Most of my life is over. There are far fewer years ahead than I’ve already left behind. It’s understandable that ambition’s grip has slackened (like everything else about my body) and that I’ve become preoccupied with meaning.

I’ve believed many things in my life—most of them foolish—but I can no longer believe in the inordinate rewards and punishments of Christianity, the reassuring revolutions of the wheel of karma, nor even the houris and hashish of Islam. What’s left to me is the cold comfort of Sartre, the intellectual exercise of existentialism that lacks heart.

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Killing Canoes

The Makah are people who live close to the sea. For over 2,000 years they hunted grey whales off the unforgiving coast of Cape Flattery until the whales were hunted near extinction by other men whose only wisdom was greed. It was a dangerous occupation. Boats could be stove in by a whale’s flukes, capsize or break apart in heavy weather. Entire crews could be lost and villages devastated. Two millennium of seamanship taught the Makah that their boats were more than tools—they were sentient, capable of loyalty or betrayal, and accountable. A boat that betrayed its crew to their death and survived itself was traditionally burned. One boat, however, was spared.

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Rogue Troughs

Recently I received an intriguing letter from Adrian Das, Lieutenant Commander, USNR (Retired). LCDR Das has gracefully permitted me to quote his correspondence.

"In January/February 1973, I was in the U.S. Navy on board the USS Saratoga (CV-60) enroute from Singapore to Mayport, FL.

"We were on a northwest heading in the South Atlantic, having entered the Atlantic from the Indian Ocean. I had the mid-to-four Officer-of-the-Deck (OOD) watch, and had just assumed the deck, when the Junior Officer-of-the-Watch (JOOW) noted a strange series of three lines in the sea return. The first line was very pronounced; the second line somewhat less pronounced; and the third, still less pronounced. We were on a heading which had the lines approaching from about thirty degrees off the starboard bow.

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Breath of Trees

Recently I read an excerpt from Singing to the Sound about a man who spent three days in the crown of a red cedar tree in a forest on the Olympic Peninsula trying to defend an old growth forest from harvesting. “Every evening at dusk there is this surprising shiver that runs through all the trees. You don’t just sense it, you can see the trees tremble like with wind. Then someone told me it is the trees themselves going through their daily change-from breathing out to breathing in.”

What a remarkable world where even the trees breathe in the slow cadence of daylight and dark.