In The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, a sailor was cursed for killing an albatross. Fortunately, there is no penalty for merely startling one.
In fact, I’m not sure which of us was more startled. I was half asleep at the helm, alone on deck a thousand miles from shore. The light was failing. (Twilight comes quickly to the tropics.) A long, greasy swell was running after days of storm. The wind had followed the storm and we were becalmed, watch on watch, drifting without steerageway for days.
Continue reading Albatross
"You’re responsible for ruining the life of my child!" The woman was standing in a puddle, her face inches from mine. Her child stood dripping beside her – wet, disheveled, but hardly ruined.
Continue reading Riding the Rocket
Each workday I stand on the pier in queue for the foot ferry to Seattle in the company of other commuters, double-crested cormorants, gulls—western and glaucous-winged gulls mostly—and sometimes a river otter foraging among the tidal rocks of the breakwater. Each workday I shuttle the length of Admiralty Inlet in the company of oil tankers, cruise ships, container ships and warships, tugboats with barges, fishing boats, ferryboats and workboats, schooners, sloops, ketches and an occasional yawl. The channel is broad and deep with few obstructions. It was cut by ice through bedrock and basalt—chipped and gouged, crushed, pried, split, scaled, shattered and scoured by ice. Everywhere the scars of ice are evident.
Continue reading Doing the Time Warp
Fair warning: This post is about widely disparate subjects strung together by apprehension.
Port Townsend occupies the intersection of Admiralty Inlet and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It has always been a haven for cranks and eccentrics, people who dreamed and failed greatly. Port Townsend hosts the annual Wooden Boat Festival, the perennial Wooden Boat Foundation, and arguably the highest density of wooden boatwrights found outside Mystic Seaport.
Continue reading Black Plague & Boatwrights
James Howard Kunstler’s new book The Long Emergency has been getting considerable play recently, partly because of an excellent marketing effort, mostly because of the book’s incendiary subject matter. That subject, simplified, is that we stand at the peak of our material culture. In another year—maybe five—we’ll begin the descent.
Continue reading Dangerous Bourgeoise
The Army Corps of Engineers often find themselves in the unenviable position of defending the status quo against relentless change. Twenty years ago the Corp dredged the Columbia River to accommodate ships of increasing draft. They piled the dredging spoils on Rice Island. Caspian terns, native to the Pacific Northwest, like nesting in soft sand and Rice Island had plenty of sand. It was also protected form predators. The terns were fruitful and multiplied. Eventually they numbered over 20,000—70% of the world’s population of Caspian terns.
Continue reading Magnificent Indifference
The world is considerably more mysterious than priests and politicians would have us believe. How else explain frogs falling from the sky? Small toads, actually, bouncing off the taut skin of English umbrellas. Or common minnows sliding off the slate roofs and clogging the gutters of Aberdare, Wales? Waterspouts? Sure, you can trot out that swaybacked old excuse but it has no legs. Waterspouts don’t pluck only one kind of amphibian or small fish out of a pond, fastidiously ignoring all the surrounding muck and water plants. In fact, a waterspout is more likely to rain mud and sticks on your head than small fish.
Continue reading Frog Falls
David Koch’s recent disappearance set me thinking about other losses. In the age of commercial sail when ships often went missing and word traveled only as fast as the wind there were formal hierarchies of loss defined by the underwriters, Lloyds of London predominantly. When a ship was late in arriving at her port of call, she was reported to Lloyds as overdue. When the length of time overdue became worrisome, she was reported missing. And finally, when the silence stretched into months and hope seemed naive, she was reported missing, presumed lost.
Continue reading Missing, Presumed Lost
It was said of the old schoonermen who sailed out of Gloucester to fish the Grand Banks that they could place their position by tasting what clung to the bottom of the lead when it was heaved back onboard. They knew the texture, weight, and consistency of what lay fathoms beneath their keels as intimately as a farmer might know the dirt in his fields or an Inuit discern the subtleties of snow.
Continue reading Sense of Place
David Koch is missing on Grouse Mountain. He has been missing since Wednesday, five nights now, and there remains only a slim probability of his survival.
I met him Tuesday afternoon. He was making a promotional tour for his magazine, DM Review. He had a boyish face and thinning hair. His smile seemed expectant, as if someone were about to deliver a punch line. His conversation was softly spoken and hesitant or perhaps merely polite, paced to encourage interruption. He was, after all, from Wisconsin where time flows like glacial ice.
Continue reading Lost on Grouse Mountain