It’s just weird. News arrived today that I’d lost a friend. I knew him for less than three months and yet, a fog of sadness lays thick about.
We met while traveling together but separately to Alaska. He and his wife Connie, she the epitome of graciousness, motored in their tall and broad-shouldered powerboat “Lori Lee” with frequent guests; Jane and I slipped along aboard my long and thin sailboat, Foxy.
The list of differences is much, much longer than any list of what we had in common. He was the quintessential Southern Gentleman from Alabama, while I grew up an Oregon Boy much in need of refinement. He was a builder who created an empire, first by laying bricks, if memory serves, eventually building hospitals. I just push sentences to their breaking point, endlessly polishing ideas. Grady and Connie were devout Christians who shared their deep faith in the Bible, while my study of religious philosophies led me to distill truths I found in all of them. He was “conservative,” I am “liberal.”
And yet, we became friends, even while disagreeing about almost everything except catching salmon. Oh, sure, there was evangelism involved, an attempt to save my soul. But then, Grady asked me once what to do about a loved one who had fallen into a relationship with drugs. We were both shocked that my recommendation, though wrapped in a message of acceptance and love, was so tough: “Anything you do to mitigate the consequences delays the first day of recovery.”
And the time, when pressed to accept the Word of God, I told Connie that while I did not share her faith, I had the utmost respect, if not envy, for what their faith had given them.
When we disagreed, Grady listened to my point of view and tried to address it honestly. I tried to get behind the curtain woven of words and assumptions, and find what was illuminating his opinion.
Often, it was futile. Even if we agreed on root cause, we disagreed on solution. But there was always a shared respect, and a desire, I think, to find a common ground we could walk upon.
Grady and Connie sold their boat early this year, a difficult admission that they had already made their last trip to Alaska. Connie’s health had not been great, and now, Grady has died three weeks after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
As a good-bye gift, Grady leaves me with the question of why we were able to communicate so well, from such different points of view, when those with whom I share values and life experiences seem completely out of reach, brothers with nothing to say. I’ll probably never know.
But thank you, Grady Sparks, for time spent in the cockpit or salon of Lori Lee, exploring different views within shared mutual respect. You allowed me to experience your sense of loss for an America I never knew. You will be missed.
Just now on channel 16a man said, “White sailboat with blue stripe near the entrance to Roche Harbor, you are approaching a pod of orca. Stop your boat.”
After about 20 seconds, a woman came on the radio and said, “Thank you for the alert. Our engines are off.” Or something similar. It’s nice hearing sailors (power or sail) sharing respect for these truly magical creatures.
Since I left the entrance to Roche Harbor about four hours ago, I was disappointed not to have been there to see the orca. But I’ve seen them up close in Alaska and will treasure that memory until I create another.
Arrived in Blind Bay about noon or so, I really don’t keep track of time when on the boat. Okay, I don’t really keep track of time at all, anymore. There’s a certain timelessness at this age I didn’t have for most of my life. I was born impatient. Glad I’ve mostly recovered.
Jimmy told me once, when we were on his boat in Panama, that one of the things he treasured most about cruising with Leslee on their boat was that “I own my own time.”
Incredibly able and creative, he may have been the only person I ever knew who was born even more impatient than me. He hid it better though, behind a habit of being just a little late for whatever was most important on his schedule. I namedthe inevitable chaos that resulted after them, which I don’t think he appreciated partly because it was so spot on.
Leslee said we were brothers of different mothers. I miss him every day. There’s a certain timelessness to that, too.
There’s no reason to put down the crab pot. The season won’t open again until Thursday, when I’ll be back in the truck heading south to Oregon, to tasks and paperwork, clocks and calendars, and smoke from forest fires.
Maybe I should drop the dinghy back into the water regardless, but I don’t know that I’ll need to go anywhere. That depends on what Karen and Joe want to do when they get here in their wonderful Swedish boat, Zephyr.
I have fresh mussels and clams to steam up for appetizers. regardless. I hope they have butter. Maybe I should drop the dinghy and motor over to the tiny store at the ferry landing on Shaw Island. I could get a bottle of Talking Rain while I’m there.
