On Bad Days

Close your eyes and see what matters
Wash away your worry and pain
There’s holy water
In an island rain

           --------Mac McAnally, "Island Rain"


The Past Is A Distant Place

“I want to dance with circus gypsies
Talk with hippies
Where the past and the future
Still walk down that same sandy street
The importance of elsewhere
Is still that important to me”

—-Jimmy Buffett, et. al., “I Want To Go Back To Cartagena”

For L.G & J. D-T. Thanks.

The void screamed for expression.
Blue emotion froze connection.

Feeling penetrated distance without word.
The word hung in space sans feeling.

The lifted pen; stroke.

Repetition. Pause; 
          Stroke; pause; stroke; pause; stroke.



Sailing on December Rain

December came four days late. She was dark, cold, saturated, and uneven. Your soul needed a boat. Magellan ordered the the mainsail reefed. Noah asked for Job’s advice. Darkness and water were locked in a connubial embrace oblivious to the needs of man.

A year and four days later man was still marooned in the darkness of Winter come thirteen days early.  The sky settled in as hammered steel with no hints of azure to be imagined and darkness closed to ink.   Job had no answers save ideas.

The sails were unfurled even as the wind accelerated. The voice in man’s darkness was Ishmael’s: “Steer in the wake of the Rachel. Ride the edge of the storm, faith requires neither sun nor a port.”

The Old Man’s Great Gift: Part 2 (The Boat)

Fishing. Freshwater fishing. In The Old Man and the Boy the Old Man uses fishing to teach the Boy about some of the important things in life. Ruark leaves the reader with the impression that everything the Old Man did was calculated to teach the Boy. Undoubtedly the episodes the Boy recounts were thus spawned. Yet, many lessons from the old man were secondary and even unintentional in their conception.

My father loved fishing, but freshwater fishing, especially bass fishing  in the North Florida Panhandle, was much more rewarding if done from a boat. The working class world of my youth was not a place where such things were purchased as the cash was not “growing on trees”. In fact one of the trees in my backyard was a Catawba tree which attracted certain creatures that laid eggs which hatched worms that we used for fish bait. The tree had no other purpose in my world.

So my father saved and employed one of his great gifts, patience, to build a boat. What did he intend the impact of this project to have on me? I cannot say, but. . . . Ruark’s Old Man tells the boy, “You can also learn  a whole lot about yourself. Ain’t nothing like a boat to teach a man the worth of quiet contemplation.” While I cannot vouch for any memories of deep contemplation I do have a few vivid memories of the work and the end product.  In the first instance there were the materials and tools needed to float my father’s dream.

I learned about the difference between “plywood” and “marine plywood”. The latter specifically designed to withstand its connubial contact with water. Most of the wood working tools were already in my mechanic father’s green metal chest. Yet, saw horses were required, and they were built not bought. Thank the muses there was no Home Depot or Lowes in those days because a home built saw horse is an interesting creature.

For an alleged equine creature it is “flat out ugly” and it does not move, much less run. Indeed, it is created to stand still. A good one requires at least one 2 x 4 as well as material for the legs, probably more 2 x 4 if it is to bear much weight. Cutting an inclined plane on the top ends of the four leg pieces and then nailing them to the  spine takes time. Lesson number two: quality construction requires solid preparation. Oh, lesson number one: NEVER EVER use a tool for a task it was not designed to execute. (Young boys often believe a screwdriver is  interchangeable with a wood chisel or that  pliers are capable of doing anything.)

So from the beginning the conversations revolved around learning correct nomenclature for tools as well as safety. These were wrapped around instructional moments that were saturated with analogies and metaphors. I am not certain my father knew much about either of these literary creatures, but  upon reflection I see them floating across time. For example: measure and then cut very slowly and carefully leaving the mark; it is easy to make a second cut if the joint does not fit, but you cannot put the material back if you rush to cut too much too soon.  Holding on to the cautionary example would have certainly made life easier further down my road. I have erased too many marks with impatient cuts.

Saw horses made from studs standing like the most impotent of stallions in a inanimate paddock meant it was time to move on to laying the keel. Given that this was to be a real fishing boat, the keel was destined to be the backbone of the vessel rather than a deep water guide. I never embraced the blunt nose flat bottomed river boats that my maternal grandfather built. They were functional, easier to build than a keel and sharp prow, but they were ugly. For whatever reasons my father chose my aesthetic vision for his boat. Living in town meant the curve of the prow would have to be manufactured not found after a long search for a naturally curved piece. Out came the small hand held bottled gas blow torch. The process demanded patience, care with hazardous tools, and imagination as my Dad carved, heated, and bent the wood. I was in awe that one could use heat to shape wood. Watch and learn.

Slowly, never with a set of plans, but always with a plan, the keel sprouted ribs; bottom, sides and stern covered them. Here I learned what would eventually prove to be a powerful lesson. As the Boy notes, “once we stuck her in the water and let her seams swell, she never leaked another drop.” When constructing something that will encounter the vagaries of the real world always allow for the changes in your vessel. If the structure is too tight the swelling will produce a rupture, if it is too loose it will sink. Bulding a “tight ship” does not necessarily perfect.

