Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Apples, Horses, Chickens, and Democrats

Tonight I am dehydrating bags of apples. Tomorrow I'll bake pies. It is time; the apples still hanging on the last late tree are crisp and ripe. I know from my one and only dehydrating experience that they should first be peeled. So I am procrastinating the long and tedious task that awaits me. I suppose I should use it as an opportunity for meditation. I'll get myself into a quiet place and then peel and core and slice. Peel and core and slice. Peel and core and slice with a heartful of love and the knowledge that someday, in some far off place, I'll eat my porridge, thankful for the little bit of home that sweetens it. This is intention. I can transcend today and reach out to tomorrow in the act of peeling and slicing apples. My grandma knew this, and I suspect grandmothers everywhere do.

The only other tree still fruiting has mealy, drab little bitty apples that aren't good to eat. Those we reserve for sweet Lola the gray mare down the lane. She runs to greet us when she sees us, knowing we are the new apple dispensers in the neighborhood. Like most horses, her scent is divine to me. Like perfume. Even her warm breath, vaporous in the cool afternoon, smells good to me. She nuzzles my palms the way only velvety horse lips can. Fall is magic. Horses are magic.

Horses were a part of my childhood and one of the few appreciations I shared with my father. Lately, horses have been on my mind. I saw a post for a free horse while shopping at the Skagit Valley Coop in Mt. Vernon yesterday. The horse had been rescued after suffering a near fatal beating by some cruel ass. The rescuer had attempted to get animal control to take the horse, but they wouldn't for whatever reason. (?!) The kind and conscientious person ended up buying the horse to save its life. She even paid a vet to do emergency surgery, and is now offering the recovered horse to the right home. The horse, whose long sad face was pictured on the flyer with fresh stitches, no longer trusts men. The new owner must be a woman and have some riding experience. I thought. "Hey, that's me. I'm a woman. I've ridden. I'm the right home!" (For an animal lover this line of reasoning is automatic.) I've dreamed of living to see the day when we return to horses for transportation, and this would be my way to live by example. Now, that would be ultimately cool. Talk about retro! I'd just ride into town, tie her off and do a little shopping. Steve, synchronous in his own peculiar way, suggested lobbying the city council for hitching posts. "Somebody has to lead the way," I thought. Yeah, a horse. Why not? I thought about it with my left brain for a moment and reality hit. Our property is not fenced. That would be a big expensive project. Wait! I'm moving onto a boat. I can't adopt a horse for six months and then get rid of it. And surely I can't take a horse on Nomadness! It just isn't going to happen. Which brings me to chickens.

Soon, Steve and I will be getting a small flock of young hens. We've been discussing the virtues fresh eggs and knowing where a little more of our food comes from. And of course, there's the soulful, beneficial stream of entertainment chickens provide as they scratch, cackle, strut and peck out their place in the universe. We've been browsing the net for coop plans, and walking the property to determine the best locale and how to keep them safe from predators. We both know there is a definite chance we will soon be gone indefinitely, and the hens will have to stay with whomever moves in, or be given away. Yet, I am so lonely for critters in my life, and Steve adores chickens. Who'd have guessed that? He claims he misses them. Plus chickens are a better investment than stocks or gold at this point. And my dog, Lily will thoroughly enjoy herding them around the yard. At fourteen, she deserves a few hens of her own.

As to the possibility of chickens on a boat... well, there is a tiny itsy bitsy sliver of possibility, right? I have always recognized my need to live with critters. Critters know their place. They are honest and true. They don't lie, or worry, or fret. Being with animals reminds me of who I am at a most essential level. In the mirroring eyes of my corgi or of a whale or a doe, I can see my animal self and also feel my humanity. I can distinguish my self.

Yesterday I mailed in our ballots. I was adamant to get them in early and on paper. I hand carried them into the post office and made sure they were received by the one postal worker with a smile. When I left the post office, I passed the Democrats office, so I pulled in to pick up an Obama sticker. Better late than never, huh? (Besides it might bring some future generation a few bucks as a collectible someday. Now that's eBay thinking!) Anyway, I went in and volunteered to help on election day. Since I am not tied to a workday, I figure I can drive folks to the polls, or put out coffee for the voters, or do something useful. I guess I want to feel like I'm doing something to counterbalance my cynicism. Cynicism has been creeping into my heart lately, and try as I might, it seems to be taking root. Last night I actually lay awake for a couple of hours worrying about the election. The election! For those who don't know me--- I can usually sleep under almost any conditions. Heartbreak has kept me awake, but that's about it. For me to loose sleep over the idea of election fraud, is a HUGE sign that underneath my calm exterior something is boiling in my being. It is fear.

