Posted in Saturnius McWhirr stories

Ahab meets Aeneas

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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.

Posted in Saturnius McWhirr stories

Over the bleak whale-road

Bewildered Grebe

A bewildered Grebe in a punk hair-do ducks under the lightly rippled, gray surface of Eagle Harbor as we steam past the green buoy marking the channel. Old Hand heels sharply to port in a sudden gust as the honk of the Bainbridge/Seattle ferry echos over the rolling hills of Eagledale.

It’s Spring, season of departures; when we  succumb to the age-old lure of quest, and deeds of heroism, tragedy or folly are undertaken.  They are the stuff of legend, of epic voyages recounted around the galley table by dreamy minstrels or aged salts over a pint. Something in us is forever departing along the imaginal meridians vaguely descried in youth, over the bleak whale-roads of yore.sailing Old Hand 08 021

There’s Agamemnon’s dramatic farewell and foul sacrifice for a fair breeze toward windy Troy. Oaths hurled into the spray are drowned by the weazy bellows of a fake northerly gale.   A sword held against a blood-red sky by a masked tragedienne brings down the threadbare curtain. It is the ritual re- enactment of the primal leave-taking, when carved gods brooded from the bowsprit, holding vigilant watch while we set out toward the golden isle of dreams.

I too, have sat hungry around those ancestral fires, a villan, hero or common swab, subject to the changeable turns of an unswerving fate.

I haul the main halyards as the mainsail flaps in the freshening breeze. Old Hand hesitates, like a portly dowager lifting her skirts before a pier-head jump, and falls off on a starboard tack toward the red buoy that marks the southern extent of Tyee Shoal.

We hear melodious calls to haul away in the pump shanty’s that float over the troubled waters of time- a theme that has lifted the spirit  of land-lubber and salt throughout the ages.

In Watteau’s painterly celebration of leave-taking, Voyage to Citheria, we see jaded gentry waltzing down a winding path to a moored lighter bound toward the Arcadian isle.

Courses drawn on a yellowed, dog-eared chart mark the departures and arrivals that make up the saga of Old Hand. She recedes forever like a fog-bound light, into the theatical haze of memory.

What am I departing from? I set out before dawn, with only my own noisy mind as mate. The Captain, asleep below, will soon ascend the companionway stairs, glare at the rising swell, shout imperious commands like Gregory Peck, and set the unsteady keel of this narrative on a true course toward an imaginary landfall.  He is the guiding spirit of this voyage, a horn-fisted old coot named Saturnius McWhirr.

Posted in Musings

Soul Hydrography- The Elwha Dam and Seattle Seawall


Sediment released by removal of the Elwha River dam flows into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
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Drawing by Craig Spencer

Soul Hydrography is the study of how waterways, rivers and currents reflect the spiritual state of humanity.   Our psychic energy flows with the drainage’s along which we establish our precarious settlements, into mythologies of the parched landlubber, and hies with the stream of time back to the infinite.  I have no actual experience in this field, unless an adolescent kookdom in Surf City counts for training.

We are pulled into the undertow of mythic floods or swept into a sea of trouble . The  primal chaos that threatens to engulf us is the same prima materia from which our civilization arose.

The removal of the Elwha River Dam and the rebuilding of the Seattle Seawall are two projects that reveal something of the secret history of the Northwest and the contradictory impulses we share-namely, the primal drive to hold or release, to build and destroy, or open and close.  Like the breath, these complementary movements alternate through  cycles of history.

The Elwha dam nearly decimated one of the world’s largest salmon runs, destroying the livelihood of the Clallum tribe as well as the settlers who lived along the river.   While it generated electric power for Port Angeles, it deprived the area of another form of energy not measured by kilowatt-hours.  It created a major blockage of the communities’ vital force-its chi.

The deteriorating Seattle seawall is symptomatic not only of infrastructure divestment, but is also an example of soul hydrography.  In a heartbeat, the waters can engulf the high temples of power so serenely reflected on the surface of Elliot Bay.

William Blake called the 5 senses “the chief inlets of the soul in this age” (A happy turn of phrase for our theme.)  Today, few consider that there might be other inlets, and forget  lessons from former ages.  Though decay of the materialist bulwark against the soul’s depths causes unease, we seem ever more walled off from the possibility of accord with   unconscious dictates.  These energies lie a thousand fathoms deep right off Seattle’s doorstep.

Emanuel Swedenborg’s  reading of Genesis accounts the Ark as a vessel bearing remnants of the Ancient church. The waters Noah navigated drowned the remaining populace-the Nephilim- in materialism and greed.  In Swedenborg’s esoteric reading of scripture, Nephilim denotes those whose inherent goodness and charity became immersed in selfish desires.  Noah safeguarded secrets that held the key to gnosis, a mode of perception that maintained the spiritual life of man and, therefore, humanity itself.   Though Swedenborg’s biblical interpretation addressed an inner history,  involving preservation of an Arcana entirely different from chronological narrative, there are correspondences with the ecological disaster we face today.  See Henry Corbin’s fascinating book,  Swedenborg and Esoteric Islam.

Happily, the Elwha dam is gone and the construction of a new seawall is in the works.

An Artwork in Progress-The Dream Oracle


I begin this post with only the vaguest notion of what it’s about.  A feeling, a mood that has to do with twilight is all there is to go on at this point. Sometimes we are simply empty of ideas.  Nothing of worth seems to loom on the horizon in the way of inspiration.  There is nothing to go on except some vague feeling, and an impulse to create.  This fear of abandonment by the creative muse has given me much angst but, over the years,  I’ve developed strategies for dealing with this problem.  One way is to begin with a color, to paint a canvas with a ground of a single hue and visualize it as I drift off to sleep, asking that an image come to me in dreams.  As for the question of to whom I am making this appeal I can only say that it is addressed to Great Spirit, Hypnos, the Household Gods or maybe even my own inner wisdom.   The problem of from where dream imagery originates has never been satisfactorily answered.  I used this method in the painting Oriens.  I asked for a symbolic image for one of my Four Directions series-that of East.  When I woke next morning and, disappointed with a lack of response from the dream oracle, I opened the hatch on my boat and saw, rising from the low-lying fog, a vision of a celestial city bathed in the glorious morning light.  It was Seattle, a city very much situated in the waking world.  What this says about the efficacy of my method I don’t know, except that it inspired me to look at the external world in a fresh way.twilight oil 2  

Here is a canvas covered with atmospheric veils of blue/violet and red/violet that suggests a seascape on an inland sea.  In fact, it looks like Port Madison.  I evoke the ineffable feeling of the moment between two lights-that of day and nocturnal luminance that lights the inner workings of soul.  When one is illuminated the other falls into shadow.

In my research of Port Madison history, it seemed those who inhabited these shores appeared to me in the violet hour, spectral forms who emerge from the shadows to demand remembrance, nourishment from the life they’ve long left behind.     port madisson images 023These phantoms seem to advance and recede as I work the material.

This image was a rubbing/transfer from a photocopy into my sketchbook.  Only after I photographed and enlarged it again was I able to discern the presence of figures who eluded me before.  They emerge with the process of working the image with different media.  It’s as if the artistic process is a form of conjuration.  In contemplation of these sombre hues I call forth the restless shades who reside beyond the dusky veil to take their places in the visible world.