Meet the new addition to our family, Little Miss Butter Biscuit. She is 11 weeks old, likes to shred things, and is always underfoot. Her specialty is attacking toes, eating, and purring on my neck. She is significant because she is a creature of the world, and deserves a shot at a happy loving life.
She is also significant because I had planned on officially asking my ex-wife for custody of our son’s other cat which resides with her. This was sure to be a battle, a battle that our son ultimately didn’t need. So I love the other cat, and in a weird way I will always love the ex. But it’s time to move on with a new life, new pets, new dreams, and maybe one day with a little luck – a new love of my own.
I used to live in a small but well built craftsman home on 6 acres. Other folks in the neighborhood had similar sized property, so there was a rural country feel to the place. Old logging roads have since turned into walking trails, and it was common to come across a neighbor while out for an evening walk. One of these neighbors was “Bike Man John”, who at 85 years old still rode a bike, and had a memory (still has a memory) better than mine at 47. I got a call from him the other day, and he wanted to talk about boats.
Bike Man John has built more than 20 wooden vessels, but was stuck on his current project. It took a while to get around to why exactly he was calling, and what the issue was with his latest endeavor. But I knew he still hadn’t finished the little stitch and glue project he had told me about years ago, and was really beating around the bush in telling me why. I had to figure it out which was tough because I can be dense that way. The reason he was calling was to tell me he couldn’t finish building his little boat, because he is going blind and can’t see well enough to fit joints, read plans, measure dimensions. He was calling to ask if I would take over the project, finish it out, and in return keep the boat.
I don’t know about women but I know for sure it can be really difficult for a man to admit that something is beyond his physical ability, especially when that diminished ability is due to age. Not only did Bike Man John have a hard time letting me know he couldn’t finish his project because he was losing his eyesight (and has had 3 heart attacks in the last year and a half), he proceeded to tell me about his “next 2 projects” – 2 more wooden boats he had been thinking about. I did my part as the receiver of this gift, which was letting him know in no uncertain terms what an honor it was, that I was thankful and would take good care of his dream, and encouraged his future boat building endeavors.
I look at his half-built project, which fits snuggly in the back of my truck. It’s an 8′ Glen L Sabotina, a beautiful little pram designed to sail or row. Somehow Bike Man John was able to true up the hull, it is even steven. He says he would have painted it white.
The last thing I really need is another boat, but maybe it’s just what I need. It makes me happy to think about, and I guess that’s as good a reason as any.
Went sailing the other day after work. I was a little nervous about it because of what happened last time, when the winds were stronger than forecast, and I putted back in with my tail between my legs. This time was pretty much the opposite – there was a small craft advisory in effect but when we got out there, I was fighting for every breath of wind I could. Almost dead calm. We limped along downwind at 2 knots, drifting. Now I know why I need a pole for the jib, and a good light-air sail. It was sunny and hot, absolutely roasting. I forgot to lift up the outboard, and the most exciting part of the adventure became leaning way out over the aft rail to clear mounds of eel grass away from the prop.
This week I had to work on preparing a final settlement offer for the divorce. It’s pretty much complete. Most everything of monetary value I worked for over the last 16 years will be gone one way or another, but I’ve already come to terms with that. It’s just the living beings that matter now – my son, the cats, the fish.
I will soon shed things, money, and the skin of my former self, my life as a devoted married man. Priorities will change, and the world will head in a new direction for me. It’s my nature to plan and dream about it, but I know better now. Whatever I think the winds may be, they will surely be unexpected. I have to live one moment at a time, and appreciate all that is, was, and ever will be. Turning around, perhaps for the last time, I’m leaning back over the aft rail, trying to set my boat free, so close, trying not to fall overboard..
My favorite time to write are Sunday nights. But the Sundays I hand Day off to his mom are just the worst, so I held off. I’m trying to avoid writing when I’m feeling down. I’m trying to avoid feeling down in general. So this week I’m launching myself into distractions, which include fixing up two old chairs.
I live in a community of 8 small houses built 20 years ago on the site of an old homestead orchard. Most of the houses are summer homes for people who primarily live in Seattle. On Sunday one of my lady neighbors asked if I could unload two boxes of new patio chairs from her car, which of course led to me putting them together. In exchange, she gave me her two old Adirondacks, which had been destined for the dump.
They had integrated footstools, which I was able to remove, chop up, and use to fix the chairs themselves. Fixing them was easy and quick, since I decided not to refinish them. I like things to be structurally sound but don’t care too much if they look pretty.
