports, the voyeuristic slump of the observer rather than the total involvement of the player – but this puts paid to my notion: this is a pas de deux that satisfies as much as any dance.