Posted in Old Hand's northern voyage

The Circulation of the Light

Friday Harbor is a busy port with boats, ferries and float planes coming and going at a frantic rate. I sit in the Bean Cafe with other hyper-connected wayfarer’s, tapping away at my quaint laptop, churning out this news dispatch from the Salish Sea.friday harbor moon

I’ve dialed back on the barrage of bad news endlessly reported by the media industry to make my own, to  shape these fragments– the discombobulated vessel of my prose– into some kind of order.

With the need for quick passages to make the San Juan’s before the full moon I’ve had little time to pause and reflect on the true reason for the voyage.

Scattered among a pile of cheap, tattered composition books are fragments of my attempt to evoke, in written words, the ineffable impulse that draws me ever further toward a north only dimly seen on the drive-in movie screen of my dreams.

Old Hand voyages into the Sea of imagination, over the vertiginous depths of the unconscious. Her course is shaped by a vision glimpsed when I first beheld the vast azure expanse from my dad’s early 50’s station wagon as the Spencer family loudly tooled down Highway 101, fleeing the smog and squalor of L.A.

With my Brother Slim, I would practice the fine art of “body whomping.” It was then I first felt the sea’s loving caress, as well as the thumping shore-pound that handled my young person with all the tender ministrations of Freddy Blassie.

Yay, even Byron penned florid poesy to the green muse of body surfers in his epic Child Harold which, to this very day, remains blissfully unread by yours truly.decept pass

It is this same feeling of ecstatic immersion in the hylic element of Poisidon that pulls me toward a vaguely descried northern way-point. It is a lapis blue vision of eternity seen reflected on the whirling eddies of Deception Pass.  Here and now, at this particular waypoint in time,  I see the abysmal, turbid darkness overlaid by the counter-clockwise circulation of  the divine light.

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The Beethoven Conspiracy

The crows have the runs. They drop an astonishing amount of blackberry-colored crap onto Old Hand’s deck from their perch in the spreaders. Ah, late Summer.

In Admiral Smythe’s  Sailor’s Word Book,  I see a familiar term: Plot: 1. To plan a chart of a ships course. 2. To plan the action of a story. 3. A conspiracy.  All these definitions are relevant to our theme.

I go over logs from past voyages and listen to music in the wheelhouse.  I hear, in Beethoven’s dramatic strains, diagonal sheets of sound driven by the cymbal-crash of lightening before they subside into the ominous roiling calm of deep, umber bass tones.

Course plotting is an arcane, hierophanic science mariner’s employ to secure a favorable a passage through the bewildering eddies of chance.  Hardheaded pragmatists as well as the most mercurial romantics have long practiced this art in their attempt to weather shoaling capes, negotiate vertiginous maelstroms of myth and meaning or navigate the harrowing straits between literal and figurative truth.

Shorebirds flute over Beethoven’s sibilant stream on bright updraughts of yellow horns.   Shades  of tympanic gloom rumble on the blood-red horizon.  These are the same tortured, lyric phrasings of Conradian darkness; of swelling narratives built up in the long fetch from imaginal, Austral seas. They are stories of death, resurrection and inspired vision.  

    I turn back to the Canadian current atlas.                Let’s see, if I set out from Port Townsend midway through the ebb I should make Cattle Pass by…

“Have ye reckoned for the easterly set of flood beyond Smith Island?”

The voice carries over the anchorage as if down from the dark, oaken halls of time; as if it’s rich baritone had been seasoned by long watches over Arctic wastes.  I squint through the wheelhouse windows to see, outlined against the dusky red glare, the shadowy form of a man in a long, black watch-coat and tattered top hat clutching a lee shroud in one hand and a smoldering pipe in the other.   He seems a vestige of the age of working sail, as if all the hard-won wisdom gained in man’s endless toil on the sea were pithily encoded in his melancholy aspect and stern admonitions.

“Have ye checked through-hull fittings? Ye don’t want to invite the whole Salish Sea aboard do ye?”