Fear is the enemy that lurks within. I don't remember who said this, but it smacks of truth. Fear is what they've been peddling to us for years. I don't like feeling manipulated. But then again, I don't want to look back and say, "I saw it coming but wouldn't admit it." So I admit it: I am afraid things could get much worse before they get better. I hope not, of course, but I see the signs. The writing is on the wall. But I choose to let this fear motivate me to dry apples and tend chickens while Steve puts a new watermaker on the boat. Besides, those apples and chickens and misty breathed horses are also my antidote.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Dependency and the Rhythm of Land

We set out this summer with the intention of sailing whenever we could and learning the vessel's and our own idiosyncrasies. We had a wonderful time, and I wouldn't change a minute of it. Yet, somehow we only managed to sail a dozen times or so. Nomadness moves beautifully under sail, but more often than not we motored. Why? Mostly due to lack of wind, or late starts with few options for anchoring, thus pressure to get somewhere by such and such time. And the most frustrating of all: the winds weren't blowing in the right direction. How absurd! Beating our way for hours into the wind in narrow inland waters and still not being able to arrive before dark trumped our love of sailing.

But these are surface reasons; at the core of all this is something much deeper and much simpler. We were not sufficiently free from the rhythm of our land-based life. We decided where we wanted to go and then set out to get there. That's what one does on land, so that's what we did by and large. On the water, however, I think one needs a different approach. Deciding to set out wherever the wind can carry us safely in a day's voyage, would produce many more favorable sailing days. But this is a mindset that must develop over time and requires the willingness to slow down and let go of agendas. Essentially, when on the water, we change the rhythm and tempo of daily life.We're on our way...

Another thing that comes to mind in reflecting on the summer, is how much I don't know and how far from ready I truly am. Yes, I sailed a few times on my own (with Steve below of course) and I know how the plumbing works! I have internalized a lot of sequences for procedures that seemed confusing before (like the eight steps to take a shower), and I have a vague idea of what to do when the motor doesn't start. I know the basic functions of most of the electronics on board. And I know what every line in the cockpit does. But I still can't unfurl the main on my own. We haven't practiced man over board drills. We haven't practiced heaving to.
I still haven't been offshore. I don't know if I'll get seasick. We have accomplished a lot, but we have a long way to go next year. Gotta keep working those learning curves!

Steve has gotten clear on the priorities of the ship's systems and has tackled some huge new projects to ready the boat. I have become clear on the priority of developing my sailing and navigating skills. When I read about women who set out with their partners and know nothing about the operation of their boat, I find it not only sad, but very foolish. We have to rely on each other and trust each other's judgment. This trust can only be built gradually, brick by brick from solid decisions and successful actions, into a foundation that will allow us the freedom of letting go when we need to. We can rest in the knowledge that our partner can carry the load for awhile if we need him/her to. We have to be able to depend upon one another without becoming co-dependent.

Dependency. What a loaded word. It has almost become a dirty word in our culture, and even more so in some subcultures. Dependency is viewed as weakness while self reliance denotes strength. I believe we must depend on each other. Nobody can do everything.
Sure some can survive all alone on a boat or in the wilderness and that is commendable, but to thrive, our human souls need interaction and a community in which to grow.

In the coming times, communities of folks will need to band together and not only for practical reasons. We need each other to make us laugh, to open our minds, to teach us new skills, to nurse us, to challenge us, to introduce new ideas, and to sing new songs that raise our spirits in the darkest times. To be able to depend upon one another is a gift. To be of aide, assistance, and to give support to one another creates an opportunity to exercise our own highest and best selves. If we all go it alone, how will we ever develop greater kindness, generosity, charity, tolerance, and love for humanity?

What does all this have to do with sailing and flotillas and drama and art? Everything. It is all related. How we live, what we do, why we do it, and who we share it with, all determine the quality of life we seek. Whether it be at sea in flotillas, or on land in communities, whether through art, science, or even geek expressionism, we have to chase the big questions. We are symbolic as well as practical. Our journeys are mythic.

