I’m still thinking this scene may represent some of the best writing I have ever done. There you go. Just my opinion. I wouldn’t mind finding out what other listeners think. If you do spend time with these two characters, Buzz Jackson and Joann Triche drop me a note let me know how the scene works for you.
Sailing has been part of my life. My first lessons were on 14’ sloop rigged sailboats in the Alameda Estuary. It wasn’t long before a sailing friend purchased his own, a modest seaworthy boat, strong enough to cross oceans, slow enough to make a sailor think twice of doing so.
In 1980 there was a small parking lot operating as a boatyard in the center of Sausalito. After a long day in the yard prepping the boat to go back in the water a short walk across the street landed skipper and his second in command in the No Name Bar.
Sterling Hayden was easy to spot around town. Alan Watts nearly always drunk and irritable made his home here too. Best of the locals was the famous circumnavigator Bernard Moitessier.
Having run out of money in Tahiti he sailed his steel ketch Joshua to Sausalito to rid his life of what he termed the “hungry cows.”
I studied celestial navigation aboard Joshua with three others. Bernard’s berth was located toward the back of the boat near the stern. I remember his bunk enormous, piled high with multicolored quilts, blankets, and pillows. History’s most accomplished sea gypsy slept in a gauzy fantasy world of paisley’s, spangles and curiosities.
I was 29 when I studied under the guidance of this great Frenchman born in Vietnam. I had not read his books yet. His confidence was stunning. He possessed the greatest powers. There was no Global Positioning System deployed yet. To sail the oceans you navigated with compass, sextant and chronometer. Moitessier remains one of world’s most accomplished circumnavigators.
There exists a shortlist of heroic types I’ve had the pleasure to learn from. Each had favorite poets and poems. My hero’s were deeply spiritual, I would go so far as to say each were touched with a sense of the mystical. All seemed to be wedded to the notion of traveling to faraway places. Most cared little for material things and shopped for clothes at second hand stores. These were spirit guides with vast appetites. Skinny to a one, craving to seize the day, and fulfill their hearts desires. Passion was no stranger among my North Stars.
The rail thin sailor was easy to find. We made a habit of chasing him down aboard his boat. We wouldn’t outstay our welcome. Weather permitting we’d stand on deck. Bernard smoked hand rolled cigarettes. Conversation was a meandering experience. We’d talk politics with a sailor who had looked firsthand into the fabric of power by having harbor hopped the nations of the world. We talked about different aspects of sailing. And then there was always this circling back around to our youth and Bernard’s quirky way of urging us to listen to our own hearts, to do what we want to do, be who we truly are. Bernard insisted we had to honor our dreams. Bernard had become our friend.
Sausalito was storybook in 1980. Homes were improbably perched on perilously steep hillsides. Fog hovered on the ridge and in late afternoons would stream down through the gulches in one place but not another.
By nightfall the anchorage would be overcast. Foreign accented voices were common, exotic sailing craft from all corners of the world set at anchor in Richardson Bay. Levi clad long haired men and women populated the waterfront, merry wide eyed dreamers to a one.
I’m anchored off Sausalito, anchored here last night, reminiscences of the good souls that brought me to this moment, having helped steer my life, helped set my direction. A fine man Moitessier, he spent his last days in Normandy along a favorite piece of coastline. I was blessed with his sure hand and chiseled smile.
I am no longer at the intersection wondering how much further I have to go. The cast playing the Edmonton International Street Performer’s Festival needn’t say a word. Time whispers in my ear.
Street theater is physical. The quickest wits, the sharpest reflexes, these gifts on loan from the gods are asking to be returned. Another season in our life arrives, another page to our story is written.
I have wanted to be a street performer for more years of my life than I have wanted anything. I’ve wanted to be my best version. That is enough.
The kind audiences here in Edmonton allow me to slip into my show. Gracefully I am allowed one more sip. Obey the unwritten rules. Go about the work. Be kind to the children, be comfortable in your own skin. Have an unshakable faith that what you have been put on earth to do is exactly what you are doing. You are enough. You are fulfilled.
I lean into the wind. Hold my wife’s hand. Piecing together next steps. I hear it is wise not to keep holding too tight to yesterday, to not look out too far ahead to tomorrow, to spend most of what you can on making good use of today. I’ve two shows. For today that will be enough.
Moitessier 1958, Sailing to the Reefs, “The deterioration in the weather was sudden and without warning— it was just a simple call to order to remind me that winds are not always favourable and that fine weather never lasts for ever. As always when I am obliged to move about on Deck at night in a squall of rain, I came out of the cabin swearing that God’s providence is a myth.”