“Well I’ve been busy trying to…”

“Avast ye greenhorn! Jettison all the hackneyed claptrap of useless words and get to the point!”

I resent these rude intrusions upon my peaceful moorings and, in less charitable hours, wonder how McWhirr’s “gaunt form” would look hanging from Old Hand’s yard arm. He would probably make a good scarecrow.

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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.

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The Angel of Pole Pass

DSC02659log page pole pass

We left Jones Island with the start of the ebb on a calm, overcast morning and headed south-east toward our first way point at Steep Point on Orcas Island’s East side. I’d plotted our course through one of the San Juan Island’s most treacherous passages the day before. Our track was to take us into the middle of the labyrinthine Wasp Islands, through Harney Channel to East Sound in time for our dance. I’d cross-referenced Captain Jack’s and the Canadian Currant Atlas and, with a sharp pencil, drawn our course on the chart with the way points and estimated arrivals times.

I was actually a bit proud of my fore-sight, and hoped it might inspire in Lily a greater trust in my navigational skill. Lily had given me a T-shirt that said sharp and focused. Maybe she thought it might help.

When we reached Steep Point, the next way point appeared on the GPS screen directing us somewhere south-west into some nasty-looking rocks. Since our intended track was south-east, I knew something was wrong. Major anxiety set in.

The ebb was taking us east past a small Island to starboard, while ahead a few miles, was a small opening toward which a sailboat was motoring.

At Lily’s suggestion (she was remaining unusually calm in all this,) I followed. As we neared, the pass actually appeared smaller. A torrent of green water flowed over the jagged rocks to starboard, when suddenly I saw a woman in the cockpit of a C-Dory next to us beckoning with a reassuring look and a gentle movement of her arms.

Samuel Lewis

I’d gotten only a fleeting glimpse of her, but her radiant image will forever be etched in my memory. The waving motion with which she guided us rocked with her boat like a movements of a Sufi Zikr. It was an angelic vision guiding Old Hand’s errant crew through the twisted channels of the world toward salvation; to chasten pride of seamanship and forgetfulness of the true purpose of our voyage-of which we might lose sight while navigating the labyrinthine island passes.  Though our “navigation” of Pole Pass may have been unintentional, it reminded me of our deeper intention.

After all, we are emissaries of the Dances of Universal Peace, come to bring the message of unity as taught by Hazrat Inyat Khan and Samuel Lewis-to bring the wisdom traditions of all faiths into full body awareness through the ancient tradition of sacred dance.

Thank you bright Angel of Pole Pass. For you there shall always be an honored page in the tattered log of Old Hand.

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Reef-net fishing

The sky turns red/orange over the hills west of Fisherman Bay.

I row out to the narrow finger of rock that protects the entrance, to photograph the rough-hewn, skeletal remains of reef-net boats along the shore.

They say Reef-netting is one of the oldest forms of fishing. In ancient times, fishing was continuous with the sacred traditional ceremonies.  These ceremonies were held with elaborate theatrics.DSC02519reefnet 5

The simple act of fishing was performed with a cherished respect for salmon spirit that ensured their annual return. Everyday life was interwoven with the sacred like the twisted, cedar bark nets they so cunningly wrought and watched over through the centuries.

A reef-netter still floats by the western shore, its tall, stark ladder inverted upon the surface of the bay.

The water’s surface is the boundary, the imaginal space between worlds of height and depth. The sinuous patterns that shimmer over it’s surface are reflected in the curvilinear shapes of Salish art. It evokes the intermediate realm of dreams and myth; a place not found among the mystic way points of GPS. It is where the first salmon people hied up the narrow channels with the flood and into human consciousness.

On reef-netters, the watcher (in earliest times, the tribal chief) would ascend the rough, cedar ladder high above the bow and intone the quiet prayer honoring the annual return of the salmon.

While rowing in, I seem to hear an old diesel engine that drums faintly over the the inland sea like the rhythm of the universal heartbeat. Or is it the spirits of dead fishermen still drumming over the waters?

Welcome, Swimmers.

