Wednesday, June 24, 2009

...or did I just dream it?

"So, for me, at least, the Tall Ships is about possibly inspiring one of our own young Bostonians to look beyond Fenway Park and meet everyday heroes of the sea, and perhaps set foot on a sailing ship themselves one day. It's much more likely they will get out to sea once in their lives than on the mound at Fenway."
- Laurie Fullerton, Essex (MA)

Laurie's answering a piece of political in-twerping by "The Observer" Sam Allis in the Boston Globe who misses the idea of a Tall Ships Parade, like most lubbers do.
Who am I kidding? What a TallShip™ parade represents is a "a flavour of will o' the wisp," a phantasm, the ignis fatuus that ever-so-briefly illuminates a spark that speculates a possibility, a hankering for a longing, a question of a dream, a languish of a reverie.
As a young boy, it took me no time at all to determine that the ocean is cool. I would spend hours in the Sakonnet River behind our house, jumping off the dock and swimming, eyes open underwater in order to marvel at barnacles and minnows and crabs and whatever else engrossed me.
In a very few Summers, I was grabbing whatever flotsam I found on the strand and dragging it to the water. If it held my weight, I ventured further out. A surfboard, an abandoned work skiff, a neighbor's Sunfish; these eventually led to friendships and bigger ships.
But the earliest epiphany for me was: "Here I am, sitting on the beach and I know that there is a busy world below the waves. How empty and shallow a life is that one that doesn't see past the merely visible -- the poor soul that is unaware or uninterested in what it cannot see."
Years later, that very sentiment overwhelmed me as I stood at the antique Hollywood helm of a huge wooden ship model, its own sails full of a following wind that smelt of land, The Beach that we couldn't leave quickly enough. Our heading was -- briefly -- full and by a star twinkling in a clear night sky, reflected on an undulating rippling ocean that I knew -- knew -- was the surface of another reality filled with life and currents that moved it all.
Including me. At the helm of my tiny home.
Or at least, it suddenly felt very small.
And I should next type something like "And that scene is repeated every night on every vessel at sea by every sailor who has ever..." and the remainder goes: the romance of the et cetera blahblahblah and historic sail training for youth will inspire the next Barack Obama and we'll cure stupid. The End.
And I had spent most of my life on land thinking of nothing but my self and my own welfare.
I could have hopped a freighter and joined the merchant marine or piloted a riverboat or run excursion tours or skippered the harbor taxi or tied off booze cruise cattlemarans. On TallShips™ I worked with children and adults possessing various levels of attention-deficit as both my trainees and crewmates. Some, spoiled brats who got a bunk because their folks had some political connection to the organization that ran the ship. Some, at-risk inner-city youth whose next bunk would probably be in a cell. Some, middle-managers who would have rather been golfing on this weekend of contrived team-building exercises. Some were retired executives who never had the chance when they were younger.
I watched a lot of teary faces accompany these people as they disembarked, and I saw quite a few trot quickly and happily down the gangway to their cars -- the back of their heads my last indelible image of them, and a "yeah, fuck off, Gilligan" still ringing in my ears.
Didn't they remember the early morning and fog-bound harbor that transported eight full-rigged ships and a couple of schooners effectively back to a time without mobile phones or microwave ovens? Did the resentment of a cold watch on a wet foredeck render useless all the lessons in marlinespike arts about detail and history and resolve and self-reliance and care? Didn't they learn anything from fashioning a harbor furl with the rest of the watch following the instructions of the third mate -- that there is something in the real world that objects to the text messaging, the self-possession, the arrogance that mocks those who support the mission at hand?
And that mission is Life.
The world, Laurie, no longer allows for flights of fancy. The hipster culture, the tyrannical amateurs who now suggest incomprehensibly impulsive rules for unseen others to abide by, the ouster of all which they brand uninteresting because it doesn't instantly amuse them with an opportunity to snark.
ASTA has two hundred TallShips™ on its rolls. ( I actually started putting the ™ on "TallShips"™ after SailBoston's Dusty Rhodes trademarked it, FYI.)
If each ship has a regular crew of twenty-five -- a widely varying estimate -- there are five hundred people who may or may not have the same thoughts about their vessels. Out of that five hundred, a full third is honestly dedicated to a life working at sea. Half of them will "retire" and probably not be replaced. Of the ones left, I'm betting that half don't know what a monkey's fist is or what "between the devil and the deep blue sea" has to do with boats. The rest probably know all the words to at least one sea chantey. Some think that Jimmy Buffett is a poser.
Some don't think of the sea or their ship in very romantic terms at all.
They don't want to point at and name the acres of canvas and the five miles of rope aloft and name the hundreds of lines that lead to the pinrails and fiferails, and they don't want your kid to hit them with a belaying pin. They don't want to tell you about the slave trade or trying out of a sperm whale or the damned mutiny that nobody ever gets right. And they don't ever want to be called "pirate."
Maybe they'd rather be on a pitchers' mound in Methuen or maybe in the cheap seats at Fenway or sitting at the bar on Lansdowne.
Yes, everybody would rather be somewhere else. Rather than in tedious meaningless tasks, rewarded with trinkets and hollow praise at the end of the week.
There's a hero in anyone who gets through it, Laurie.


karie said...

Thank you, Thirdmate. I really enjoyed both your wonderful glance at a childhood filled with the influence of the sea, and your perspective on a sad possible loss of that for future generations. Good for Laurie, and for you, for pointing out the value of something so basically connected to every human on the planet - water - the seas. Without it, and a deep-rooted value for it, there will be no "mounds" to stand upon at Fenway anyway.

ThirdMate said...

The worn ship reels, but still unfurled
Our tattered ensign flouts the skies ;
And doomed to watch a prudent world
Of little men grown mean and wise,
The old sea laughs for joy to find
One purple folly left to her,
When glimmers down the riotous wind
The flag of the adventurer !
(St. John Lucas, 1908)
That's the fifth stanza. The first stanza is the opening to Adventure, by Jack London