To one degree or another admitting where our talents lend our sailing advantage is a must. Knowing what we are best and worst at is to keep our wits about us.
I am quick to change sails as the wind builds. Although I’ve suffered from sloth and torpor and been meted out punishment for the inaction.
Long Point, Catalina Island
The Length of the Trial
In preparation for the passage north from Los Angeles to San Francisco I’ve noticed a particular form of grit seeming to have been found inside. I’m determined that I will return my sailboat to her home port. I have suffered bouts of grave doubt but have fended off the demons for the moment.
Character Enhancer Seated to Left
An old now deceased sailing companion had brought his Tahiti ketch from Baja back to San Francisco’s Bay View Boat Club many times. Carl’s strategy was simplicity itself… patience.
Rather than have his will broken, rather than attempt to advance to his destination he opted to rest, wait, and pick his spots rather than have Mother Nature punish his boat or his backbone.
Carl exercised patience and judgement. His sailing skills were sufficient to the task. Pragmatism and common sense was perhaps his greatest talent—-but hardly his only. Of course he had made careful study of the weather patterns along the West coast. He knew as much as his mind could hold. Tides, currents and where the next place to anchor north of his present position was built into his plan.
I had once ignored Carl’s advice and in my haste wasted hours beating against a current. As the current slackened a fresh and rested Carl joined me in San Pablo Bay for a sail back to San Francisco. I arrived exhausted. Carl returned unruffled and rested.
We will see what we see in the next few weeks. I’ll pick my way north with my sage sailing friend in mind. I’ve a good twenty days to make a trip that ought not take more than three under the better circumstances. Toss away two rough days waiting at anchor to advance one good day seems sensible.
In that light provisioning and a second hand that can abide the captain’s strategy will bring the capable sailboat safely home.
Fresh wind bit my neck. I’d turned sizing up the blow. My sailboat is a capable partner to be running with. Going against this howler would tax the durability of the helmsman’s spirit. Not destiny but the downwind harbor made this leg of the journey a more valued lesson.
With the compass I read a course heading South and the least bit of West. I am making my way quick as life will allow. For a lapse of necessary time I anchored secure in stillwaters claiming refuge.
Sacks of fresh potatoes, tins of garbanzo beans, jars of tahini, cubes of sugared ginger, pounds of dark roast coffee to buck up sagging spirits…. provisions meant to stiffen a spine and strengthen resolve.
Time itself is thrown into question. How much, how dear, how little, when to go, will we return, is this the moment? Does passagemaking make the kind of expeditionary sense in such a compact and well charted world?
In an event horizon measured by lifespan what piece of this sail– in all its vicissitudes– can be refracted and focused to provide a more accurate glimpse of what has been too self-sure arranged within?
Can a closer brush with the front range of our ambitious questing to the unexplored corners sail us any nearer to the more fully realized self we hear whispering to us in the wind?
Forces scaled to the size of nature’s wit and wisdom have a way of clearing the view from a cluttered mind. A good passage is what we find and feel from start to end— pieces of the experience can provide a sailor with satisfactions found out of reach just beyond the horizon. A good passage is a promise fulfilled.
Outdoorsmen have had their camouflaged knickers knotted by the scorched earther’s embedded in the bowels of our Department of the Interior. Secretary Ryan Zinke has risen way beyond his ability to grasp the circumstances his constituents face.
Montana can be divided into many pieces of a kind, but the most common is a man or woman with a job that doesn’t pay much and a benefit package that provides even less. You are in Montana for some kind of love that pertains to other matters than “what’s in your wallet?”
Big mining, big timber, big ranching and gigantic bellyaching are time honored traditions here in Big Sky country. Preservationists are a luxury item. There’s a hay crop to bale and a cow to turn fat before another bout of frostbite comes nipping at the loners noses. —You go sustain some other piece of paradise, move along before we send you back to where you belong.
Whitefish Energy, a two-man operation arrived in Puerto Rico with a 300 million dollar no-bid, no-questions-asked and none given contract. Poor as dirt, hungry as a mouse in an abandon high prairie drought strickened chapel these business operators descended upon the more miserable seeking to pave their way back to gold plated paradise.