Upon seeing the salmon enter the net below, the robed and cone-hatted watcher, stark against the red sky, sings to his mates below:

Lift, lift.DSC02539reefnet bow

As one, the crew raises the net, the catch glistens in fading sunlight

Welcome, Brothers.

These old songs are sung in another place than that found on the yellowed, dog-eared charts of linear time. The primordial drama is still re-enacted upon the weathered scaffold of artifice in the winter dancing houses of ancient memory.

Posted in Old Hand's northern voyage, videos

East Sound storm

Lily hurt her foot when we docked at East Sound for our dance.  Then yesterday, a storm blew up from Southeast, blowing a good 35 knots with gusts to 40.  Old Hand took a hammering at the public dock while Lily lay below getting seasick.  But the local EMT team were there in no time to get her off the boat, up to the nearby Oddfellows Hall where we had a wonderful event despite Lily’s injury.  It was a sweet circle praying for peace in this stormy world.

Posted in Old Hand's northern voyage

Septemptrionic Voyage

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In the mid 70’s I had a studio in Eugene. Nearby was a pioneer cemetery where stood a tall, gray weathered tomb which housed an early patriarch of the Oregon Territory named Septembus Spencer.   While I won’t deny my memory may embellish the facts, this outlandish moniker has stayed with me all these years. Now I find that one of Willamette valley venerable line of Spencers had made his way further north to this stormy spit on Lopez Island’s east shore.

As though by a master sculptor’s hand, Equinoctial storms have carved cyphers into the rough stonework of the storehouse.  Apples still fall from the trees he planted on the grassy knoll.

Septembus comes from Septentrio, which is Latin for North.

On this gravel spit formed with perfect symmetry by alternating currents are seen middens of a tribal fish camp that had been used for over 3,000 years.

Though I bear no relation to the Eugene and Lopez Spencers, I find it strange to arrive at the most northern outpost of those Northwest settlers-that venerable line whose family tomb I saw in my earlier days. It is their most, so to speak, Septentrionic point.

I take heart in knowing that the same northern, wayfaring spirit calling us toward these enchanted Isles inspired the peregrinations of T. W. Spencer-that the same pole star he set his course by is the way point toward which Old Hand shapes her course.

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I was taught by a Cowlitz elder that the cardinal directions are more than physical points on the compass, but spiritual states which must be embarked upon with full awareness of all their various qualities.

Black Elk once said the center of the world was Harney  (was this the same hawkish general who tried to incite war with England over a dead pig?) Peak in South Dakota.  Black Elk went on to add that the center is everywhere. It’s the same awareness that lead Jesus to sing to his round-dance on his crucifixion eve:

“The universe is inside the dancer.”

The tide flows into the lagoon at full flood like the rushing green flow of the Willamette River by which I sat staring so long that, when I rose, the solid banks seemed to move with the same fluid motion as the water.

The sacred land is everywhere-is already won. It is somewhere in Harney Channel (Harney again!) The Center is in the old Odd fellows Hall on Orcas Island where we hold our Dance of Universal Peace on this Sunday. The universe revolves around Old Hand’s keel as we voyage to the spiritual state of North; to honor the wisdom teachings of all faiths that ever points us toward the true polestar.

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Old Hand’s voyage to the San Juans 3

Lily and I have been making flyers and organizing our September 22nd Dance of Universal Peace in East Sound, Orcas Island.  Our voyage has a direction beside that which the winds take us.

From the vantage point of the Doctor’s Office coffee shop (it was an actual doctor’s office), I watch all manner of craft and float planes enter and depart Friday Harbor.  Old Hand lies anchored in 9 fathoms off the Oceanographic laboratories on the north east shore.

We are leaving later today for either Spencer Spit or Fisherman’s Bay on the north end of Lopez Island before our event.  it’s not really our event, but  part of a tradition-a spiritual community that exists all over the world.

Here’s Lily leading a song/dance she wrote based on the Amitabha meditation.  I may have gotten a little to free with the effects, but you can maybe get the jist of it.