Ah, I have to drop the dinghy in any case, it blocks the only easy way to get on board. As good as reason as any. Maybe I’ll motor over to see that catamaran a couple hundred yards away.
At 6 a.m. I stretched tarp over hatches to keep out rain that had been falling for hours and found its way within, waking and alerting me the weather had changed with “tap, tap, tap” as drops hit the wood sole of the cabin.
Clouds heavy with rain snag in the low conifers of Brown Island, muffle the world.
Silence on board is so intense I hear clouds rip free from the overcast. Occasionally a soft veil tears loose with a small cry, pretends to be fog and drifts by at eye level, then sinks softly seeking to reunite with the ocean here, in this harbor.
A man across the marina drops a tool, it hits a ladder with metallic cymballic percussion followed by kettle drum boom as it strikes the deck.
Farther away, a single gull keens lonely disappointments. No one answers.
Tomorrow I leave the boat to a soft lapping of waves evenly punctuated by massive rumbles from green and white ferries serving the islands and emitting an occasional low bellow felt more than heard as inattentive are warned: commerce approaches and has a schedule to keep.
This boat rocks as they pass, fenders squealing in compression between boat and dock; latches and blocks knock as they adjust to tackle new angles.
Tomorrow, I reimmerse in a cacophony of demands, traffic, disputes and discussion.
Tomorrow. Today there is cloud, and rain tapping gently on canvas stretched tight overhead.
Thanksgiving. No reservations available, but there’s seating in the bar. The restaurant has run out of turkey, I decide duck will do. The dish is labeled “Canard Deux Façons,” so that’s what I order.
At first, there’s just the surprising way you toss “du rien” over your shoulder while walking away from the table after I say thank you; the speed with which you glide weightless from dining to bar and back, feet barely touching the floor; the way your laugh proves presence at every table you serve.
But standing there talking to me while holding an armful of heavy plates, you slip unimpeded into places I guard closely at heavy cost. You just returned from France, I lived and studied there decades ago. When your age, I waited tables in places just like this. You want to ask a question, maybe two. Will I be around?
Why are choices so hard? Why do you need to traverse the world? Why do you need to go, when you’ve finally created a life where you want to stay? Read more… →
Donnie Boastful was at his desk in the Oval Office trying to solve the Tik Tok Toe game in the “Washington Times.” Normally he wouldn’t tolerate an interruption, but it was Ivanka, and, well …
“What can I do for you, you gloriously amazing most wonderful human (from my loins) who ever graced this planet earth in the history of time?”
“Daddy, they say I should give back my China trademarks that I got after our wonderful trip there last summer! Because that bad Biden boy had to quit his job on a China board of directors!”
“Ivanka, sweetest and most lovely creature who ever walked the world, what have I always told you since you were a tall, willowy young female of immense beauty?”
“That if I wasn’t your daughter…”
“I know! I know! You said to never tell the truth! That it just confuses people!”
“That’s true, it does. But I was thinking of something else. It’s about ‘rules.’ “
“I know! Rules are for other people! We Trumps do what we want!”
“That’s right! So the bad Biden boy has to resign, but you and Don Jr., and that other boy in the family don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. That’s just the way it works.”
“Oh, Daddy, thank you!” Ivanka ran over to his desk and took both his small hands in hers and held them tightly to his side while she gave Donnie Boastful a peck on the cheek.
“Oh, hi Uncle Rudy!” She sang out as she left and Rudy the Rat walked in.
“Hi, Ivanka,” Rudy said. “Boss, I think we got a problem, two of my men got busted as they were leaving the country.”
“What do you mean, Rat, ‘we got a problem?’Didn’t you just say they were ‘your’ men?”
“Well, they gave a lot of money to your campaign.”
“A lot of people gave a lot of money to my campaign. I couldn’t possibly know all of them. Or any of them. By the way, now would be a good time to ask: Are you still my lawyer?”
“Of course! I just said so on TV! Some wise guy reporter asked if I was working for the government in Ukraine, and I said, ‘No, I work for the President!’ ”
“You could have said yes, because I’m the President and working for me is working for America. Say, did you see Lou Dobbs? He said that I fulfilled yet another campaign promise getting us out of the Middle East, that pulling out was a brilliant, seventh level chess move.”