Montana does farm some but resource extractive industries, the kind that own mining claims, grazing rights and timber permits tend to bully and bluff the state legislature in St Helena. Mixed into this mortar of citizenry trying to hold the center together are hunters, fishermen, and impossible to understand outdoor recreationalists who go out into the magnificent wilderness areas and do lyrical harm to nothing. —This kind are worse than poets.
Good Old Zink’ knows all about this skirmish. The Interior Secretary even speaks with heartfelt insincerity to the human recreationalists. Hunters and gatherers are living and doing some further learning.
Desperate times require desperate measures and there is not a more determined kind than a retired Navy Seal turned real estate developer, oil and gas pipeline investor and now Secretary of the Department of the Interior.
If the radical environmental activists preservation and sustainability strategies win then the developers and resource extractors lose. On the other hand, if Zink’s crowd prevails, then every last one of us, brothers, sisters, cousins, friends and not friends, folk on both sides, we all lose.
Five hundred miles later I arrived in Ajo, Arizona pitching my tent first- answering questions later.
My RV pull-through host didn’t disappoint packing a small sidearm while collecting my site use fee.
“You’ll want to pack the tent and be out of here by 8.” His tone of voice allowed me to crawl inside my own personal spaghetti western.
Sizing the hombre up I met his bid. “Partner, if I’m still here likely you best call the sheriff. Tell him another camper didn’t survive the night.”
He almost smiled, almost.
I found a town crawling with tarantulas, sun faded storefronts and bargain made in the basement tacos. I found much to recommend or not.
There exists in this frontier outpost an accelerant, a built into the equation escape velocity only to be impeded by highways blocked by checkpoints manned by Border Patrol Agents urging me to exercise my mother tongue before reluctantly waving the native born liberal mercenary through.
From the spoils of this southern quagmire I rolled into the Santa Catalina Mountains where at 8000’ I’d go hike by day and hole up in a cabin by night squaring a few circles with a stubborn yet still quirky open-minded friend.
The circumstances of my being on sabbatical and quarantine were mostly prose-induced and ‘civilization closing in on me’ fed. You heard of Eat-Sleep-Pray, this was more akin to Drink-Brag-Bray.
Fresh air and cheap whiskey possess medicinal qualities. My doctor urged me not put a lot of faith in one half of that equation.
In some quarters even possessing half a heart is better than none. I mean by shopworn insincerity you are in worse shape than me if that sorry half-heart is a winning hand.
But, whether I vent my spleen, spit out a lung, or bust my ass sometimes even the better of us mixed in with the rest of the rot have to belly up and fight off the demon slothful misery of self-pity and get back to the barricades.
If you are not feeling the vital juices of rejuvenation too damn bad, we are all on aching notice from the ticking clock that time goes slow and that soon enough we’ll all learn that eternity is long.
Here on the rotisserie in LA it is expected to go triple digits. For one hot second I’d deluded myself into believing the autumnal equinox had passed, summer was over and that Trump would have folded like a cheap piece of patio furniture by now.
As far as trifecta’s go I’m a raving savant.
The future is akin to a plane on autopilot. Doors locked, we can’t get in, there’s a mountain dead ahead. Believe me I’d rather be on a beach listening to Kenny G, reading my GQ while sipping on my first extra dry-stirred not shaken- Sapphire martini.
Is it just me? Yes, it is evidently just me. Everyone else I know wants beachfront property, doesn’t believe in tsunami’s and dismisses the reports of Antarctica’s demise as premature. Even displaced polar bears sighted south of their ancestral range turns out to be attributed to nothing more than advances in ecotourism.
Even my chakra’s, all seven have told me to just take a chill pill, stop worrying, it’s all coming to an end, but it’s a great ending without the Koch’s, Trump’s or Murdock’s surviving any of what they’ve so fervently wrought.
Today my car still starts, radio works and I know where the hell I’m going for at least the moment. Having been a pilot of the prairie, the daring-do-dude of the desert I can unplug the plug-in-hybrid and go. Blinkered, emotionally bombed out- gutted like a cathedral under renovation I can take my sorry-to-have-to-do-this-to-you-self out into the vast emptiness of the terrifying void where I’ll try to find a can of start-over.
So, there you are and here we go. To the barricades. Helmet on, optimism thermostat turned to full on. The scout will sprint ahead looking for a plausible path through the impasse. Probably to be found under a rock, at the counter of a country store, or maybe locked inside my heart of hearts. I haven’t looked there in a while. Must be a key to my soul somewhere.
My lifestyle caught up with my hairstyle. Black Monday’s deep dive has nothing on my temporal skyline. While I haven’t physically resorted to the comb-over there is a forensic team searching the empty corridors of my courage for suspicious activity.
