Monday, July 30, 2012

The First Moment of Surprise

The weather report was not inviting: rain filled clouds, low lying fog.
So easy to change our plans due to weather, say "no" to the day, leave the raincoats hanging in the closet. Turn back. Throw in the towel. Do something else.

There's always a choice to change your mind; take a different road and just stay home.
Just stay home?

If there is even a slight chance of possibility, I'd rather embrace it and discover what's hiding just around the bend.  No matter it is uncomfortable gearing up with warm clothes and rain gear in the middle of the summer.

The weather in Prince William Sound was socked in, shrouded in rain and fog. Soft drizzly rain that curls your hair into boings, smells like the good green earth and lasts all day long. Still, we were determined to set shrimp pots and explore the bays and coves. Get a little wet. Munch on camp food. Feel our boots slosh along soggy shorelines.  After a while, you forget your discomfort and start to notice things besides the rain and fog.

The first moment of surprise was the heads of seals popping up out of the water; sleek and curious, watching us as we watched them. They hung out on rock outcroppings, plunging in and out of the water with a grace that belied their bulky, awkward bodies.

What are you looking at, they seemed to say!

We set the shrimp pots for a 4 hour time frame, and motored off to see what we could see.
The next moment of surprise: An eagle soaring from a tall, dripping wet spruce tree, no doubt eyeing the surface water for jumping fish. Lunch time for the keen-eyed hunter.

Yes, it's a hassle hauling around the weight and bulk of a 500 millimeter lens, but....

man, oh, it ever worth it.

So here is my prayer:

Dear God:

Please don't let a little rain stop me from seeing the colors of a dazzling rainbow.
Fill me with surprises, and
help me to overlook the little discomforts blocking the discovery of said surprises.
Tell me it's OK to sample new experiences, even though I may cringe in discomfort and fear  (for life is a banquet, and we are meant to live it)
Do not, under any circumstances, stunt my curiosity and sense of wonderment.

And please, don't let me get too used to sleeping in my own bed.

P.S.  We caught only two gallons of shrimp, but they were big ones!

Monday, July 16, 2012

I Woke Up Crying

There were tears in my eyes this morning, and a vague feeling of something off kilter; a feeling of being hurt and upset yet I could not remember an accompanying dream to account for this occurrence. The tears were just there when I woke up, my pillow a little wet, and I felt a momentary sensation of sadness. Has this ever happened to you? 

Overall, I am easily moved to tears. It all starts in the heart, moves up to the throat, and then spills out of the eyes. 

I cry when women and children suffer injustices and are abused, not only in my neighborhood, but half way around the world.

I cried when a young woman in our town was abducted from her job at a coffee stand and later found dead in a local lake. She was so young and innocent and the world was rolling in at her feet and she didn't deserve to die...but who, really, deserves to die? 

I cried when my old neighborhood friend was killed in an auto accident, even though I hadn't seen her for decades.  She was endearing and funny and we used to climb trees and play baseball and race each other up and down the block on roller skates.   

I've cried buckets over personal failings: when I've hurt someone with unkind words, or they have hurt me with a stinging betrayal. 

A good long session of crying takes away the pain; it breaks you down, opens up a hardened heart, gentles your senses, and washes away internal pressures that inevitably build up in living day to day and making mistakes along the way. 

Another time I remember waking up crying is when my first boyfriend broke up our relationship in favor of another girl's attention. That day and the weeks that followed, I cried me a long, winding and very deep river. 

Then, as time passed, I built a bridge over that river and walked across to the other side. 
Yes, love hurts and eventually the tears of sadness do dry up.

Jane Teresa Anderson, a dream therapist who studies and writes about the unconscious mind, suggests that when you wake up crying for no apparent reason, it may be due to a past grievance you were unable to express. Maybe you accepted a hurtful situation as normal or something to be endured. Maybe you never truly grieved the loss of someone in your life, not necessarily a death, but a breach of friendship or divorce; or maybe you are experiencing a longing never fully acknowledged and it comes to the surface through your tears. 

How many times have you laughed so hard, you cried? If you can't weep with your whole heart, how can you laugh with abandon?

I don't have the answers, but I like how an old sage described crying. He said that crying is the highest of devotional songs. One who knows crying, knows true spiritual practice. If you can cry with a pure heart, nothing else compares to such a prayer. 