“I didn’t see the Dobbs show today, but I’m supposed to go on it tomorrow again. Sheesh, I think I’ve been on Fox 17 tines this month!”
“Rat, don’t start thinking you’re a star. I’m Prime Time Donnie, capiche?”
“I work for you, Mr. America.”
“Great answer. I’ve got a press conference in 20 minutes and have to pretend to slap that guy from Turkey around for roughing up the Kurds. I’m gonna say I’m thinking about destroying his economy, and that I’m going to have conversation on what to do about it. I might send a team over to Turkey. I’ll have them stay in the Trump Twin Towers. It’s the most spectacular hotel in Istanbul!”
“That’s brilliant, Boss. All those people whining about the Kurds. What do they know? What did the Kurds do for us? They’re just in the whey. We made the Kurds some promises … so what, promises are made to be broken, right? This is Trumpworld, right? Just ask them people who built your hotels in Atlantic City!”
“Yeah, didn’t the Kurds read my book? Hellooooo?! They been fighting for so many years over there, it’s easy for them!”
“Who really cares, Boss? Just those people who talk about honor like it’s something you can spend!”
“That’s right, Rat. And it got that impeachment hoax off TV for a whole week! That’s not the reason we’re clearing out of the Middle East, though. I wouldn’t do sumthin’ like that just to change the subject or nothing, right?! It’s because I promised my base!”
“And you keep your promises, Mr. President. Even if Lindsey Graham yesterday said kinda sorta not the nicest thing about what you did.”
“Lay Down Lindsey? He’s just providing a little cover for himself. He’ll fall in line. Vladimir told me he’s got dirt on Lindsey and if I have any trouble, I just need to give Vlad the word. Besides, so what if we pull out of the Middle East? What difference is it going to make? Let them solve their own problems over there! Maybe it’ll disappoint a couple of people, but who cares?”
The intercom on the desk in the Oval Office buzzed.
“Mr. President, the prime minister of Israel is on Line 1. He says it’s urgent.”
“Hey, Rat, would you mind using the back door as you leave? I’m not sure we want that a lot of people see you’re still around.
“Bibi! How you doin’? How’s things in Jerusalem? You know that’s one of my favorite places, right? I think you need a Trump Towers Jerusalem, Bibi, has a nice ring to it, don’t it? It should go right on the beach. Maybe we can do a deal. Hey, sorry I didn’t get back to sooner, it’s been a little hectic around here, maybe you heard … ”
There are days when you just don’t want to go anywhere.
The dark blue Sunbrella “canvas” stretches over stainless steel bows to form the roof of the pilot house. When installing, we pulled it tight. A steady downpour this morning drums on the canvas with many a different cadence.
If I calm my mind, there’s a higher, softer sound as rain directly falls to the surface with a “tap.” Then, there’s a slower, heavier “twop” as larger drops drip off the sail or the backstay where they’ve sat for a moment, joined with others and gained more volume. The different drops seem to fall to the surface in clusters, or waves.
The Coho ferry bellows its arrival. Of course, the sounds that arrive at my eardrum are waves, as well.
There are errands to do. I’ve got raincoats and hats, warm socks and fleece, and could bundle up and stay dry. But the idea of venturing out of my blue house to avoid puddles and traffic, then wait for a bus to take me to the chandlery a few miles away where there are probably crowds of sailors and fishermen and boaters of all types on a Saturday …
“Twop. Tap tap tap … twop. Tap tap tap, twop. Tap tap twop, tap tap twop.”
It’s not random, the beat of the rain on the drum of my roof, transferred to the skein of my awareness. There is a pattern. But I know, too, that the brain is a pattern perception / creation machine, and will create patterns always, even where none exist.
We played with that in my 20’s, after making a diffusing glass light box with blinking Christmas lights to watch as we played Rock and Roll. Yes, drugs were involved, along with waves of laughter that followed the seemingly synchronized play of light and music. I’ve observed how light changes, within and without, at different times of the year; suffered from patterns of my own creation when rebuffed, brimmed with joy when embraced with no explanation.
My desire to run to the chandlery instead of working on the novel is part of a pattern. I run often enough to do something else rather than sit and do what I should. There are probably waves in that, as well.