These chairs have revolutionized the back yard. Now, along with the new hammock, my lazy summer afternoons are complete. The chair on the little back deck is repaired, comfortable, and a lovely place to sit and watch things like this blacktail doe stopping by to take a pee.
The heat of the day dissipates, the evening air warms the earth in its summer glow, and my tummy rumbles, anticipating a dinner of lemon/rosemary chicken and pasta. I’m supposed to be reviewing a final divorce proposal, but all I can do is soak in the beauty before me, try out this Argentinian Sangiovese, and enjoy the changing light of the summer sun setting through the salty air, a cool northerly breeze fresh off the Salish Sea, just three blocks away.
North winds lately, the sign of good weather. After work, Day and I slip down to the local marina to try our luck fishing. We get snagged right and left, and catch no fish this time, although my boy almost hooks a pigeon and a seal that swam a little too close.
I’ve felt a lot better the last few days, and have noticed a pattern. When my son is with me, I’m busy but happy and content. When he’s with his mom, life is easy but it feels like part of me is missing. I get low and it takes time for me to switch gears from being a Dad to just being… me. It’s such a big change.
It’s a summer afternoon, and life is a bit calmer than usual. The sand is warm and feels good on our feet. We play with old crab claws, look for sea glass, and watch the different boats go by. I have a fleeting thought. For a moment I want to think of myself as a marina – smelling a bit fishy, getting older and beginning to look a bit run down, growing a few barnacles, but still full of life, beautiful in its own way, and in general a fun place to be. I come back to the present and smile. We didn’t catch any fish today, but still got what we came for..
I’m lying in a hammock, swaying with the breeze. Easy sounds drift across the water – laughter, seagulls, boat fenders rubbing against the dock. I smell the suntan lotion blend with salt and sweat on my shoulders. My eyes narrow, squinting toward the sun. It’s quiet inside, I feel my heartbeat.
I’m on Rainier. It’s April but might as well be February. Still dark, and we’re moving fast through the ledges by headlamp. My crampon dislodges a rock and instantly both feet hang in the air, but the handholds don’t budge. Lucky I guess. It’s quiet in the early morning mountain air, save for the rocks tumbling below. Inside, my head is pounding, and a minute later my body trembles uncontrollably.
We’re in the bedroom, I’m at the doorway. She’s yelling at me, her eyes like icy blue lightning. Somehow my ears close, her voice muffles, and I realize the cat is hiding under the bed. I feel the texture of the carpet with my feet and understand. I’m sure my eyes are open but inside I’m somewhere else, going from room to room looking for a bed to hide under.
I’m in the hammock, swaying with the breeze. But I’m a thousand other places, living a thousand memories, and dreaming up a thousand new ones. They come to visit, and I let them in to stay a while, then let them go. Now it’s the present, piercingly beautiful. I see schools of little silver fish, white terns flying high above, and a big fat seal swimming upside down rubbing his belly against the underside of the docks. In the distance there is laughter again. Inside it’s quiet and that’s ok for now. I feel my heartbeat.
Just dropped Day off at his mom’s for the week. For now my time with him is over. Nerf gun battles, jenga blocks, lincoln logs, army guys, camping, fireworks, swinging in the new hammock – now just memories. Sunday handoffs are the hardest, it’s a time of transition, a time of change from being a single dad to just being….single.
Coming back to an empty house is hard. It’s tempting not to clean, not to do the laundry, not to eat. With no appetite I struggle to the kitchen and whip up a big slab of halibut, caesar salad and leftover mashed potatoes from yesterday. Feeling better, I can pause to think, and clumsily put together a post to reflect on the last week. My ideas crumble though, and am left with just a few thoughts of the present – It would be nice not to have to work this week. I have an overwhelming urge to climb a mountain, to sail, and to have a cup of coffee with a woman. My soul needs to connect with the world, to feel its love and pain wash through me like a wave.
This pressure won’t be contained forever. At some point I’ll need to break free, to stop fighting the current and flow with it, to resume growing into the man I was meant to be, with or without someone new in my life. Tonight I’ll do what I can, which will likely be stretching, breathing exercises, and reading before bed. I’ll do what I can to move through these hard days. I know I’m too sentimental. One thing I won’t do just yet is put away my son’s toys. I need that connection, even if it’s just to a memory, just a few more minutes..
Less meat, less alcohol, more vegetables, more working out, stretching and breathing exercises. If the world crumbles I can handle it better if I’m fit. Less thinking and more doing, thoughts can’t spin out of control if there aren’t any.
