Reassuring Illusions

It was my first time sailing the Atlantic Coast; her first time sailing any coast at all. Through the afternoon watch I kept a weather eye on thunderheads churning over Cape Hatteras 30 miles to the west.

We were motoring north with the mains’l set and sheeted home. It was Spring and the weather could turn abruptly. I had no wish to be caught with all standing by a sudden squall. Thunder cells can generate down drafts of hurricane strength that strike the surface of the sea and rush outward in a concentric blast that can knock a boat on its beam ends with little warning. This was a coast foreign to me. Even the weather was alien. It wouldn’t serve to lose the first boat I ever owned, or the first wife, either.

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Wild Man

When they brought John Tornow’s body to the undertaker’s on April 20, 1913 he had already been dead three days. The streets of the small Washington town of Montesano were filled with jostling crowds. They had come to see the dead man’s face, to touch his burlap clothing, to breathe the scent of decay. They had come to reassure themselves that John Tornow was truly dead and, through some inexplicable communion, to share in the dead man’s power.

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