I have been reading a lot of great blogs lately that discuss sufficiency, self reliance, and simplicity, but I want to make sure that in the process of saving ourselves, we don't cut ourselves off from sharing the joy of life, the glee of kindness, and the bliss of love. We really do need each other.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Funny how a change of scene can bring one back to something familiar with new eyes, fresh respect, and a deeper gratitude.

I am back home in the Camano forest where owl stutters his lonesome welcome and, in every corner, spiders have built long term complexes for raising their young. I am here, where the earth smells of mushrooms and cedar, here in the mud, knee high grasses, and thorny blackberry tangles still bearing for all they're worth. Here, I find so much that can nourish and support me.

I see a touch of irony in my desire to take to sea, where there can only be what one needs for a short term. On the water I concern myself with tasks of the day, or of the hour. I think of the day's meal, where to park for the night, which way the wind blows, how much water remains, and will we be safe tonight. But desire is desire and must not be denied. On the water life is fluid. Here it solidifies. I think of the longer term; I put food by, stock up on stuff, and stack up wood. I watch barrels fill with rain, and forage what's left in the orchard. I plan to make spirits, and gather good friends round me. Here, I listen to the calling of the great horned hunter of the night and feel at home. Owl has been near most nights since we returned, and once, he perched himself just outside the lab for a more direct encounter. I think he is letting us know "the plan is good."

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Times Like These

We've landed back at Camano Island; Nomadness is safely berthed across Saratoga Passage at Oak Harbor. I'll soon post a piece in reflection about our shakedown cruise. At the moment I want to point to a really good blog post I read this morning by Jerome (Jay) Fitzgerald, the seasteading guy, which offers some excellent advice for us all about how to proceed in this economically disasterous time. He points to small things we can all do, which taken together, can add up to have an impact. I believe that focusing on what we can do, rather than being overwhelmed by the enormity of what we cannot do, is crucial in times like these.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Dramanautical Urges

Steve is eager to get to Anacortes today to have the boat hauled out for some work that includes rust repair around the anchor locker and stern steps, bottom cleaning and paint, and a big tunnel through the bow with an electric motor in it (aka bow thruster). His mind races around on all the winter projects he wants to complete before we go "full time" next year. I, on the other hand, am growing accustomed to this life. I can easily imagine going on with this for another couple of weeks, or a month, maybe a year... Especially now that the Little Cod (little god) is in and oh, soooo cozy! Once we remodel the settee into "the nest" (more on that later) and get the mandatory pillows, artwork, and girly touches, Nomadness is going to be a regular love den in spite her supreme high geekery. Afterall we do plan to live on her for extended voyaging.

With the coming of fall, my pace has slowed and my eagerness to go go go, north north north, has finally calmed. I am meditating more regularly again and creative thoughts float up more frequently. (Hmmm...correlation?) Snippets of scenes on the "stage" of a boat play across my mind: amplified sounds of rigging creaking in the dark, a spotlit acrobat swinging from the top of the mast whispering almost inaudibly to a rapt audience about the plight of the seas,
flutes and drums beckoning across a quiet anchorage conjuring a skiff in a gush of bubbles from the bottom of the bay... some mythic sea story is seeking a mind through which it can come into being. Again.

Fall has always been a fruitful time of year for my imagination. Perhaps this stems from those childhood days when autumn signaled the return to school. My siblings and friends mourned the end of wild, dusty summer, while I secretly celebrated the first sign of autumn and the promise of new things to learn and new friends. If I can kindle my imagination now, it may burn through winter and yield some roughly forged story for the future dramanautical productions. The key is not that I need, nor even want, to create a "something" for some future group to execute, but rather that I get in touch with the source of my creativity and exercise it. My muse has been drowsing for a bit too long (a little seasick perhaps); it is time she awaken and blossom again.

For the past week here on Orcas Island, while lazing in bed, or rowing the dinghy round Fawn island, or sitting amongst the work clutter of half finished projects, or while gazing into a fire in the midst of dinner party chatter, the questions of the role of art in my life and in society at large have been haunting me.

