Posted in Saturnius McWhirr stories

The McWhirr stories-An Afterword?

Cormorants are huddled like a conclave of robed mystics brooding over lost fish. The wind blows from all directions in Port Madison.

I write windy dialogue that transpires between two contrary characters.  I suppose the I of the story refers to myself, but even this first-person identity gets pretty tenuous at times.  I am obtuse foil to McWhirr’s exacting command, and he is confounded by my poetic flights.  This tension, this ever tipping dynamic, propels the leaky vessel of my prose.

In the voyage of this yarn to it’s “conclusion”, fact and fiction are interwoven to create a tapestry of associative episodes in order to express some ineffable truth about man’s impulse toward adventure.

But to what degree can I actually claim these adventures mine? Where was the line crossed between inspiration and plagiarism? All my powers of expression are called upon to render a fictional account of  vaguely recalled events in the transient world of sensations and ideas.

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Me sneezing

I’ve come close to foundering in a fog of  fantasy, relevant only to myself or to those souls fortunate enough (or unlucky enough) to be conversant with sailing lore, and experienced in the sea’s fickle ways.

Where has McWhirr gone? While his vanishing act seems a natural outcome of the narrative flow, it has left me without bearings-without a meaningful waypoint.  He’s left me becalmed at slack water, transfixed by sunlight on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, with only an obscure missive from Virgil’s heroic verse:  From me learn courage and patience, from others the meaning of fortune.  Then again, maybe this is all the bearing I need.

Though the dream of finding a copy of the Aeneid happened some 20 years ago, it’s true import remains enigmatic.  But I feel it has to do with carrying on a lineage, the bearing of the household gods to establish a new homeland or  mode of awareness.  It’s also about a mutual need, a pact made with the dead to honor them.  My dad’s ghost comes and goes in the story, and recalls me to some forgotten bond.  He says I should heed McWhirr.

The View from the Wheelhouse is a fluid one, and successful navigation depends on an ability to tolerate a constantly shifting perspective. The conclusion of this tale is as elusive as a Micronesian landfall.

So I trust this isn’t the last we’ve heard from McWhirr. The wily old coot’s vanishing act may be prologue to his reinstatement on a more believable level of fictional existence.

Wars are started by mistaking the thing in itself for the metaphor, and the inability to see through the symbol, as through a veil, to the symbolized. Scientists have recently discovered that the north wind doesn’t really have a beard and puffy cheeks. We’ve evolved beyond such nonsense.  But this knowledge is of little use to the sailor driven on a rocky lee shore by a fierce northerly gale.  For myself and everyone, I pray to the household gods.

Posted in Saturnius McWhirr stories

The Rapture of McWhirr

Stars vanished in the rosey dawn and the earthen red facade of the old seafront was reflected on the smooth water of Port Townsend Bay. I served up kippers and joe to Captain McWhirr as he plotted our course across the Strait of Juan de fuca, drawing arcs over a chart of the eastern Straits with an aged compass that might have demarcated the first measured globe.

“Best we are underweigh at 0800 hours.”

“More joseph sir?”

Smiling strangely serene, he said:

“Aye, That’ll do nicely, old son.”

We headed out across the flat surface of Admiralty Inlet with the last of the flood, keeping Partridge Point fine on the port bow.

“ Now lay our course 318 degrees toward the Romeo Alfa buoy. Call me at slack water.”

“318 degrees it is, sir.”

McWhirr went below, leaving the weight of command to me. The calm, blue surface of the straits reached far westward. The regular thump of the diesel engine set a rythym that wove songs of lost schooners into our widening wake, and drew us, with the swirling kelp, into deeper sound.

O our packet sails tomorrow…studio etc 016

We bore away northwest. An eagle soared in high cirrus where the great indraught of the sea swept past the headland into the inlets of soul.  Gulls were flattened across the blue vault of sky. The bell sounded and the sea heaved in steady writhing swells from the Pacific Ocean as the torpid heat drove all energy from the weary face of the world.

Shal-low-O- Shallow Brown…

A blip on the radar screen moved toward us through the seven concentric circles like a wrathful diety seeking tribute-like an archon who held Old Hand in irons, bound to earthly time, and from which we yet nursed a forlorn hope of deliverance.

And it fills me heart with sorrow…

The waypoint cross of the GPS fixed the moment on the still sea. All space was enclosed in the mystic compass rose, and our voyage was but another leg in man’s perpetual departure beyond the world’s edge; to where the the sunlight’s descent crosses the horizon’s sparkling band, and time intersects infinity.

Shal-low Shallow Brownstudio etc 011

I went below to find McWhirr gone. There was only a tattered copy of Virgil’s Aeneid. A passage highlighted in gold caught my eye:

From me learn patience and true courage, from others the meaning of fortune.

McWhirr has left for the far shore, cut his painter and retreated through the diaphanous veils that seperate worlds. In a realm between the offices of master and mate he floats supine, hands clasped over his white beard, in surrender to the ebbing stream where all noble hearts must finally hie. He was the true sovreign of the watery sphere which had long held me captive. He is the enlightened aspect of my inner Captain Bligh, Noah of my being, guiding me safely past malestroms where the faithless whirl forever amid skeletal hulks and drowned chain.

Here’s a beautiful rendition of Shallow Brown by Sting.

