Sunday, November 27, 2011

Feeling a little Bambi-ish

Thanksgiving is often celebrated in well-worn places. Familiar rooms. Walls that echo and floors that creak in patterns we've recorded deep in our memories. A sagging couch. The dining and card playing table. A storm door with its signature rattle when someone's coming in. Home.

I cooked this year's turkey in an electric oven I'd not seen a week earlier. We are in the midst of exploring, feeling our way about and enjoying a change of scenery on North Haven Island.

Leaving Matinicus for the winter is wrenching. I'm homesick. Kids are homesick. We had a lot of reasons for leaving, but it still drags hard. Short version: our asses were kicked by nearly 6 years in a challenging, isolated environment we had no real experience with.

North Haven is very nice. We've been welcomed into another unique island community. The kids start school tomorrow, Monday. On Tuesday, I'll leave bright and early, reversing last Tuesday's journey up Hurricane Sound and steaming across to Matinicus.

I have two hundred and some odd traps to take up. Taking up is always a grind. The season has been long and draining. The air is cold, the sea inevitably choppy. Sopping wet mounds of rope must be coiled. It is a grueling sequence where traps get untied, stacked on the boat, heaved onto the dock, lifted onto the pickup truck, unloaded and stacked in the yard.

I'll be away a while longer to finish up some work commitments and prepare the house on Matinicus for winter.

I have the feeling I always got before we moved there: if I'm not on Matinicus, it isn't there. Matinicus is a cruel lover and I miss her.

Between the move, the new place, traveling to my family's home in Bowdoinham for the holiday weekend, and preparing to head back to Matinicus I'm feeling a little Bambi-ish; four hooves going in four directions, all of me spinning around. Hunting season ended yesterday, though, so I should be OK.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Just Another Warning Light

I really needed to laugh. I really, really needed a laugh. "It's just another warning light, what's one more?" My sister had asked why the brake light stayed on as we drove to the grocery in my steadfast Ford Windstar. As we headed south on 95, I explained the recent history with this noble vessel, our family's only transportation. I could see the recall notices all trailing behind, fluttering to rest in the breakdown lane. So the brake light, joining the check engine and a rattling sounding like a loose cookie sheet fixed by one corner to the underside of the van sent us both into gales of laughter.

She understands. Not only the charms of the 2000 Windstar, but the charms of past due notices, unflattering mathematical projections for next month, waking in the night with the oil tank empty, the sense the Black Friday could only be a very pale shade of gray for shoppers of our liquidity, or perhaps more appropriately Further Into the Red Friday, fridges and cupboards that have a bit of an echo from time to time, sinking down in our collars whenever the words "financial" and "future" appear in the same sentence.

It's been a challenging few months. Challenging like Shackleton's guys finding South Georgia, only without all that British skill and stoicism. After a lot of agonizing, we've moved to North Haven island for the winter. I'm dreadfully homesick. I'm also pretty well wretching every time I try to figure out how we earn enough to get through the winter without losing our home on Matinicus, and, for me, without losing my beloved boat.

I never had even the slightest difficulty sleeping until recently. Now I have not the slightest difficulty waking up at 2:30 AM, my brain inventorying the vastness of our predicaments before the rest of me is fully conscious.

I must be an almost pathological optimist. I've done a lot of what I do best- music, law, fishing, and been a colossal financial flop all the way round. I still like what I do and the eccentric collection of work experience. I actually still like being myself, living my own way. You have to ignore a lot of warning lights on your dashboard to have that kind of outlook.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Adventure Books, The Crooked Path and Undeclared Bankruptcy

I've enjoyed reading of peril. On mountains, in boats, airplanes, being a Rolling Stone, rowing across the Atlantic, fiction, nonfiction- doesn't matter. Somewhere along the way, I got attached to risk myself, going from armchair adventure to the piss your pants what the hell am I doing?! kind of adventure. Odd for a spindly, late (really late) 40's guy.

True, I'm home at night. I'm working in a familiar area, with friends in boats not more than a mile or so away. It's still the Atlantic Ocean, though, 40 or so fathoms deep, way over my head. It's November. I'm inexperienced. I'm running a boat miles from shore.

Lisa has a yellow sticky note over her computer: "feel the fear and do it anyway." I have definitely felt the fear and lurched forward into the fearful place.