“Tap tap twop, tap tap twop.”
Decades ago I worked in a salmon cannery in Bristol Bay, Alaska. I was “gas man” my first season, up whenever the incoming tide floated bow pickers and stern pickers, then wooden fishing boats that set long gill nets to drift across the Nak Nek River outflow to capture the river of salmon heading upstream to spawn, waves in a river of fish.
Another season I was tasked with cooking fish heads to make the oil that soaked the red meat of sockeye salmon in “one pound talls,” cans about four regular tuna cans tall that were sealed, stacked in racks and pushed along rollers into long retorts where they were cooked with steam. At the other end the racks of cans were pulled and taken by forklift into a giant warehouse where they cooled before labeling and boxing.
As thousands and thousands of cans cooled, the tops of cans that had popped outwards from the expansion of water into steam during the cooking, now popped back in. With a metallic but musical note. “Tink, tonk, tenk, tunk, tank, tink.”
Thousands and thousands of cans unheard except by a worker standing in a doorway watching rain pound the Nak Nek river as it poured into the sea, as salmon poured upstream under a different law of gravity, to spawn; a symphony of cans directed by air currents cooling one batch over against one wall, while a batch in another section sang together because they’d been removed from the cookers at about the same time, and near the entrance other batches with micro differences in the amount of meat or oil or water in each caused the timing of their contraction to be in sync with others of different composition.
“Tink, tonk, tenk, tunk, tank, tink.”
“Twop. Tap tap tap … twop. Tap tap tap, twop. Tap tap twop, tap tap twop.”
One of the things Jim most loved about living on a boat was that he “owned his time.” In a month or so, I will take the rest of his ashes to set adrift in a paper boat on Blind Bay, one of his favorites.
We are raindrops. Nothing more. During our vanishingly small moment in time, we sing a single note in an infinite symphony of causation, far more vastand complex than we can ever comprehend.
This is a day to put off errands, to stay close, to listen.
“You have to make a choice,” I told my daughter again, acutely aware of how many times I’d told her already, as if by sheer repetition the message might overwhelm whatever fear or reluctance that was holding her back.
“You need to have a plan,” I said. Again. She didn’t need another college degree, she needed a job. To jump into the river and become part of life’s flow toward whatever her future held.
“More school by itself is not a plan.” She’d heard that before, but thankfully did not roll her eyes. She’s such a good person, and so capable, I did not doubt that future would be bright. I just needed to convince her.
“I’ll help in any way that I can, but I won’t help you stay stuck in Central Oregon. I wouldn’t be doing my job,” I said, not for the first time. We’d just moved her sister to a house in Portland, she and her mother and her sister and I. From there I headed north toward the boat, with a stop in Port Townsend, always one of my favorite towns.
It was cold and windy, though, and walking about was hard in the chill off the water. After an expensive night’s sleep on the top floor of a Victorian era hotel where I slept in a room named after Miss Pearl, a prostitute who lived and loved a hundred years ago, I drove on to Anacortes and took a ferry to Friday Harbor where I’d left Foxy almost two weeks before.
When I woke on the boat on Sunday, the day was surprisingly benign. I checked the weather online, listened to the NOAA broadcast and made a quick decision to head down the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Victoria that morning, instead of waiting out the next storm due on Monday, which had been my plan.
The boat came together easily, so I cast off at about 10 am for a calm three and a half motor/sail to Victoria.Foxy and I were well on the way out of Friday Harbor on the ebb tide, doing almost 10 knots down San Juan Channel to the turn at Cattle Point into the strait.
It was a bright and lovely day, little to do but look out for logs and watch for orca. I took a “project inventory” of what had been done on Foxy over the winter, and what remains to be done. It had been a productive, if expensive, winter.
There’s a new house on the boat. It improves life even more than I thought it would, providing another living area that is dry and bright, important up here in the Pacific Northwest. In southern waters, should I ever get there, the walls will come off and it will provide plenty of shade.
I’d just had a new fuel filter system installed in Anacortes. One wouldn’t think much technology goes into a fuel filter, a can of pleated paper, but new designs make changing them easier, with much less mess in the bilge and potentially in the environment.