My bandwagon finally collided with my chow-wagon. With my hair going full on canary in the coal mine and my fondness for renewables being what they are I thought I’d head on down to the corner plasma testing center for further guidance.
That of course led me to the door I didn’t want to walk through. The door you don’t want to walk through is the same door, located in the same place like right in front of your freakin’ face, carried with you the entirety of your life on earth. It may be locked, unrecognized, invisible, squeaky-hinged, or have a sign posted warning you to Do Not Enter. Trust me eventually you’re going to have to open the door.
I found an exercise bike waiting. Long walks were there. Extra time on the cushion meditating was there. There were old pictures of how I used to look hanging on the walls. New dietary guidelines. Admonishments especially slanted to the mind altering penchants and predilections of a certain person whose door this is. The self destruct Google Maps app especially designed to not know the directions to every single saloon within drinking distance was there. There was an enhanced Vegan Diet from Carnivorous Hell, smoothies made by retired showgirls, and a fine Pop-up Wheat Grass Beverage Cart all arranged to catch what’s left of my eyes.
Having spent two months on the other side I can tell you for a fact that Sinatra was absolutely spot on when he said. “I feel sorry for people that don’t drink, because when they wake up in the morning, that is the best they are going to feel all day-” And that’s true, besides who wants to call the greatest dead saloon singer of all time a liar? No, I’m here to figure out how to put some numbers up on the big board that won’t frighten a cardiologist or get my life insurance canceled. I’m living proof that at some point no matter how you cut the deck or keep a lock on that door eventually you’ll find out that what life is really all about is located somewhere between having less hair and eating more leafy greens.
The severity of the climate change induced wildfires in the winegrowing region of Northern California comes as no surprise. Lake County’s record breaking Valley Fire of 2015 remains an all too fresh memory. The unholy alliance between real estate developers and the bipartisan business friendly politicians have been paid to ignore the calls for a more sustainable growth model. The only obstacle they have had to overcome on their way to this day were environmental organizations and voters who have been urgently sounding the alarm on unchecked sprawl, traffic choked highways and a perilous all too visible decline in the quality of life.
With the end of American frontier an all but ‘unfait accompli,’ the rush to plant more wine in the teeth of the just broken five year drought could not have been a more ill-considered act. The much put upon planning commissioners, supervisors, and regional water regulators have been incapable of staring down the powerful agriculture lobby while they have been pressing their thumb on the scale for more vineyards, more wineries and more development.
All the money in the world can’t put down the danger to the drought damaged region when the inevitable hazardous autumn red flag warnings arise. Puerto Rico having taken a direct hit from Hurricane Maria remains in shambles three weeks after without any of our authorities having taken a moment to wonder if under the influence of climate-change the region is not anything other than another target on a map for a future super hurricane to come clobber yet again and again. We can’t think that far ahead because we have defunded and discredited the very scientists and engineers we are going to need to rely upon to devise a way out of this collision course we are on with Mother Nature.
Whether you believe in climate change or not is very much beside the point. There are super sized forces in the tangible Universe being unleashed and roaring down upon us. After the fact our rescue and rebuilding efforts may be welcomed but these costly interventions are being made all the more necessary as we put off our collective humanity making a globally coordinated effort and respond to the carbon addicted behaviors that are much the cause for the calamitous events the people the world over now face.
I live here in California. I admire much of what this state has done, but I am not in total awe. Like any other region or kingdom money rules the day rather than the interests of concerned citizens looking at the problems. Without favor or financial interest ordinary citizens can see through the smog shrouded windshield of their lives and that a more sustainable path needs to be reconciled with democracy and capitalism. A key part of what more needs to be done is to leave what has not yet been spoiled alone. Leave water in the ground and our trees standing on the mountains. When a regions carrying capacity hits full we need our leaders to put a halt to further growth until we have a workable plan. We’ll need to employ conservation techniques, more vertical housing, deploy new and cleaner methods of mass transportation. We are all going have to surrender to the common good and give something back to the place we call home.
Money as they say is “speech.”. But money is a fallible one-dimensional speech that influences civilization at its extinction inducing peril. Clear as a bell and cold as a winter day the affairs of our world have reached the point where the best path forward be plotted and planned by a more carefully considered forum of enlightened interests. Money as a one trick pony is going the way of the Ringling Brothers beloved famous elephants. And as well all know the longest running show on earth is over…