Loved By the Sea

If I had a blog, today I would write about my love affair with the sea.

When we get a warm-spell this time of year, my imagination turns from dreams about dogsled racing to adventures on the sea. As with dogsledding, my practical experience on a sailboat is limited, but it doesn’t take much to start a love affair with the wide and beautiful sea.

Me in My Room at Boca Grande

Me in My Room at Boca Grande

When I was a kid, most of our summer vacations were spent at the family beach house on Casey Key, in Florida. The Beach House was on a private beach, so we had miles of sand and surf to entertain us on our two-week sojourns. Back in the 1970’s, beaches were still covered in shells and if we weren’t swimming, we were adding to our seashell collections. On those warm tropical evenings, we would sit in silence and watch dolphins play in the surf or wait for the ghost-crabs to emerge from their sandy tunnels for a night of hunting. Those were days to remember, days I replay often in my dreams and wish I could experience one more time. I couldn’t imagine loving the ocean any more than I did on those rarefied days of childhood, but that was before I stepped aboard a sailboat.

With the exception of canoeing Missouri rivers, boating was foreign to me. The only other boat I’d been on board was the ferry that took us from Washington to British Columbia and the rolling waters left me more woozy than excited. Then came the summer of 1981: The summer we went to Boca Grande. Because other family members had booked the family beach house during the time Dad could get off work, we set out sights on a little cabana near the town of Boca Grande, on Gasparilla Island in southwest Florida. I was thirteen years old and, for that one summer, I felt good about myself. I was thin, and tan, and looked good in my little white shorts and tank tops. The boys at the bait shop flirted with me and I life seemed full of endless possibilities, as if nothing could stand in my way. Those days didn’t last, but “for one, brief shining moment” the world was my own.

Sailing Away

Sailing Away

Mid-way through our trip, Dad booked us a day-trip on a sailboat called The Epicurean. This was part of Dad’s dream: Buying a sailboat and spending summers island-hopping around the Caribbean. Mom had doubts about three months on the open water with two teenagers and a Labrador retriever, but to our delight, she was willing to sample the boating lifestyle for a day. Once Dad mentioned our sailboat dreams to our captain, our day was interspersed with Sailing 101. In some ways, I think it was the boat-jargon that fascinated me most. As we sailed south, past Cayo Costa, I walked around The Epicurean memorizing sailboat “anatomy” and in no time I knew where to find the bow, pulpit, mainsail, boom, keel, and transom. I practiced tying bowline knots and learned about “tacking into the wind.” By the time we reached The Cheeseburger in Paradise Bar at Cabbage Key I felt like a real sailor.

It would be ten years before I’d discover, and fall madly in love with, the music of Jimmy Buffett, but dining on Cabbage Key was an unforgettable experience nonetheless. The open-air restaurant looked like  your typical island cabana until our eyes became accustomed to the low light and we realized the walls and ceiling were covered with dollar bills, each with the name of the donor written across its face. As the bills fell to the ground, they were collected and sent to assorted charities. That seemed magical, in-and-of-itself, but when a bill came to light on Mom’s plate bearing her name, we knew we were on a truly mystical voyage.

Storm Clouds Rising

Storm Clouds Rising

After lunch, we sailed to a deserted island and swam to shore, where we looked for shells and basked in the afternoon sun, then sailed around some of the other islands that dotted this edge of the Gulf. The wind dropped late in the day and although we had a motor for emergencies, we took advantage of the doldrums and dropped anchor. Clouds were building, rising high above us on the tropical air, and the sun shone like a spotlight on our little patch of ocean, and we cooled our sunburned bodies swimming in a pool of emerald green. Our reverie ended with a loud clap of thunder and we hurried to set sail before the storm broke. The wind came up quickly and the sails filled, sending us over the choppy waves at great speed. Thinking back, I suppose I should have been afraid, racing ahead of the black clouds with lightning flashing all around, but on that day, the storm thrilled me. I stood in the bow, soaked with spray, as we shot through the Pass and saw the marina ahead. The sheets of rain had washed the salt from my skin and I felt reborn, sleek and dripping with life.