I had the engine flushed at the same time; the silicate had dropped out of the coolant and collected in the bottom of the catch bottle. I realized it had been a few years and the previous job was only a partial flush because it’s hard to get a diesel engine up to operating temperature on the dock, heat necessary for the flush to do a full job..
I’d built the framework where the solar panels now hang, 1,080 watts of power to charge the batteries, and now the panels are properly wired. There’s a new wireless radar on the mast that works just as advertised, and the old one that shaded the solar panels has been sold, albeit for a pittance. The dinghy motor runs after the winter lay-up. Love them two-strokes.
The automated identification system (AIS) is installed and operational. I knew I needed one when, coming south from Alaska two summers ago, Irish and I hit that storm off the coast and a trawler suddenly appeared that I couldn’t identify and did not know if it was dragging long lines across my course.
Now I post my AIS location on Facebook when I take off from someplace, not so much because I think anyone cares that I’m out and about as to give authorities a place to start looking if I don’t show up. That’s assuming someone would be expecting me. I may need to work on that system.
There’s a new and yet another battery monitor that works with the solar panels and also gives me more information about, and maybe some control over, my batteries.
I wish I was a better electrician, but I’ve changed out the fluorescent lights in the galley and head (bathroom) for more pleasant LEDs that sip far less electricity; added a light to the pantry so my old eyes can see the difference between oats and brown rice, each in a container with a green lid, and avoid unpleasant surpises before coffee in the morning, and I added another light to the engine room so I don’t have to juggle a flashlight with my teeth to check the oil and water.
I own one LED not yet installed for the master stateroom and three more for corners in the engine room. I need two more after that, one for the closet where the life jackets hang and another for the aft stateroom. That should be good enough. We’ll see. It’s a boat.
Still not done is replacement of the propane system. That’s the last of this winter’s major projects. The hose that runs fromtanks in the stern locker is 30 years old and cloth covered, and the plumbing of that, like most of the other plumbing on the boat that I’ve removed, redesigned and reinstalled, was not done very well.
I have to change the position of the solenoid that, with a switch in the cabin, cuts off the gas. While I’m at it, I should probably swap out the old pressure regulator and old pressure gauge.
It took a week to get hold of the man I’d hope would do this work, but he’s has to fix an expensive boat that hit a log crosswise at 25 knots, damaging a whole lot below the waterline. So I’ll probably do this one myself. It may be propane, but it’s just plumbing, right?
I dropped the old lifelines off at my chandlery to be remade, tough new stainless lines around the deck to replace old vinyl covered ones that had at least a few cracks where corrosion was seeping through the covering. Lifelines are not something you want to fail when you put your weight against them, intntionally or because you lost your footing.
Oh, as soon as the weather warms a bit and I can sit comfortably on the foredeck, I have to polish the cones on the anchor windlass so the anchor falls to the bottom at a controllable rate. And install my wireless windlass control, so I can put the anchor down under power or pull it back up while I’m at the helm in back, with steering and throttle controls. That’s a consideration when single-handing a boat out in the bays and anchorages.
This is all part of the plan: Prepare the boat for this summer, and maybe next winter, too. After March surprised Central Oregon with 30 inches of snow in three days, I do NOT want to spend another winter there. No. Just no.Maybe Mexico.
When I pulled into Victoria, docking was bit tricky. The wind pushed me away from the dock, and when neighbors came to help, I gave very poor instructions. It’s different looking down at the lines than standing on the dock looking at the boat, and I communicated poorly.
There was no damage, it was all good, but I hate being incompetent and had to give thanks and make some apologies for asking the impossible. This being Canada, apologies were gracefully accepted.I still need to come up with a better plan, and maybe shorter lines, for docking in difficult conditions.
Afterwards, when I was sitting back with coffee, I checked in with Irish to make sure she was okay after traveling back from her dance contest in Indiana. She surprised me with news that she was getting another dog the next day, a puppy.
It was an arrow well placed. I hate it when significant news is kept from me, even when it doesn’t directly affect me. A little hangover from an unpredictable childhood, I suppose, but I had no right to question her decision, and Irish pointed this out. And that caused me to ask, what the hell, why is this an issue for me?
