Monday, October 4, 2010

Why Would You Want to do That?

Good question as I'm doing the staggering drunk orange rodeo clown act in the stern of the Samantha J.

During a particularly absurd sequence where the boat jumped and rolled in many directions simultaneously, I thought I'd be clever:

"Bull riders only have to stay on for seven seconds or something."

Captain Clayton trumped me instantly:

"Yeah, and they get to sit down!"

Why indeed? It's a good question on a day when it's blowing 25 out of the northeast. Not many boats ventured out of the harbor this morning. It's starting to get cold. Norah Jones's warm sleepy soft flannel voice sounds wicked out of place here.

The deeper question is why not? Many of the comments on articles about what I'm doing, many of the conversations I've had and a lot of the obvious unstated points all ask why I would quit being a lawyer and work as a stern man. I have felt disapproval and bafflement from close points in my life and from people who do not know me. Aside from the fact that I never made much money as an attorney, my question is why is that kind of work respected so much more than being a sternman? Like being a lawyer is so great. I've come to realize how much status has to do with it and how stupid status is.

Call me crazy, but I am at least as proud of learning to work on the ocean as of getting through law school and handling cases. Working on the sea has unique challenges and its own language just like the law. Well not just like. Fishing is fun. And it hurts a lot.

"He was just some stern man. They all look the same to me." Lisa and I have heard this a number of times.

Sternmen do arrive here with tattoos, scars, conditions of release, varying phases of opiate dependence, and garnishment orders for child support, taxes and medical bills. That's not all of them and that is not all there is to them, either. I've also found them to be generous, extremely hardworking individuals with surprising amounts of specialized skills and knowledge. There is that status thing, though.

So again, the question is, why would I do this? I was trying to answer it for myself this morning, while also trying to admire the gray wet desolate beauty of the ride out to the westerd (local variant of westward). Then onto the stereo comes Desperado, by the Eagles, that somewhat hokey but extremely well crafted song about a guy who makes life hard on himself out west somewhere. Way out west where they would not know what "westerd" means. I am not a desperado, but the answer to the question came to me while the song was playing.

Somewhere around 1978, the Eagles released a live double album with Desperado on it. The song is preceded by a beautiful string section intro that reminded me of wilderness. Mountains, streams, valleys. I loved that intro. I loved reading Edward Abbey. I also was living amidst some turmoil at 16 , but if I was in the woods, or out in a field, I was happy. At ease. The nagging, itchy square peg divorce kid feelings did not follow me there.

So that's basically it. I like being outdoors, and always have. Status or no. Why give up status and security? Why be so hard on my body? Shouldn't I be doing something respectable and letting my body rot from the inside in a chair or car and then trying to make up for the inactivity in the gym? Won't I have to pay the piper? Oh, probably. Definitely eventually. This day looks like at least an installment on the piper payment schedule.

1 comment:

  1. Status is way overrated. You are living a great life, Nat. I'm sure I'm not the only one out here living vicariously on the sea by reading your ruminations. Thank you! Hope you and your family are doing well out on Matinicus. -Liz in Westbrook, ME