It has been almost forty years since that day and although our dreams of bare-boating around the tropics never materialized, I still long for the sea. I will go back to the ocean; to walk beaches and bask on sun-warmed sand, but I won’t recapture the glory of that one perfect day. Instead, I will hold it in my heart and remember what it was like, if only for a moment, to be young, and strong, and loved by the sea.

 

An Experiment in Stillness

If I had a blog, today I would write about my grand experiment in quietude.

Hermann, Missouri

Hermann, Missouri

It has been more than a decade since I’ve gone on a retreat by myself, with no other goal than to rest. Today I’ve broken this unhealthy trend and am sitting on a king-sized sleigh-bed, watching the sun go down over acres of vineyards and inns sprinkled with snow-white church steeples. A fire is blazing in my fireplace and I am sipping a superb dry Merlot. This is the life.

The Vineyard

The Vineyard

Although my taste of wine-country is happening in Missouri, not Provence or Tuscany, this little corner of Heaven makes me feel as though I am in a far-away land. The place where I am staying is called Hermann Hill Vineyard and Inn. It sits atop a high hill overlooking the Missouri River Valley and the quaint Germanic town of Hermann. If a person time-warped into Hermann without GPS, you would feel certain you were in Germany’s Rhineland. Rolling hills, tall brick homes, and sprawling vineyards make it very hard to think “Missouri.”

Quiet Time

Quiet Time

The remarkable thing about my vacation so far is rediscovering the point of a vacation: To do as little as possible. I realize some people need constant action to stay sane, but I am not one of those people. I go, go, go, but that isn’t my default condition. I need down time; all-the-way-down time and I didn’t even know it. I planned this trip around hiking and (with a little luck) getting some photos of the bald eagles that sometimes winter along the Missouri River and while I may do those things, I’m not going to push it. If laying around watching favorite movies or reading a good book sounds better, I’m going to risk public opinion and do it.

I make light of this, but think about it: Could you go on a trip and feel good doing nothing? Would you return home full of energy and self-esteem if you all you had to report was how the light changed across the countryside as seen from your veranda? It’s a sad state of affairs when society expects us to accomplish something even when we are (theoretically) getting away from it all. It’s time for a change.

Good Night Wine Country

Good Night Wine Country

We’ll see how it goes, but for the next 36 hours I am going to listen to my Inner Being and if She says, “Rest,” I’m going to rest. It’s a little scary, but I think I am up to the task. Ooh! My complimentary ice cream and warm cookie are here. I think this is going to work.

Ely Part II: Holy Ground

If I had a blog, today I would continue my stories about my journey to Ely.

September 30, 2006

Our Breakfast Table

Our Breakfast Table

By all accounts, this should have been a lesser day on our vacation: Rainy, in the 40’s with, a howling north wind, but for us it was perfect. We let our morning start slowly – with coffee and scones, shared beside the fire. Our cabin is paneled with knotty-pine and on a blustery morning like this, it seems to generate its own golden light. As we basked in its glow, Mom, Kindra, and I talked and laughed and reveled in the luxury of free time.

Jim Brandenburg's "Brother Wolf"

Jim Brandenburg’s “Brother Wolf”

Around noon, we braved the gale and made a trip to town for groceries and a little shopping. We’ve been to Ely so many times, visiting the stores that line Sheridan Street is like catching up with old friends. My favorite haunt is the Brandenburg Gallery – the storefront for nature photographer Jim Brandenburg. Jim made his mark on the photography world through his twenty-year tenure with National Geographic, but when he retired, he came home to Ely to indulge his real passion: Photographing the elusive timber wolf. I could spend hours sitting in rapt silence, contemplating the extraordinary work displayed at the Brandenburg Gallery. It is work like Jim’s that inspired me to become a nature photographer and an afternoon in the Gallery refreshes me more than week in the finest spa and I leave with my creative energy renewed.