It took an hour or two. Her desire for a dog has been deep and long standing. Keeping her from getting a dog was a major guilt of mine last summer, when we were still together. She brought it up often, but a dog, and those responsibilities, weren’t part of the plan.
It wasn’t the tipping point in our breakup, certainly, my guilt not the dog, but it was a factor. It was something she wanted so badly, and she’d suffered so much. And I wanted a dog pretty badly myself, since I’d lost mine in the divorce, but I’d made a choice and had a boat, instead.
Her being able to get the dog she wanted should have brought me joy, but instead made me feel lonely, small and selfish, because it highlighted, or underlined, the fact that she’s not here in Victoria, and I haven’t had a dog in a good long time, either. Now that I write this, I think my childish reaction came from the realization that by acquiring this dog, she is finally ready to move on, as I have urged her to do often enough. Now I am proud of her, happy for her, but still miss her, too. I’m allowed my contradictions.
Decades ago, when I was chasing adventure around the world for a couple of years, I wrote my father that “Loneliness is the price of freedom.” Sometimes the choices are not easy, even the ones we put off as long as we can. We still choose. That’s what I’m trying to tell my daughter, we choose even when we don’t, even when we hide from the consequences.
It’s all good, I told myself after a day or two.I’ll get the propane locker plumbed and the tank refilled, and I’ll fix the BBQ while I’m at it, install the new lifelines, and then I may just take off. That’s a decision I can make, after all.
There’s no reason to overstay in Victoria, as much as I love this place, when there are places I haven’t yet been. As I used to say, what seems like long ago, it’s time to Rock and Roll.
Two ducks have arrived at the pond. In years past I’ve chased them off, not wanting the mess they bring. This year I watch, wondering where they will choose to build their nest.
Tonight, my daughters and I may be having our last dinner together in this house I built 11 years ago in the middle of my divorce from their mother when they would have been about 12, maybe 13. Close enough.
They may not be feeling this as I do, and I’ve not decided if it’s fair that I share my sense of loss with them. For Kasturi, who is leaving on Friday for a new life in Portland, this is the start of her life as an adult. She never seemed as “attached” to people as her sister. I don’t doubt her love, but she’s more capable of letting go.
Sabitri is more sensitive. If the significance comes up tonight, she will shed tears. She’s the one who cried for many hours in my armswhen brought from the orphanage in the highlands of India 24 years ago. Her move will be around the beginning of June, destination as yet unknown.
But tonight, I’ll fight back tears as this moment I’ve aimed at for a long time, the fledging of my babies, arrives with a heavy load of sadness. It’s just one more tonight, I’ll tell them. You’ll be back, I’ll say. Words aimed at my own heart more than theirs. They will never be back to this house as children.
By coincidence, if there is such a thing, I’ve been talking to others recently about loss. Buddha, and Epictetus the Greek, said suffering comes from attachment. Detachment is all well and good, and letting go in order to appreciate, but it’s sometimes hardest to let go of that which we wish not to hold.
Loss. I’d like to let go of this sense of loss. I want to see my daughters free and flying, but not have this sense of loss. I used to say that God was unfair to women, giving them maternal instinct without giving them an “off switch.” Fathers suffer, too, I find.
The ducks paddle around, seemingly content, but always moving, searching. I discovered ordinary ducks can fly under water, disappearing and popping up as far as ten feet away.
I’ve often wondered how the trauma of losing their mother five days after they were born, then the adoption and loss of their loving caregiver, and the trauma of riding down from the central highlands of India in a noisy car with huge white strangers, affected the twins.
They seem like happy, healthy adults, not too different than their peers. That they were living with their parents at age 25 is not that abnormal now, I’m told.
That neither has had a date that I know of is perhaps less normal. Did the tumult of the divorce, or that of my relationships following, cause dysfunction? Social exclusion during middle and high school? Or maybe they just don’t share everything with Dad.
K.C. has been living in her mother’s home, Sabitri in mine, for the last several months. I’d pushed to separate them, believing that their dynamic as twin sisters kept them from maturing into their separate “selves.” And they are very different.
