Sailing Ahead, Wherever That May Be

The only time I’ve ever been on a sailboat was to sleep. There’s a great Tall Ship converted into a youth hostel in Stockholm where my sister and I bunked for a couple of nights on our college gallivant across western Europe. [Which hostel appears to have been recently renovated, and very nicely, if any of you should be interested.] While there may have been the faintest of motion rocking us to sleep in our on-board berths, I doubt it replicated very accurately the sensation of actual sailing. My next opportunity was during graduate school when I got a fan letter (one of the very few in my life, as you can imagine!) from a stranger who’d liked a gallery art installation I made so much that he offered to take me out sailing to the nearby islands. I don’t think there was anything predatory about him, but besides my still having a grandiose case of social anxiety in those days, there is the fact that the art show in question was entirely a walk-through, life-sized illustration of an espionage thriller; while I am doubtful that was his inspiration, I didn’t take him up on the offer.
Photo: Adrift on the High Seas

But whenever I see a sailboat, I do think it’s a beautiful representation of a genteel form of freedom that captivates my imagination all the same. Yes, I know plenty of tales of grueling trials on the high seas, no matter the size of the craft; even some of my close friends and relatives have such stories to tell, thankfully, having survived them. And I know, too, the old joke about testing one’s real interest in boat ownership by dressing up in a rain slicker and standing under an ice-cold shower for a couple of hours while flushing hundred-dollar bills down the toilet. But I also know that a vast number of people who could jolly well choose to spend their money and time on less demanding, safer, and far less expensive pastimes still choose boating. There’s clearly a strong pull to counterbalance any such negatives.

I, too, have spent some happy times on boats, just not sailboats. As a coastal kid, after all, I grew up thinking time spent on the ferries was as much pleasure and sightseeing as it was commuting or transport. I have been fairly miserable on a North Sea ferry in stormy seas while I was recovering from the stomach flu, but it did not so permanently scar either my psyche or my stomach lining that I didn’t look forward to the next time I got to be on a slow boat cruising along the shore, or perhaps best of all, in a rowboat or canoe, dipping the oars or paddle in with the rhythmic soft splashing that accompanies my reveries.
Photo: All Ashore

Living far from any natural body of water as I do these days, I am beached like an old craft whose hull is no longer seaworthy. But like those old boats I see, dry-docked on the beach or alongside the tumbledown barn or in a weedy field, I keep in my soul a firm and loving memory of every good time spent with the waves rocking me softly from below, telling me stories of their own and inviting me forward, ever forward, wherever that might take me.

Longing for Home

photoMany years have passed since I first had reason to recognize that Home was not a built structure or even a location but a state of mind, a condition of the heart. It becomes associated with places by virtue of the happiness that embraces us there and also to the degree of intensity with which we are cared for and loved by the people of that place. The beauty of this characteristic is that Home can become portable when we are able to revisit those people or that contentment and security, belonging and joy, wherever they go, even in memory at times.photo

The complication therein is that the more places become Home, the more ways I can feel Homesick.

I will never complain of this any more than I would of any other pleasure or privilege, even when they fill me to the point of bursting–can anyone ever truly be surfeited with happiness? But there are times, perhaps those happy times most of all, when my reverie strays down all the pretty paths that lead to those many beloved locales and times where and when I’ve felt most accepted, at ease, at peace. My heart follows, soaring over all the lands and seas and resting where it will: in the arms of loving and hospitable friends and towns and favored hideaways and palaces I’m privileged to know as Home. It’s not that I can’t be contented where I am, it’s that the well of contentment runs so deep that every aquifer offshoot of it eventually leads my thought and memory back to other greatly loved locales. photo

It can happen at the edge of the crashing January ocean, beside a crackling fire, on an island-hopping ferry-boat, in the midst of sweeping farmland fields, or in the center of some sizzling, jazzy, noisy city. When I feel it, my breathing speeds up just a little and my heart’s singular syncopation becomes more pronounced and I might feel just the slightest sting of salt cutting at the corners of my eyes. Suddenly there is that tingling, that sub-sonic hum, that says I am at Home–and this is how I can invoke a rooted joy that echoes back to me with whispers of welcome in so many marvelous parts of the world.

I have been genuinely at home in the immensity of an ancient forest and on the flanks of a gleaming mountain; under the Gothic vaults of a cathedral, the low roof of a cozy suburban home, or under the spangled starry night-bold sky; among humble strangers whose language is worlds away from mine and in the arms of my dearest, closest and longest-known loved ones. Home, whatever and wherever it may be, is precious beyond words and missed in every atom of its forms at any moment when it is not near or I’m not in it.photo

What I could not imagine, all those years ago, was that I would find myself at home as well in a construct as much as in a constructed place. Yet here I am, posting letters daily to a family of people I may never even meet, and feeling as though I am in a kindly, hospitable place of heart and mind that tells me once again that I am Home. May you, too, who are reading this, always find–or make–yourself good homes in all the places that you can, whether in a graciously appointed house or in a soul-filling hermitage of your choosing; whether surrounded by the comforting presence of people who fill your days with delight or in the quiet retreat of your own contemplative corner–or right here, where you are always welcome to come and sit for a little while and chat and go by the name of Friend.photo