Christmas Eve on Lark Lake

Christmas Eve on Lark Lake

The rain slowed late in the afternoon and we drove north of town on Highway 169, “The Fernberg” as it is called by locals, to reconnect with another old friend: Ojibway Lake. When we first visited Ely, in 1997, we rented a cabin for Christmas and Ojibway Lake was our “jumping off point.” Our host, Steve Lampman, took our gear to the cabin by snowmobile, but we made the 4-mile trek on foot. Dressed in down coats and Steger Mukluks, we walked across the frozen waters of Ojibway and Triangle lakes to Lark Lake, where our cabin was nestled among the balsam and spruce trees. It was a trip to remember and the beginning of our love affair with The North, so it was fitting that we pay homage to the place where all our adventures began.

The Uncommon Common Loon

The Uncommon Common Loon

Ojibway Lake is about twenty miles from Ely and The Fernberg winds along like a chain, connecting the jewels of lakes and forests. As we drove along, we recited the names of lakes and side-roads – a rosary of sorts to honor the places we hold dear: We passed Fall Lake, Otter Road, Tofte and Garden Lake, Black Wolf Road, and, at last, Ojibway. The gravel road to the lake was exactly the same as it was the first time we came; even the two dead birch trees I photographed so long ago still stand like sentinels watching over the lake. We parked the car and walked to the end of the long dock and gazed down the waterway towards Triangle and Lark Lake. The wind still blew a gale and our rain jackets weren’t enough protection from the cold. We had just turned to leave when we heard another sound, a tremolo, high and clear as a bell: The call of a solitary loon. He was here past his time, the others of his kind had already gone south to the Gulf of Mexico for the winter, and his clarion call brought tears to my eyes. It was as if he waited for us, to give us welcome before he too took flight to warmer climes. We thanked our intrepid friend and said good night to Ojibway. Warmth was calling us home too.

Holy Ground

Holy Ground

Sitting on my bed tonight, listening to the rain pattering on the fallen leaves, I wonder if I’ve ever been so much at peace. The cares of the world seem a thousand miles away and I am grateful for the release. I want to hold this feeling in my heart as long as I can and perhaps take it back with me when I return to outer world with its burdens and cares. There is magic at work in these primeval forests, a mythic force that comes from the Earth Herself. This is one of the “Thin Places” where the veil between the mortal and spiritual worlds can be transcended. This is Holy Ground.

 

Day of Sloth

If I had a blog, I would write about my Day of Sloth.

Lazy Summer Days

Lazy Summer Days

Last week, my ten year-old niece, Anna, was here. She and I are soulmates in every sense of the word, so her visits are more about two old friends catching up than me babysitting my niece. We rode horses, went rock-hunting, swam in the river, did chores together, and talked, talked, talked. I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world, but since I’m an amateur in the world of child-care, I find myself more than a little tired now that Anna has gone home. After a week of go,go,go, I restore my energy by treating myself to  a day of complete self-indulgence, which I call my Day of Sloth.

Technically, the word “sloth” refers to one of the Seven Deadly Sins (or to a charming, if slow-moving, South American mammal), but I figure I can afford a single day’s dalliance without risking my mortal soul or having moss grow on my my furry back, so yesterday I did a whole lot of nothing.

My day started with coffee and toaster waffles. I lingered at the table, enjoying the news on NPR. After a short run to town for groceries, I settled in on the couch and started “Castle Fest.” I love the TV series Castle and I have all five seasons on DVD, so my afternoon was set. I had an ice cream cone for lunch, followed by a peanut-butter-on-a-spoon chaser. I curled up with my full-body fuzzy-pillow and let nature take its course. I napped, and watched, and even did a little sketching. Even the weather conspired to give me a break from the labor of chores. It was cool and cloudy, so I let the horses stay out on pasture. They felt a little disenfranchised, but none of them are at risk of starving and it gave my back a chance to rest from cleaning stalls, lugging hay, and spreading sawdust. All I had to do was care for The Chick and The Duck and gather eggs from the Lady Hens. I could feel the cells in my body regenerating by the minute.

The icing on the cake, so to speak, was watching a good movie with my brother and sister-in-law. We had coffee, ice cream, and cherry turnovers at intermission, and a little wine to cap off the evening. Sitting in the cozy living room with David and Kindra, surrounded by our three big dogs, sharing a rare moment without to-do lists or deadlines, I felt utterly restored. I think a little sloth is good for the soul.