I need to feel wind, hot sun, cold water. Muscles burn and lungs stretch, the taste of salt and the feel of sand and rock. Duck diving beneath the waves, I join the sea instead of fighting it. There’s no one around. My hip slams a boulder just beneath the surface and leaves a bloody bruise, despite a 6 mil wetsuit. I’m grateful, I don’t have to pinch myself to know I’m alive.
I’ve been surfing twice in the last few days and although my secret spot is fickle, it has its moments. Here’s a shot from a few hundred yards down the beach as the current swell was dying out, and just before a gale was coming in, about to blow the coast to smithereens. You can see it coming, the sun filters through a wall of wind, an airborne blanket of spray about a mile out, coming closer, closer..
I had a dream the other night. I was slowly driving onto an old wooden bridge, spanning a large ravine. The bridge used to be stable, but was old now and beginning to rot away. As it took the weight of my vehicle, the wood slowly began to buckle. I backed up, got out of the truck, and waited for the inevitable. Suddenly Sara appeared out of nowhere and jumped onto the bridge. She knelt down and held firm to a plank as the bridge began to crumble. She looked into my eyes and I could see the intention. As the bridge began to fall, she let go with one hand and reached out to me. I couldn’t help it, I jumped to take her outstretched hand.
Yesterday in real life I jumped off the dock onto my boat, and headed out to get a taste of single-handing in 20+ knot winds. From the spray on my face I can say it tastes salty, and from my motor quitting as I headed out of the channel I can say that at least for me it was frightening. I learned that when the boat heels over past 15 degrees, everything not secured in the cabin will crash to the floor, and that it would be better to get my reefing lines ready before I hoist the mainsail. I learned that in those conditions I should probably clip in to something secure in the cockpit, but the fact is I just can’t stand being tethered to anything, a fact which would probably be interesting to my therapist.
Eventually it was time to go in, so I pointed to the wind and raced forward to drop the sails before the bow could blow back around which could cause the sails to fill again which would buck me off like Fu Man Chu the rodeo bull. Then it was troubleshooting the motor while drifting toward a lee shore for extra excitement. Fortunately it was an easy fix, because the problem was with the boat heeled over, the gas in the gas can sloshed away from the fuel intake, which is something I had never thought of. With my tail between my legs I headed back to the marina and surprised myself by easing into my tiny slip without hitting the dock (this time) or the new $100k power boat parked next to me.
Jumping off, letting go, expanding my comfort zone, and change in general is difficult for me. But I know the best way to address fear is to look it in the eye and confront it, embrace it, and watch it disappear. Looking forward through life with optimism and confidence is the only way to keep growing, but I know it takes practice. So I fully expect to get my ass handed to me as my own fears are confronted, be it sailing or surfing large waves or relationships or removing the occasional spider from the bathtub. Holding tight to what matters, jumping off from the illusion of security, letting go of expectation.
We lost two good people from the sailing community recently – Brion Toss, a traditional master rigger from Port Townsend due to cancer, and Patrick Childress, a legendary blue water sailor and author due to COVID 19. I was just a follower of Childress’ popular vlog where he shared so much of his practical knowledge, but I had met Brion a few times in his little waterfront shop. I needed new lifelines, and brought him my old stainless ones so he could measure and make me up some new ones out of Dyneema. He suggested I learn how to do it myself and proceeded to show me how to brummel splice 12 strand. I was impressed by his graciousness, bought his book The Rigger’s Apprentice, and for some reason asked him to sign it before I left. His knowledge will be passed on.
The juxtaposition between the light and dark sides of life seem intense these days. So much beauty, so much pain. New beginnings, unexpected death. The unpredictability makes me appreciate the simple things. My son graduated from 4th grade last week. For the ceremony each family stayed in their vehicles and drove through an arch of balloons, cheered on by the teachers who stood 6 feet apart along the sidewalk. I invited Day’s mom and gramma to ride along with us and my own mom. Together we decorated the truck, together we drove through the arch, and separately we drove home.
Today we went fishing at the marina. We talked about boats and birds, and had lunch by the sea. We broke open mussels, used them as bait to catch little perch, and used the perch as bait to catch whatever we could find patrolling the bottom of the bay, which happened to be a small shark. It was strong, rough and aggressive, but when we let it go swam away with pure grace. Afterward we played at the playground until I told him we had to leave – on Father’s Day – because I had to take him to his mom’s at a certain time for the weekly handoff.
No matter how good of a week we’ve had together, it’s rough to come back to an empty house. It’s hard to put his toys away that he was playing with just this morning. I don’t even want to fix dinner but I will, and as I eat will be conscious of both the joy and pain I’m lucky enough to experience these days.