Posted in Books I love, Musings

The Morning Pages and the Secret Sharer’s Hat

I’ve been going over my morning pages from 2012.  The morning pages were introduced by Julie Cameron in The Artist’s Way.  Basically, you write 3 pages first thing every morning whether you feel like it or not and, after a period of time, read and annotate them with an eye toward finding  inspired or meaningful passages.  My own pages can be, by turns, inspiring, embarrassing or downright boring with my ponderous, self-centered trip.
I see I had been reading–in 2012–Joseph Conrad’s enigmatic meditation on identity and the  shifting vicissitudes of fate: The Secret Sharer.  This story tells of the narrator’s first command, and a pivotal event that marked his passage from dissolute wastrel to respectable sea captain.  He had hidden a stowaway–his mirror image, a troublesome aspect of his impulsive youth–which he must leave ashore in order to “get on” with the responsibilities his new station demands.  In the magnificent climax, the captain risks his career by sailing close to a Java cape  to jettison his double.  His ship is nearly “caught in stays” and wrecked beneath the sheer headland that looms over his limp head-sails “like the dark gates of Erebus.”  As a final gesture of compassion, the captain gives his hat to protect his “other self” from the fierce, tropic sun.  It is this hat–lost during the fugitive’s swim to shore–that provides the only visible waypoint on the dark sea; by it he accomplishes the delicate maneuver of bringing his vessel’s bow across the flukey breezes and pointed toward the the safety of deep water.
The captain’s twin is “now gone from the ship, to be hidden forever from all friendly faces, to be a fugitive and vagabond on the earth.”
The morning pages are like the Secret Sharer’s hat.  They provide a clear–albeit shifting–waypoint whereby we can weather hazardous shoals and see the secret workings that shape our lives into a meaningful pattern.  In these page’s sleepy scrawl we see our life’s dominant theme, descry our personal myth, and have the opportunity to show compassion for the errant soul who blathers on and on about the cruel hand of fate.

Posted in Musings, port madison History

Emblem of hope

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It is fitting that the Vickers memorial in Kane cemetery on Bainbridge Island’s north end stands high above the remains of Port Madison’s more illustrious and wealthy citizens.
Engineer Vickers was oiling the shaft on the venerable, paddle wheel steamer, the Politkovsky, when the crank fell on his head and sent him to this early grave.  The local Masons then took up a charitable collection to order a Carrara marble statue from Italy. 
  Port Madison was then a hard working settlement of shipwrights, millhands and  colorful characters who shared a love for theatre.  I seem to recall reading that Edwin Booth appeared here.  While I can’t verify this particular, historical trivia, I prefer to live in a world where America’s greatest interpreter of Shakespeare intoned his lilting, Hamlet soliloquy under the  locally-hewn rafters of the Mason’s Hall.
  More certain, is that their love for the arts resulted in this moving gesture to an unfortunate member of the working poor.
She gazes into the cedar canopy, her left hand elegantly steadying an anchor while, below, carved in low relief on the pedestal, is depicted the venerable Polly, her paddle wheels churning the stone-gray waters of Puget Sound.
  Joseph Conrad once said that to raise an anchor you must first let it go.  I’m not sure what he meant by this laconic statement.  Perhaps it is a salty, zen koan referring to a living paradox at the heart of the human condition. Spiritual progress often involves a conflict between opposing impulses of wanderlust and a need to stake out a permanent domain.  Perhaps such a dynamic led this British sailor across the Atlantic to seek his fortune here.
  Perhaps Conrad’s words also suggest another dichotomy.  More than a tribute to a single, unfortunate immigrant, the sculpture  also commemorates our highest cultural and artistic ideals as translated into meaningful action.  These values are true because they are based on the gold standard of love and charity.
She is an angelic presence whose power of flight seems to be granted by that very stone anchor; as if she were about to ascend loftier spheres by virtue of it’s symbolic weight as a weathered emblem of hope.

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.

Posted in Uncategorized

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.

Posted in Uncategorized

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.