They blossom, now. They seem to be facing life without huge fear, certainly without the damage many others have suffered. If they’re a little closed, even to each other, perhaps that’s health, not evidence of harm.
The ducks leave during the day. I don’t think there’s enough growth in the pond to feed them, let alone a brood. Spring grasses have not perked above the soil, and there’s not much cover or safety from coyotes.
After dinner tonight, K.C.will head back to her mom’s to keep preparing for Friday’s move. I told her last night she should pack up things from her bedroom here, as well. She told me she had planned to that today, since she was coming over for dinner anyway.
It’s obvious dinner tonight will be more significant for me than for her, and maybe for her sister. Their lives stretch out before them. I can easily see that at my age and given my adventures, this dinner could be our last. As they separate from each other and leave this home, I can easily believe it will be for the last time.
It will be, at least, the last time in this life as it is, as it was, as it has been.
Who knows why it was today?Because I wasn’t adequately sad, what with a firm, final goodbye from someone I loved but hurt badly enough they’d finally had enough? Because the sun was out? Because it was today, it just was?
This was always going to be one of the places where I’d leave some ashes. It was a crisp lovely day long ago when Leslee and Jim and I leaned up against the tall stone wall that retained heat from a sun that would not set.
We marveled how it just hung there barely moving as crowds flowed by and musicians played for change dropped into guitar cases, the sun perpetuating the afternoon like the singer held on to a refrain of a song we really liked.
On that day we were on the island looking at a boat I thought I might buy. I needed their opinion, we shared values and they had far more experience. After thoroughly going over the boat in a marina 45 minutes to the north, we came downtown to bask against the wall in this exquisite city, then find some Indian food.
I didn’t know on that afternoon, what, five years ago? Six? how little time was left. So much has happened since, and it’s hard to think that Jimmy died coming up on two years ago. Hell, I think I’ve been boating around the San Juan Islands for well over a year with the box Leslee sent with Jimmy in a baggie. Maybe that horrifies some, I think he’d smile, hell, he might have just given me those words.
The time wasn’t right, until today.
God, I miss him. Not like Leslee, of course, or his sons or his grandchildren. But he was my older brother, I trusted him to be him, and I loved him as if we’d spent our whole lives together and not just part of the last half, and even though I always knew he was smarter than me, more compassionate, had higher standards, had achieved more, showed higher honor.
It was hard at times knowing I wasn’t his best friend even though he was mine, that I may not have even been in his top five. He was that loved by those kinds of people. Of course he was. He had an impact, he was, it was frequently said, “larger than life.” Many wanted to bask in that glow.
He could tell stories that would make him laugh so hard he could barely speak, about things he’d done that most would want no one to know. Like the time he ate a bad taco or whatever from a street vendor in some South American or Central American town, then had to get on an airplane for a long flight back to the U.S. About how, when he got off the plane, men in hazmat suits came on board.
I helped him at times, I think, I hope, when he would worry about things. He didn’t know why he procrastinated when a legal brief was due, usually getting it done at the last minute. “Because your subconscious works on it the whole time, until you’re ready to transcribe the ‘story,’ ” I told him. That seemed to give him some relief from self recrimination.
He was a master at story. When writing a brief, he could put the facts into a story that was so persuasive, he had a reputation. He wrote simply but beautifully, better than me, and I was suposedly a “writer.” He’d clerked for one of the top legal minds in Oregon. He was qualified to present arguments to the U.S. Supreme Court. He wrote passages that were incorporated into U.S. law. He fended for the downtrodden, literally saved family farms, shook hands with Willie Nelson.
No, he wasn’t perfect but I loved him as much for his flaws as all that, for his occasional self-doubt, his deep need to know where Leslee was at all times and his dependence on her, his propensity to forget on occasion that he’d told a story before.
Like all of us, he had a warped mirror, at times. Others called him arrogant, not recognizing the difference between arrogance and brilliance and a willingness to express what he knew to be true.
Those attitudes didn’t bother me. I’ve been called arrogant as often as he was, and I have a whole lot less to show for it. It was confidence in some situations, managing not to show insecurities in others.