That is how I prefer to view the boatload of tears in my a prayer. A prayer announcing to the universe that I am alive, that I feel my fellow man's pain as well as his joys...

...that I will mop up the floor when I'm done, put on a new pair of shoes and dance in  acknowledgement of all the grand emotions that waltz into our lives, unbidden.

Tearful moments, a letting go of the flood-gates is profoundly healing. 
As is laughter.

Joni Mitchell  in her song, People's Parties, says it best: 

"Laughing and know, it's the same release."

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Sea Abhors a Coward

The weather report suggested 4 foot seas, up to 20 knots. We set out from Glacier Bay National Park to travel the potentially most dangerous part of our journey: crossing the Gulf of Alaska where we would be out in open ocean for 44 straight hours with no breaks, and no land in sight. In the highly unlikely event Room 7 (the name of the 42' trawler) were to capsize, we went through the drill of donning survival suits and contemplating "what-if's".  Safety measures.  We'd had 18 days to learn the boat; work out the kinks. We had a few situations like losing steering, losing power in one engine, and water seeping in the anchor locker (all of them fixed BEFORE the big crossing).

Glacier Bay
The plan: the guys would pilot the boat in 8 hours shifts, and Julie and I would keep them fed and awake for the duration. 

All was well, until the predicted 4 foot seas turned into 8 foot, then 10. For the next two days, we rode the sea like a bucking bronco rider, tossing from wave to wave in an endless battering of our bodies and sleep-deprived minds. It was impossible to sleep in the V-berth at the bow (you'd catch full-body air time there), so the once highly organized cabin turned into what looked like an adolescent's bedroom: sheets and pillows askew and scattered sundries tossed about the floor: a bag of potato chips, chunks of crusty bread and a jar of Skippy peanut butter (anything to settle a queasy stomach). Guide books slid off the counter; nautical maps, The New Yorker and everything of the I domain: iPad, iPhone, iPod (most of them useless on the open seas) marched along the floor.

They say it's always best to face your danger, but I couldn't stand up long enough to stare down those angry waves. Comfort was to be found sitting on the floor and fixing my gaze on something...anything...and I chose the silver door handle on the refrigerator; to keep a steady concentration, and calm myself by fixating on one spot. That's when I noted more fellow floor-mates in my peripheral vision: a 1/2 empty 6-pack of ginger ale, component parts of the automatic coffee maker, an errant candlestick; a bruised, but still rolling, tangerine. 

Back to the glaring silver handle. I stared and began to chant: if Tori can do it, we can do it...if Tori can do it, we can do it...only Tori's story is a trillion times more frightening than one could ever imagine. During those moments of being tossed about uncontrollably, I was grateful I had read her book because just thinking of her ordeal gave me a quick burst of courage. 

Tori Murden McClure wrote the book: A Pearl in the Storm: How I Found My Heart in the Middle of the Ocean.  Tori rowed across the Atlantic Ocean in a 23 foot plywood boat, alone, without physical support and with no motor or sail during the worst hurricane season on record. She was at eye level with the sea, facing the obstacle of simply staying alive while being tossed around inside her boat (all hatches battened down!) during a storm that raged for hours. She endured the epitome of helplessness and being face to face with the formidable forces of nature. 

Whenever I looked up and saw the collision of waves, I thought of Tori in her tiny boat facing the fight of her life. And those fierce thoughts gave me courage. 

Then I realized the real reason we accomplished a successful and safe crossing: it was due to the skill, patience, and fortitude of our captain, Steve, a meticulous, detailed planner who leaves nothing to chance; and his co-captain, my husband, Kent.  

We made safe crossing because the guys were in control of an uncontrollable situation. Because they  knew how to use the forces of nature to their advantage; because they never let fear dictate the outcome of the ultimate challenge of navigating in rough waters.  We made safe crossing because the guys knew how to quarter waves, muscle the controls, and stay steady and alert for however long it took to reach the other side.

My husband promised me a calm sea. And I know he's right. Nothing abides. Eventually the sea lay flat. After 44 hours of bone-vibrating chop, we entered home waters, our summer playground, Prince William Sound. I have never been so happy to see Prince William! 
home waters

There is no place like home. Though we had another 6 hours in the Sound to complete the trip, we were finally and truly HOME: where the islands and coves are familiar and wedded to scores of savored memories; where we recognize the stone cold faces of every major glacier; where the best fishing spots and shrimp pot sets are known to us.