Artist, writer, and teacher, Suzi Gablik in dialogue with James Hillman:
Hillman: Now suppose the question doesn’t become what art should do, but rather how do we find that which art should serve? Art is already in service, so we could perhaps change that to which it is in service?

Gablik: So the question is what could art better serve than the things it has been serving, like bourgeois capitalism, throughout our lifetimes?

I am tangled up in this notion of art in service to something. Many artists proclaim that art is for art. Period. Art as aesthetic. As ornament. Decoration. Something to brighten up the den. While I strongly agree we need more beauty in the urban world of waste and decay, and that art should be beautiful (as in the eye of the beholder), I also want art to have be socially relevant at some level. Is it our responsibility as artists to bring light to this dark world, or to reflect back the darkness? Should we represent the way things are or conjure other possibilities? In the past decades discussion of art seems rarely to center on beauty, and when it does it often points toward the impulse to deconstruct beauty. Life is often ugly in our day and age, but we humans need beauty in all its forms, visual, rhythmic, and aural. The earth is fantastically beautiful. To see beauty is to witness the divine.

Again Gablik:
What we have lost is the ability to feel the divine in all things. Institutionalized religion in our lifetimes has once again become a war-making tool. How, then, do we get past our embarrassment about God? Everything in modern society has progressed except our spiritual understanding. We have yet to learn, for instance, that we can't survive without beauty, and that the loss of it is killing us.
If you are a sailor (as I hope many of you are) then you already appreciate visual beauty and the beauty of motion/rhythm. For what is more beautiful than a boat under sail on the rhythmic sea under a vibrant ever-changing sky?

Beauty heals, so I want art that soothes both the artist and the audience. Art that acts on our souls. Not mind numbing entertainment, but spirit raising and awe inspiring. Art as a call to action and to kindness. Art that offers something different and serves something greater. We are all hurting, and we are hurting each other and our environment. Art must stop being "more stuff for sale" that will eventually fill another landfill. It must become a salve for the diseased cultures so many of us are living in. Art can be useful and promising. Art can be a guidepost for the lost, and a seed for the fertile.

How? It is easy to theorize such an art, but how can we produce such art. Gurdjieff referred to Objective Art, art that transcends the personal experience and communicates truth. This is a tall order, for sure. I can't say how to do this but I suspect that ultimately we must live an artful life to produce this art. The experience of living intentionally together-- doing our best, learning, giving to and caring for one another and the environment -- is the raw material, the very food, for the metaphoric excretions we call art. I want to be with folks who turn life into myth and travel a life path paved with choices. Sharing our words, images, and songs with the communities we encounter, will do that magic thing that makes Art a necessity: it will transport experience from one mind to another, from one heart to another, and in the process plant seed for a new way of being. I'm not talking about high brow art; I'm wishing for art that serves something other than ego, capitalism, and individual self. Art that cleans up after itself, and leaves the world a little better.

Maybe I'm crazy. Maybe my ideals are ridiculously out of this world. Maybe I am lost in a fantasy. Or maybe I am on the right track. How? I don't know. For starters I'll write about it, sit with it, and send out this electronic beacon.

Wish oil on wood 2005

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


We have begun our journey back to Camano and the end of our summer adventure. At the moment we're in Deer Harbor in the thick of the long-awaited wood stove installation. We'll be here the rest of the week with the boat torn apart while the last sunny sailing days of summer slip away. And then more hole drilling awaits us in Anacortes next week. Gosh, drilling holes in your boat causes tension. Luckily, our landlubber friends, Mariah and David, generously entertained us with vittles and hot tubbing while ashore last night. If we're fortunate we might even relieve some tension with a musical frolic before the week is through.

Meanwhile Andrew of Navigator Stove Works and Jeff work away at a relatively complex stove installation.

(Figuring out exactly where to put the deck iron.)

They're an efficient team working out both the math and the functionality of how, where and why to safely build a heavy burning object into the middle of a cabin that will someday roll on the high seas. Add Steve's abundant brain power to the mix and my own random injections, and we've had some lively discussion and come up with some brilliant solutions. It may be a big old mess, but it has been fun. So far. And we inch, inch, ever toward sufficiency.