At last sealing and painting were the final steps. Here my father yielded to my desires; the vessel would be dark green. Epoxy paint gave the wood a hard shining green shield. When things, such as cosmetics, are not necessary generosity is an important virtue to practice.

The boat was to be powered by an outboard motor. So many questions still remained. What brand?  How much horsepower? Testosterone was beginning to drip inside my adolescent body. We needed a brand with cache. We needed serious power. How else could we carve the water with wind in our hair and spray flying? One more lesson. The boat has its purpose; the motor is part of that purpose. Fish don’t care about brands nor how fast you arrived or how fast you leave. The motor was a Wizard 7.5 horsepower purchased at Western Auto. No aquatic speed records were ever threatened. Lesson: image is never the starting point for an important decision. Match resources to purpose.

“I’m gonna build me a boat
With these two hands
It’ll be a fair curve
From a noble plan”

 Guy Clark / Verlon Thompson, “Boats To Build”


Salt Water Time

"The dissonant bells of the sea
As they sing of the ages asleep
not so near or so far"
-----Gene Clark, "Spanish Guitar"

I grew up loving the Gulf of Mexico. It defined salt water for me even though most of my salt water activity occurred on and in Perdido Bay. As a boy the bays seemed tame and even boring unless we were near the mouth of a creek slowly unfurling its contents into salt water. The intersection of waters offered the fascination of life in collision and symbiotic embrace.

But bays lacked the rolling waves, blinding sunlit white sand, and eternally distant horizons.  Big water launched a boy’s testosterone driven  romantic dreams of the beyond. The Gulf was the lord and owner of power and wonder. A lifetime of distance from consistent contact with that lord witnessed the ebb and flood tides of those imagination driven dreams. Life powered by the throbbing engines of routine, mini-dramas, and adult- imposed ambition stained the dreams and blurred the soul’s vision of wonder.

Retiring to the rim of Mobile Bay reestablished consistent interaction with a big constrained body of salt water. Here the horizons are not so distant; the waves lack the size and power of the Gulf; the beaches barely exist. A less restless old man now refines his focus on the wonder of the small, the quiet, the confined life of the Bay. Life on the Bay lacks the noise and bustle of Gulf Coast beaches. Humans populate the waters of the Bay with less density and less noise than their brothers and sisters on the Gulf beaches. The worst offenders rip the waters of the Bay with jet skis when the sun and clear skies turn them steel blue. The offense seems great when one contemplates the virtues under assault.

The Bay impresses with subtle shifts in an otherwise stable world. Ever present gulls congregate in diverse formations always stimulating the question of “why?” Pelicans generate a persistent feature with wonderful behaviors and enigmatic personalities.  On occasion they find repose on the surface of the water like 18th century men of war. Their lines are elegant and unmistakable as  they ride at anchor or sit becalmed. When the survival urge drives them to flight they emerge in the 20th century like WW II dive bombers circling a target, calculating the angle of attack then penetrating air and water as if they were in pursuit of a terminal meal. 
You have seen nothing until your eyes behold airborne pelicans on the edge of a storm.They ride the stiffening breeze like helicopters, often turning into the wind and adjusting their wings and speed to hover in a solitary piece of sky oblivious to the bombastic peals of thunder driving the wind.

Weather in the world of the Bay provides another nuanced experience. Squalls sweep in from the Gulf and attack one shore or the other or engulf the entire basin. The anger of a squall can drive north, up the Bay, with its gloom lingering even as it surrenders to the late afternoon sun. Such days are not beautiful, but they are authentic. Low tide; sun sliding in and out of the clouds; breeze washboarding the surface of the water; a gull clinging to one isolated piling; and a pelican owning the next nearest post. The squalls can seem to surround the Bay with lightning flashes challenging the weak but persistent sunlight.  Angry thunder expressing the lightning’s complaint that the sun will not yield.

Finding an intersection of land and salt water is an enduring reality on the Bay. There is a mystical and hypnotic effect stimulated when viewing tidal pools and cuts when the bright mid-day sun allows the careful observer to see the sand bottom through the clear water. Wind on the water leads to optical realities that contribute to nature’s message.

The Gulf will always be the most important gateway to the things that stir my soul, but I have come to love the Bay and appreciate the mysteries it holds.


“Entre la espada y la pared”

The fire descends on the head like Diablo’s hand.

No choice.

Fan blades ruffle the air,

No noise.

A mild chill glides across the body on the bed,

No relief.

The burn moves south to the thorax,

No light,

Just a flash as the treatment continues.

Just a reminder.




The Ronin’s Tale: Part 10, Reflection

“History is like therapy for the present; it makes it talk about its parents.”

-Maya Jasanoff, The Dawn Watch Joseph Conrad In A Global World

The Guest

“He seemed to find my life negligible. I found his horrifying. Oh, well,”

—–Paul Theroux, The Happy Isles of Oceana

The Ronin’s Tale: Part 9

Return to the battle.

“Charcoal cloudbank belly rolling east

We’re staring down the dark eye of the beast

Seek your shelter anywhere you will

Don’t let your life depend on standing still”

—–Rodney Crowell