Like coming home to your block where everyone knows you and waves hi.

We were thoroughly ready to relinquish our sea legs though; get back to our houses in town, walk on solid ground and dig in our summer gardens. 

Until Kent shouted, "Port side; real close, 2 whales!"
"Whales, schmales," said Julie. "I just want to see my cats!"

Still, we all jumped up from our seats, flung open the cabin door and stood silently on deck. A whale rose up, then splashed down so close we could hear it take a long deep breath underwater, then shoot a spout into the air.

Instantly we shot back into our, Oh my God, holy moly, did you see that? mode.

killer whale
We did it. We successfully and safely brought Room 7 to her new home in Alaska. And she brought us, doing what she is meant to do. Float. On the high seas. Like a bobber.

Thank you, bright captain and crew. And thank you, Tori.

Monday, July 2, 2012

"This Sea, Whose Gently Awful Stirrings..."

The earth in motion.

June 23rd report:   We are now 12 days along on our journey...bringing a boat named Room Seven, a 42 foot trawler up to Alaska. Our friends, Steve and Julie (who own the best bookstore in Alaska, appropriately named Title Wave Books) bought the boat in Washington and the four of us are charged with the adventure of motoring the Inside Passage, and crossing the Gulf of Alaska (the biggest challenge), over a 21 day period.

I'd just spent the previous week riding horses in Laramie, Wyoming; in no time, my entire nomenclature  changed: from dry ground and dusty boots and chasing cattle, to: setting an anchor, tying mariner knots, and reading the tides...

...from Vee Bar Ranch to the Wrangell Narrows. From riding on firm, durable ground, to riding the pitch and lull of watery waves...

...with a horse, it's called "rope." On a boat, it's called "line."

Welcome to Water, Water, Everywhere!

By day, we motor on seas sometimes glassy and calm; other times jostling and rough. Our captain, Steve, gets out his caliper and pours over nautical maps every night to chart the next day's course. And every evening, his wife, Julie, cooks a homemade meal (with locally sourced ingredients whenever possible) and wine fetched from the last busy port of call. Sometimes fellow mariners gift us fresh caught crab and shrimp. In calm bays, Steve and Kent go diving, taking pictures of underwater creatures, and exploring old shipwrecks.

We know when we've crossed into Alaskan waters from British Columbia, Canada. We know from the display of Tlingit totem poles, typical in Southeast Alaska, which tell stories of the Raven and Eagle clans.

Some days we pass elegant waterfalls pouring down from the mountains (and we are humbled).

Some days we anchor up in a picturesque cove and launch our kayaks,

and watch seals pop their heads up and watch us, watching them. Seals are mystical animals when viewed from the deck of a kayak. With sleek gray heads and deep-set black eyes, they look at you directly, holding eye contact without startle; then they slip back underwater in a smooth graceful silence.

Another day in open water, a pod of humpback whales slapped their enormous tails on the surface before diving deep to feed.

Oh, the enchantment of the sea...

Two weeks in the uneventful seas, it is only a matter of time before the tides will change. We left the peace and quiet of Gambier Bay, headed north to Auke Bay and Juneau when we encountered high winds and 8 foot seas. Pushed by the wind, we rode the swells for three hours, the boat going at times, 11.6 knots/hr. compared to the usual 8.  Cell phones and books, any unmoored object, flew across the cabin, including a hefty coffee maker.

I felt tension creeping into my bones; the waves rolled and crested, coming from all directions now, and Steve stood at the helm, muscling the controls. It was reminiscent of flying in a small airplane in heavy turbulence. Pitching and rolling side to side, quartering waves, we heaved and surged.


Then downright frightful.

Not allowing my mind to leap into fear, I kicked into modus operandi: hold on, and breathe deeply. Go with the flow. Soften.  At times, there was a lull in our progression, like drag in an airplane; other times, we crested the waves and felt a great surge forward, like surfing. But we made it safely to a quiet harbor...and recapped the experience over dinner.

"....this sea, whose gently awful stirrings seems to speak of some hidden soul beneath." *

*herman melville