Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sometimes You Just Have to be Where You Are

All the time really.

The 210 Cummins diesel under the engine cover on my boat with its 6 inch water cooled exhaust growls in the ear and rumbles through the soles of my feet. Pushing the start button is a lot less like starting a car or a computer or some work equipment and a lot more like touching off some incendiary device. Fireworks were always peculiarly pleasing when I was the ignitor. I can honestly say I'm still a little freaked out in a good way when I push the starter button. The little firecracker hooligan in me jumps a little.

So as much as I started this blog to chronicle my zero carbon sail/solar/oar powered alternative energy save the world lobster project, as much as I was just about 'round the bend having to come back to Matinicus without my family 3 weeks ago, and as much as never, ever when I was younger did I see myself running a commercial fishing vessel- here I am.

This past winter brought a lot of challenges and grave, fearful doubts about what I was doing, where I should be and what my living situation would be. I dreaded leaving my family. I dreaded starting the fishing season pathetically ignorant, alone and broke.

If I could have waved a wand 3 weeks ago or last winter, I would have pixie-dusted myself into a dramatically different situation. Therein is today's lesson. I am not in unicorn and pixie dust land. I am somewhere in life I did not necessarily anticipate or control my way to. Somewhere much more satisfying.

On the south end of the island, looking past ledges and islets to the open ocean, I weeded a garden, put down bark mulch, began the rite of spring where I extract this year's fallen spruce tree from the ornamental pond at Jim's place, then noticed the wind had fallen off, got on my boat, pushed that button and started earning a few nickles then got back in the harbor just before 7:00, talked to my young children on the phone and finally stretched my sore muscles and joints.

I am where I am.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


Yesterday was the most painful day of my life, which is a testament to how sheltered I've been. I left my family on North Haven to return to Matinicus. You'd think I was headed to Afghanistan for how I felt. Once aboard my boat, though, I had a baseline sense of at least directing myself. The boat went where I pointed it. The crossing was a little rough with a dry and cold northwest wind ushering me down Hurricane Sound and across the the open water, but otherwise routine and comfortable. That brisk period of volition was as good as it got.

On stepping onto the island, I was greeted by a hundred reminders of how hard it is to function here, especially when flat broke. First, I could not unload my belongings because the tide would not be high enough for another 6 hours.

Then we're on to transportation. I set off up the road with a bike pump for the inevitable flats and a five gallon container of gas. Tom graciously allowed me to take his pickup to try to jump start the first dead vehicle, our car at the airstrip. The car did not want to come out of hybernation, and took a good half hour of charging from two trucks and another helpful soul, Rick before she'd awaken. In the meantime I went home to try and get the pickup truck running. The truck would not respond at all to jumper cables, so I decided to go through the house to open the barn and get the charger.

The house was indescribably saddening to walk through. Dirty, cold, dust sockets where this item or that plant had been taken away, kids' artwork hanging faded on the walls. I am here alone in extreme financial distress, under terrifying pressure to get my fishing business going and surrounded by echoes of happier times. It is unbearable.

I make my way through the barn and realize I took most of the extension cords to North Haven and that all my tools are on the boat and inaccessible until high tide tonight. Getting the charger to the dead vehicle becomes a major challenge, but in the end I cobble enough cords and outlet strips together to reach.

Each car eventually comes to life. Both also fail to restart after good long run times. I am panicked. Without vehicles, there is no way I can get my work done. There is no AAA or garage here. I don't know much about cars.

I keep trying to use one to jump the other. The Mazda must have lost all coolant and sends an angry plume of steam up. I stall the pickup in the road and it won't restart. I am beside myself.

I go back and bring Tom back to my place so he can have his truck back. We start tinkering and ripping parts of the battery lines out because they are hot, and the battery seems to have a fine, snappy charge, so it should be fine. The classic coffee can of bolts yields enough items to create a primitive and far superior battery connection. This victory should have been minor, but saved my life.

Amongst all the vehicular suffering, I tried to get the hot water heater going, but it just sucked air. It seemed as though the oil tank had enough, but I had to pump a few gallons from the nearly empty other tank. Then I bled the burner and it seemed fine. Now I have hot water to tackle the grime. I wash old dirty dishes and mop the kitchen floor. I will live after all.

Bless Tom for his truck and his clarity in helping rebuild the battery line. Bless Rick for getting my car so I could at least get it home. Bless Rex Crockett for getting me to the point that resuscitating a hot water burner was a routine matter instead of something where you have to find a burner tech for a service call. Bless Wanda and Clayton for supper.

Monday, April 2, 2012

A Toast to North Haven/Oriented Times One

I'm loading my life onto my little boat and leaving North Haven tomorrow. Tools, rope, clothes, chainsaw, guitars, groceries. It's another wrenching twist in the belly. I've been dreading the day, and yet am anxious to get going.

Let me raise my glass of cheap white to a place that took me in for a time. A hard time made better by good people.

I showed up a green boat operator never having been more than a mile or so from Matinicus, in late November at dusk, hesitantly nudging up the Fox Islands Thorofare, frozen brittle and looking for my friend's mooring. "Excuse me, can you tell me which mooring is Elaine's? She said it was next to a blue boat, Casie Jo or something." "That boat's out of the water, I'll show you." The first person I met was welcoming and helpful and especially so 'cause he advised me about a rock that I did not see on the chart. That experience repeated itself over and over again.

There was an offer to cut blow downs to feed the stove in my wife's ravenous and sieve-like rental home. Then there was "come over and cut some of what's behind the shop. You can use my splitter and the pickup truck to haul it home." It only got better. "Just come take my stuff. It's all split and dry. I'll never burn it all."

A cold call to a plumber's answering machine got returned with a job offer. That NEVER, EVER happens.

Smiles. Helping hands. Welcoming. Sheltered coves in a turbulent winter. High, windy places to carry off a spirit where the hawks and eagles go. Warm windows. A table set. Goodbyes only for now.

Here's to all of you. Really, thank you. I will do my best to pass along the kindness I've been blessed with here.


People in emergencies sometimes get classified based on their level of awareness and orientation. Do they know what day it is, where they are, or even their name? Oriented times 1 is where you only know who you are.

When every external attachment has been torn away, there is only the raw, primal self awareness. The trick is to keep that orientation. To lose and not be a loser. To grieve and not be a grievant. To have the wind knocked out of you by life's punches and keep giving, keep turning the other cheek. To love just because. To be. Oriented times 1.