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Old Reah’s Bulkhead

After a day spent prepping decks and bowsprit for paint, I sip a local sauvignon blanc in the wheelhouse and view the harbor scene. Old Don Reah is building another rock wall on his steep bank, setting boulders to shore the hillside against rising seas. While I admire his fortitude, I’d think he would take a break after nearly 90 years labor on life’s rock pile.reah

Old Hand lies becalmed while flotsam and weed drift slowly past the bow. I submit to the pull and creak of time and hear the low moan of the hawsers pulling against the weathered dock. Sometimes the almost human sounds start me from revery.   It’s seems as if they  were made by the phantom pioneers who lie buried in Kane Cemetary near the harbor entrance.

The thought of old age, sickness and death recalls me to particulars—the cerulean sky opens between massed cumulonimbus over Port Madison where  fledgling osprey arc in widening circles ever farther from their nests. Each year there’s a whole new crop of them, crying loud in their voracious flight in search of fleeting fingerling.

I am reading the biography of Thomas Wolfe. I love the extravagant, melodic rants of this failed playwright who, battling editors, critics and the philistine aesthetes of the the 20’s, went on to write one the great novels of the 20th Century: Look Homeward Angel. It is sad he died before he could haul his semi-fictional cast of Gants, Joyner’s or Webbers across the continent to the seaside town of Port Townsend as he planed. He caught pneumonia while crossing the very same Strait of Juan de Fuca Old Hand will navigate early next month.

But mostly, Thomas Wolfe’s work inspires me to write–to dare imagine that, after 63 years traipsing this wide, sad earth, I may actually have something to say.

Some, it seems, are born to write, to perpetrate effusive, yet judiciously restrained prose upon the citizenry of this steamship earth– writing which plumbs the deepest mysteries and gets at the heart of unshakable truth. But I have no pretensions to profundity and aspire only to create sea stories which might weather the deluge of time and stand as true as Reah’s solid bulkhead.

Posted in Musings, Old Hand's northern voyage

Maybe I’ll write about the Sea

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I rebed pad eyes by day and rewrite the wandering craft of my prose after dark.

Our plan is to leave September 5th on the new moon-the time propitious for undertaking our voyage north through Saratoga Passage, by way of the Swinomish Channel, to the funky wharf town of La Conner.  We then cross Rosario strait into the San Juan Islands.

I paint the deck a battleship gray that colored my 50’s childhood with visions of martial efficiency projected in the gaunt, strident scenes of the Great War.

I read Look Homeward Angel, marveling at the luscious prose. Who are these characters that populate Thomas Wolf’s stories? The stone carver, grave ornament maker, who had an Angelic vision as he chugged west to die among granite hills.

O lost!

The refrain Is heard throughout the story-as if our prodigal hero was born lost in this juicy world whose co-ordinates had been firmly laid with ancestral rites and arcane laws of property.

I’ll bring back McWhirr to tell of the Sea.  I miss the old guy during long spells of writer’s block-as if he were my inner navigator admonishing me to hold a steady course through the endless watches over the dim sea. It is his Saturnine compass that scribes the boundary of possible outcomes. Only his stentorian oaths can direct the wandering track of my narrative along a course that is true.

As the wind freshens, strange voices call my name. A woman’s voice beckons over the slimy, creaking sea, and vanishes when I turn to hear.   It’s as if she called softly from in the groaning, weathered piles that sway with the tides; when I least expect a visitation from the other world.

I hear faint drumming that-like a star that is seen only peripherally-falls silent when I listen.  Are they ghostly drummers chanting over the bright waters of Port Madison on a moonlit night. Grandfather said their voices still sound over the waters, calling from the other shore.  Haya, haya, haya-the song carries on the cool breeze.

How does my own story fit in here? How woven into the warp of necessary fiction?  Shadows ebb blue violet as blackness rakes the mudflats between two tides-between two lights. Raccoons paw the foreshore where starfish glow.   A heron is perched on Reah’s dockhouse like he owned the place.

I change writing pads so my crimped hand may expand in florid loops beyond the web of type-into fictional streams that draw me toward a vague landfall in some maritime dream of adventure.  I’ll write about the sea, about Old Hand’s tortuous passages into far reaches of the Skagit Channel. As ensign of our great endeavor, we shall festoon the masthead with laurel, and call upon the gods to bless our voyage. It is toward the faint sound of chanting drums that we set our course, toward an ever-receding song dimly heard from the north.