Inspirational yellow stickies aside, I want to talk about how low the lows and high the highs can be within 48 hours.

Yesterday at around 2:30 a.m., I was sitting in the living room, breaking down over financial and other stress. I more or less stayed up until it was time to go out to haul traps and try to get some grocery money. The previous day had begun with a $260 bite in the ass from a forgotten bill for gas that I only discovered when the stove wouldn't light for breakfast. That money was going to be groceries and the self esteem that comes from being able to provide them.

Fortunately, in spite of a less than inviting marine forecast, I got out aboard the boat and headed out to haul. The magic of that outing was not only that I got my grocery money back, but that the thrashing of the work aboard the boat matched the turmoil inside me perfectly. My soul was balanced in between, deeply satisfied by acting in the face of internal and external turbulence. Boat rolls up to buoy, swerves up and down and sideways on the chop, gaff the buoy, run the rope through the pulley and hauler, bring traps aboard. Tend them. Run them off. Yeah.

I said goodbye to my family and flew to town. I had not been to the mainland since the beginning of October, a month and a half earlier. That fact may explain some of my extreme black and white thinking minus the white parts. I sent groceries back on the 3:45 plane out to the island.

Today I had my annual refresher to keep my law license. I saw many friends. I was surprised by the wash of positive energy. These individuals obviously did not know what a train wreck I am, and I just as happy not to think about it myself for a few hours. I never really felt like a lawyer, like it was my career destination, though I spent a decade in Maine's courts. All the same, here I was surrounded by attorneys who have worked hard, been committed and accomplished something. The folks I caught up with seemed genuinely glad to see me and positive about my whacky life.

Therein lies the conundrum of the moment. What I see reflected back to me seems pretty cool. What I feel about my situation is often so chaotic and conflicted, desperate, reckless, irresponsible. In all the stress and isolation of this year on Matinicus, I've gotten to kicking myself pretty bad. I kind of like the outside-in view better. Maybe I should go with that.

After a windowless, fluorescent sit-a-thon listening to experts in real estate, environmental, corporate, municipal and ethics law, I headed up to Waterville to play some tunes for a retirement party for a couple of my Corrections colleagues. I had no idea how much I missed so many of them. Again, the DOC was not my career destination, and I often felt bad about being lazy and unfocused, but I sure did feel great seeing so many great people. Again, they all seemed so accepting and positive.

It took some courage to play the last song of the night, an offensive and expletive filled, but also well written original song, perfectly apropos to the moment. Many times, especially in front of groups of people, I'll bail on an a risky idea and regret it. Not so tonight. I think those fine friends really enjoyed the song. Looked like they were doubled over.

I could look at it that people are positive to me 'cause they don't know what a mess I am, or maybe they know better than I do that for all my wandering, my financial disasters and other ne'er-do-wellism, it's ok for all of us to be who we are. Crooked path, undeclared bankruptcy and all. That's the real adventure.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Taking Up

Yesterday was a cheatin' day. A dazzling bit of late summer misplaced in my favor into November. The day before? Same thing. When it's nice on the water, it is way too easy to think it will stay that way. 'I can keep hauling. I don't need to bring in my gear for the year. I'll just keep going indefinitely.' Easy thoughts to have on an easy day. In spite of all the seductive, mirage-ing, tempting-you-into-being out in a gale with ice forming on everything 'cause you waited too long type weather, I am taking up gear. It is time, no matter what the sunshine and soft air try to say to the contrary.

It was literally last week, Monday in fact, that I was still making up rope and taking gear out to deep water. These shore traps, though, are pretty well empty, and in very hard shape from the mauling they take over the course of a full season right up in the rocks. Getting these pots out of the mix makes it easier to concentrate my effort where it will do some good.

What a couple of months it has been since bringing Close Enough home from Rockland! I've handled this vessel without any serious mishaps and only a long running entertainment series of slow and graceless approaches to the lobster car for the benefit of other fishermen and the buyers. Many miles of new rope put together. Many traps patched and set out, some with years of vines, blackberry canes and other vegetation having grown in. Many days on the water- some hairy where I learn a lot, some tranquil where I just try to work.

The whole kaleidoscopic circus has to come lurching home soon. The silver blue warmth of today will turn suddenly to windblown ice crusted desolation. I'll take today.