Thursday, October 24, 2013

On Sailing and the Sea

It's not easy to remember those days on the water, but I can't forget the way they felt, the ease and langor alternating with strenuous effort in service of my passion: sailing.

I miss it, that feeling. I miss, too, the ebb and flow, the rise and fall of the boat on the water, and too the expressions of feelings that used to flow from my pen in those days; the poetry that spilled from my too-young heart, stimulated by my experiences on the water.

Is the poetry of my soul exhausted?

Still, I suppose this is an example of what a Brain Pickings article described as "conscious practice": bringing what has become an autonomous practice (writing) back into the danger zone of consciousness, where failure is not only possible, it's required in order to push past my comfort zone and genuinely improve my skills as a writer.

So, this isn't story creation. This is practice. Pulling out the threads of my life into visibility; reaching deeper than I'm used to; swimming in a sea of uncertainty.

The hull of my sailboat was an object of singular beauty, one I have not the power to describe properly. Much of what it was was what it was not: an empty bowl made of a thin shell of material, solid if not quite rigid, that separated me from the water beneath, that contained me and my boat's rigging and whoever was with me and odd-smelling air and above all, the invisible resonance of my soul, bouncing about with each thump of the waves beneath.

The rigging rang; the mast creaked; but the hull gave me a bass note barely audible, felt more than heard. All together, my sailboat was a small chaotic orchestra of sounds, including the lap of water surrounding me that thrilled and informed me, that lifted my sinking sense of myself each time I stepped in her; and of course she was a she, my boat, as has always been known by sailors for as long as men have been on the water. If only I might understand why that is, what about my boat on the water was so feminine, I might understand what a woman is and who I am combined with her, and thus find my place, both within and without the shell of my body.

But this is not about me. This is about salt sea air in my hair and the roar of waves and the ticking sounds of stays stirred by wind, their tension vibrating like clocks as they try to hold mast and sails against the pull of wind.

On the lee side, slack and swaying but ready to snap to attention, those wires merely swayed like metronomes, unlike those on the windward side. Those sang to me. They still do. When I listen carefully, I can hear melodies and harmonies as well as their weaving dissonances, a composition by as well as about wind, sea and boat as they pull against each other. This struggle, this tense contest of forces, propelled the boat and me with it through the water, as if drawn forth by a magic hand.

What I love most is what I do not hear: the sound of an engine. The motor that brought me so gently into the night was a fragile membrane of trust and knowledge: that place where man worked not against nature, but with her. The force that pushed me and my boat forward is a gift from my fore-bearers, those engineers and inventors who understood that they, too, were formed from the collision of natural forces; that they were created and nourished by a dance performed by sun, wind, earth, water and something else less tangible, something for which we have no proper word: Life or, perhaps better, Love.

2 comments:

  1. I spent this piece wondering why the narrator wasn't at sea anymore, or at least living near the sea. It's clearly so meaningful. What beat it out?

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  2. Great to see you dropped by, John. I wish I could live by the sea. Circumstances, family, finances, habits - all have kept me land locked. Best I've been able to do is live next (and I mean right next) to a big river.

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