We’d hang out, sometimes talking deep shit because that was my personality refuge, until he tired of that then would change the subject or go do something else. In Panama once they’d broken the glass on a solar panel. I suggested we cover the shards with epoxy, and we filled the frame with a gelatinous goo that hardened into a glazing that worked well for a while. He thought that was pretty cool.
He loved his own kludges, too, like the time he rewired the automatic control of the water maker on their boat so it operated manually. That fix got them by for a long time, and took some ingenuity to figure out. I think he talked about that more than fighting off banks who wanted to take family farms in the 1980 recession that nobody remembers any more.
I think I’ll leave some ashes in Blind Bay, where he and Leslee watched me bring the boat he helped me buy and drop anchor for the first time, where he called my daughter the “crab whisperer” and made her proud that she could coax claw waving crabs to let go of the cage so they could be dropped back into the bay or into the pot for dinner.
Maybe I’ll make a small boat of folded paper with a candle for a sail and send some ashes off. Maybe I’ll send some down in a crab pot to lure the beasties in. I think he’d think that was fun.
This is the second time I’ve taken ashes to special places. The first time was for my other older brother from a separate mother, Jeff, another brilliant man but one so haunted by the demons we shared that … well, never mind. Some of his ashes were spread in a large Montana Lake, left there as the first snow of the season settled in and roads were about to be closed, so that Jeff could join creeks feeding Flathead Lake and eventually the Columbia River and out to the Pacific Ocean.
Which is where Jimmy’s ashes will wash, the next rain, off the huge stones that make up the wall where the sun sets only with reluctance. Off the bow of my boat, too, where I spread some so that Jimmy could continue to guide me, from a place ahead of the mast.
I’m getting old, but I often think of myself as Jimmy’s little brother. I refuse, as Clint Eastwood says, “to let the old man in.” The day will come when I can’t drive fast cars and sail this boat and maybe I’m already incapable of falling in love. I had to face that again, yesterday, when I read the word, “goodbye.”
Maybe today was the day I spread a bit of ashes because it was a way of not saying goodbye. I put ashes in a place important that I’d shared with him, with them, so that every day for however long I spend here, when I walk past that wall for whatever reason, I will be able to say, “Hi, Jimmy.”
This evening I plotted two courses from Friday Harbor to Victoria, B.C. I’ll take the longer one tomorrow, the last day of 2018, and maybe get there sooner.
The route around the southern tip of San Juan Island is 26.2 miles. The route around the north end of the island is 30 miles. All things being equal, the southern route would be about a half hour faster.
But unless I’ve misread tide and current tables, I’d be going against the flow most of the way on the southern route.If I head north, currents should give me a boost first toward Roche Harbor, and by the time I get to Haro Strait, they should carry me south. Go with the flow.
If that’s correct, the longer route should take about 3 hours 26 minutes from just outside Friday Harbor to just outside the breakwater at Victoria. The shorter route would take 3 hours 48 minutes, or so.
A quarter hour is meaningless, of course. It’s a sailboat. It motors along at about 8 knots under power, which actually isn’t bad for a sailboat. But I was born impatient, and my other hobby rips along at 160 miles an hour. There the competition is against other drivers, and there’s competition with myself, the scramble for tenths if not hundredths of a second, the roar, the thrust, hanging on to the edge of traction.
This is a different focus: repairing dorades so they don’t gulp water, placing mooring lines where they’ll be accessible when close to the dock, tying down solar panels so they don’t flap like wings in a bit of chop and wind; making sure the jib can be deployed if the engine fails, or the anchor if drifting close to shore. Look, think, be deliberate, step carefully. Prepare, execute.
Taking the longer but faster route is really more about the challenge of seeing if I’ve plotted the course correctly, read the current tables, done my homework. If not, I’ll pay the penalty of a slow slog. I’ve done slogs against the currents in Juan de Fuca, and it really stretches out the distance.
Plus, I’ve made the southern passage a number of times, never taken the northern route and would like to see something new. It might be a good idea to become familiar with a back-up transit, too, in case Juan de Fuca is particularly nasty some day when I need to be someplace.
But that’s just a rationalization. I’ve been doing that a lot, lately. Explaining myself to myself. Let’s just put the new passage down to a mild case of adventuring, of seeking the heightened senses of not knowing exactly what’s around the next bend.