What is sufficient? What is simply survival? What is luxury? Many layers of meaning unfold from these words for me. I've been thinking about this idea of sufficiency. A lot. I recognize that Nomadness isn't yet ready to provide what we need to be truly independent and self-sufficient. With the financial collapse of our monstrous top-heavy capitalist system sending many, if not most, Americans into a frenzy to shore up their lives, my first associations with sufficiency relate to material wealth. I can honestly say that I am thankful I have very little to lose in this regard. I'm with the gulls on this one.

(At least the critters can still expresses an opinion outside the "free speech zone.")

Seriously, though, the degree to which people have life skills and the ability to be self sufficient will determine who gets hit hardest and who rolls with the punches. During the Great Depression, the general population may have been better prepared to deal with hardships. People still knew how to grow food, make stuff, and they weren't afraid to offer or ask their neighbors for a helping hand. Maybe I romanticize it. Maybe. But I do know that stuff (things, tools, clothing, etc) was made to last back then. I wonder what will happen in five or ten years when everything breaks, the dumps overflow with appliances, China has cut us off due to our debts, and very few know how to make what they need. What will be of value then?

So what does self sufficiency really mean? Having food, water, a connection to the world, and a place to be?
Let's consider the most basic of these first. Water. Just how much water do we need? Do you know how much water you use? I do. On Nomadness the two of us currently use about fifty gallons of fresh water per week for washing, drinking and cooking. We could use half that if we set our minds to it and used more salt water. Fortunately, have a water maker back at the lab, resting at the top of the list of "stuff to install." Can we make water at a rate that will suffice? Where does survival become sufficiency become comfort? It gets blurry.

And food? Could we catch, grow or harvest what we need? How much do we need? Probably a lot less than we currently think. (And contrary to popular thinking there is enough food to go around. The concept of scarcity is a lie that suppresses the basic human impulse to care for one another.) Before we embark on the "big journey" next year I'll study how and what to fish for, and develop a small system for growing food hydroponically aboard. At present, I can say I know almost nothing about these things. I buy stuff at the store, google up a recipe or just throw something together. (To our credit, we did manage to catch and eat some crab this season. It was thrilling. I think I ignited a deep-seated bloodlust. Here is the proof.

In regards to human connection, what do we truly need? Daily net connections? Phone? Post office? TV, iPods, and radios? Could we survive with weekly connections? Monthly? Could would live without these things entirely? Survive, yes. Would it be sufficient? That's a different question altogether, isn't it? So why not make our own music and stories to share? Somewhere inside me the need for connection intersects my need to create.

And what about electricity? How will we provide enough power for our cameras, radios, computers, lights, navigation equipment, and other necessities? Solar and wind harvesting certainly. I look forward to learning from Steve about how these work. He's planning a whole new power management system to give us an abundance of free electrons without relying on diesel.
He'll be stripping solar panels from previous projects and, with help from a welder friend, installing them on the stern arch on Nomadness.

Sufficiency is hugely complex. And to complicate it all, we have differing of opinions on what is necessary. For the most part, I defer; my needs are quite simple really.
Once survival is addressed, I seek human interaction and creativity, documentation of our existence in this moment in history. Those big universal questions rear up. What is important in life? Why are we here? What will I leave behind when I have turned to ash? For me, I suspect it has to with love, the creative force of the universe. Certainly there is more to our collective existence than the depletion of earth's resources and the invention of more thingy-ma-jiggers. Certainly there is value and purpose in myth-making and kindness.

So here lies the true heart of the matter. The crux is this: sufficiency resides in knowing that one can take care oneself. Not only financially, or physically, but in psychological and spiritual well being, which requires that one's Being is well. Am I self sufficient emotionally? Is my heart independent? Do I need others to validate my sense of purpose in this world?
These questions touch on the role of solitude in boat life. Attending to the self in the sweet quiet communion with the waves, the wind and all that floats above and beyond may be the most nourishing food of all. Maybe all we really need is the sense that we are safe and fed, that our lover sleeps quietly below dreaming of turtles, while the sails fill and colorful flags luff in the autumn wind. Maybe that will suffice for this lifetime.

Then again maybe we best get the water maker installed and the solar panels up. Oh, and a first draft of something down on paper. And learn another language, and celestial navigation. And let us not forget to love at every opportunity in even the smallest ways. Hang on, this is going to be a wild winter ride for sure.