Sunday, August 27, 2017

Journey's End, or Reflections As One Thing Passes Into Another

Sky passes into sea, Rose Harbour, Kunghit Island, Gwaii Hanaas

4:30 am Atlantic Daylight Savings Time Sunday 27 August, 2017  West Quoddy, Nova Scotia

Just a week ago we were in British Columbia, preparing for our last day on the boat for the year.  We'd moved into the launch slip, for the boat was to be hauled for some repairs, and eaten a quiet meal in the cockpit as darkness dropped over the Fraser River.  Overhead, dozens of airplanes streamed in on the same route: a sharp turn over the towers of the Alex Fraser Bridge, and then the lock onto a final approach over the river; they rumbled overhead to the airport, lights like a searching beam coming right at us. Our bags were half packed; the next morning I'd strip the bed, wash the sheets, defrost the freezer and scrub down the remainder of the living spaces on the boat, while Marike stowed lines and investigated the persistent and worrying flow of water over the top of the rudder, among dozens of other vital details. Cushions were clean and stacked in the salon, bedding and blankets bagged, charts rolled up, guidebooks put away. And just like that, the journey, which had unfolded gradually across time and space, embedding landscapes and experiences in our flesh and memories for months, rumpled closed; its urgencies began to dissipate.

Rising tide. Hakai Luxvabalis Recreation Area, Queen Charlotte Sound

Did it happen? Of course it did--finally, we'd made it to Haida Gwaii and back--but the marks the voyage left on our bodies, the habits of vigilance and care that it instilled in the rhythm of our days, had begun to disperse.  Before long we would be embedded in the life of the land again, unconscious of each fluctuation in barometric pressure, unconcerned about the exact times of the tides or the force and direction of the wind. Before long we'd be in another geography, on another coast, in our house. Then the question in the middle of the night would no longer be 'how strong is the wind? or 'does the anchor hold?' but something more diffuse and existential: 'who am I; where am I; and what must I do that matters next?' 

A lengthy and demanding voyage relieves us of such questions in many ways by giving us a trajectory and many clear parameters: the goal each day is to make good enough judgments about when, where and how to go a certain distance, that we may arrive safely. The consequences of failing to do this are fairly immediate and significant. Why one goes is not at issue: the meaning of life is to be alive and to stay alive, to become a resonating body, attuned to the wind and waves, other creatures, the landscape, the tides, and to the sounds of the boat. You ask, 'did we make the right call there?' 'is the raw water pump working?' not 'who am I and why do I exist?' You move from chart to chart, asking how best to get from here to there; such efforts, for the time one makes them, seem to preclude the feeling that one has gone astray--above all these days, for thanks to the extreme precision of Global Positioning Systems, it is almost never necessary, while underway, to puzzle out painstakingly where you are. 

Fog lifts and smoke remains. Entering Johnstone Sound from Blackney Passage.

But back on land, reinserted (however fitfully) into the news cycle and various pressing human concerns as we attend to the circuitry--the communications, the appliances, the vehicles, the yard work and habits of cleanliness and order--that sustains our carbon-rich lives, the absence of charts, of an evident trajectory across the repetitions that structure each day, makes existence itself feel heavy, tenuous, puzzling.  Without a map to mark the way, questions about the meaning of life surface: "why am I doing what I am doing? Is it worth it? What am I building as we move from day to day?" Bare existence seems never enough.

And it isn't--not for anyone, and certainly not as a meaningful narrative about living. Elaboration is crucial. So too, a sense of direction. Somehow, always, we want the sense and unfolding self-evidence of the journey, even if that can only be played, on the one hand, as risk, and on the other, as retrospection.

Stars spangle the night sky and a thick dew settles over every surface. Sometime in the day to come, it will rain and we will sit indoors at our computers, writing, searching, replying, seeking contact, affirmation, revelation. But for now, to look out at the Milky Way just might be enough. The dog curls at my feet. I drink a glass of water and go back to bed.  

Grey light of early morning rises, blotting out the stars. I know that another night soon, I'll be up again to weigh the anchor of my soul, and find it wanting.

Carved cedar mortuary pole returns to the earth, K'uuna Llnagaay (Skedans), Haida Gwaii.

All photographs were taken in British Columbia during the course of a voyage to Haida Gwaii aboard Quoddy's Run (June 3-20 August 2017).

1 comment:

  1. I would not say that such a voyage is just surviving. Perhaps more a movement of bearing witness to places and existences that are not the Ersatz reality of the screen world. Voyaging by sail in wild places is one of things I do. Not a vacation from life.