Posted in Saturnius McWhirr stories

The Voyage of Old Hand-the Descent

Ye Realms, yet unreveal’d to human sight,

Ye Gods, who rule the Regions of the Night,

Ye gliding ghosts, permit me to relate

The mystic wonders of your silent state.

                                       The Aeneid, book 6, John Dryden, trans.

The Sierra Echo buoy flashes a mile off the starboard beam as  I sheet in for a close, starboard reach.  Through the rain-pelted wheelhouse windows, I see lightening streak diagonally into the black face of Foulweather Bluff like the bronze spears of invading armies.

“Steady lad, tis a mere capful of wind.” Says McWhirr.

“It’s a big head of storm to fill such a cap, Captain.”

We are just able to lay the Foulweather buoy. The bell rings dolefully as it’s black profile sways wildly off the starboard beam.

I remember that blackness from long before, far away…

You gods of souls who dwell in endless night,

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Abrojos, watercolor by Craig Spencer

grant that I may tell wonders of regions void of light.

Abreojos was a small Baja fishing village of plywood shacks. Hollow waves broke over a razor-sharp reef, and the afternoon offshore winds blew rainbow rooster tails over the backs of pitching surf. The name meant open eyes; and the longer I stayed in the palm-roofed fish hut, waiting for the big swell, the more my eyes opened to it’s stark beauty. The name was also warning to keep a steady watch, and the iron keel of a wrecked schooner high on the point  was testament to the fierce chubasco winds that hammered that arid shore.

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Abreojos Graveyard. Watercolor by Craig Spencer

The moonlight bleached the low, rounded dunes and cast angular shadows of lobster pots half buried in the sand.  I descended the vague path to the graveyard south of the village.  Gaudy tombs of fisher-men stood in the pallid light. Enclosed in the florid, stucco niche’s were relics of their earthly lives: an action figure, cheap guitar, and the blessed baseball glove.

My shadow rose up the moonlit dunes as I slowly approached the cemetery gate. Night breezes swirled with vaporous shades who mended starry nets and sang the Mexican Birthday song:

O Lady Guadalupe, O Lady Guadalupe…

It was your image come in dreams, dear father, that set my course toward your dark shore.   In a dream garage sale I found a clue that led to your habitation. Three times I have tried to clasp your hand. Three times my vain words have left me reaching for empty air. Like you, I gasp to articulate an ancestral rage, and long to transmute the leaden ore of miss-shapen phrases into avowals of love from the hearts golden core.

“Fall off a few points west. There’s a deep-draft bearing down from north-east.”

McWhirr’s  profile is etched by lightening against the bulkhead.

“A few points west it is, sir.

On we plunge into darkness, Old Hand’s bow lifts high and then falls  with a jolt into the black troughs of the seas. The wind screams in the rigging as a fan of spray flies off the storm jib in an arc of phosphorescent light. Seas advance, white-capped, like a phalanx of militant headstones called up from Gabriel’s northern gate to defend the ramparts of Dis.

Posted in Saturnius McWhirr stories

Ahab meets Aeneas

File:Moby dick434.jpg

The sound of waves whooshed over the sandlot playground where, high overhead on the screen,  elongated tars sang from the Pequod’s rigging. Dad had piled the crew into the wagon to see the awesome spectacle of Moby Dick unfold on a 50’s drive-in movie screen.  Gaunt against the dusky tropical light, Ahab glowered over the taffrail, the very image of the leaden god that circumscribes our meager efforts on earth.  Is that when I first heard the  lydian call of the Siren’s sea?

“Ready about! We’ll never make our offing if you don’t wake up!”

McWhirr stands on the foredeck, grasping a weather shroud against the roll.

“ Ready about!”

The wind freshens, and Old Hand pounds into seas steepened by the brute contention of wind and tide, hell-bent on clearing the boulders awash off Skiff Point.

Why must we hurl headlong into the tide-race at Neptune’s mercy, when we might be lounging, beer poised, before the latest remake of the same old sea story, remote from the possability of drowning? At the question, the mind can only wander, and flow with the kelp’s sinuous curves into deeper soundings past the headland to the west…oriens

Dad, from his wheelchair on the  Laguna Beach hills, held lookout for whale-spouts on the gold-burnished horizon.  A watch he may yet hold, in his heart. His stout heart, relic of the an ancient clan, has either been occulted into the rarefied vaults of the holy ones or lost in a cluttered closet on Dawson Street.

Then, in a dream, I found a a copy of the Aeneid among carved wooden heads on a laural-shaded altar. A sign? A waypoint that marks the passage of another life?

“We are becalmed, mate.”studio etc 010

McWhirr’s foghorn bass, seems far away.

The boom swings overhead. A clatter of gear from below rouses me in time to see an abomination of a container ship off Jefferson Head turn southeast around the Sierra Foxtrot buoy.  I turn the helm alee, past sodden fishermen bent over gunwales, looking bereft of hope for even an enemic cod.

“3 fathoms. Let go here, mister Spencer!”

“Aye sir!”

I drop anchor and Old Hand slowly turns toward the flood. The east turns blue/violet, then slate-gray above the  Cascade range.

“Have I ever told you that dream about Aeneas?”

“Who’s he when he’s at home?”

Let it go. That was another life. Another has signed on as swab this voyage. I was but a nipper who saw the hollow face of Saturn in the light projected on an L.A. drive-in movie screen. Just as now, he’s rough-hewn on the rocky peak yonder.  He limps his sluggish round while the laurel tree’s shadow circles over the household gods, ever counter to the golden sun.