Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Open Water

I have met a woman for whom I've been feeling passion build in the way a swimmer, having dove through the surf, becomes increasingly aware of the current pulling him out to sea. He swims shoreward, but moves outward, backward, toward the long blind swells of an unknown larger self. The ocean is many colors, turquoise, green and transparent near shore, where you may see the bottom and all the spiny bottom-dwelling sand-sucking thingabobs that live there; further out, the water grows densely blue, then black, fathomless.

In my early thirties I did some sailing. Once, my ex-wife and I sailed out of sight of shore for several days, passing between West Palm Beach, Florida, and Beaufort, North Carolina. We took a straight course while the coast line curved deeply inward, a hundred miles or so to the left. We luffed along on flat, dull seas in the day, and skimmed under reefed sail on eight-foot following seas at night, in a cockleshell of a sailboat, a short bit of Fiberglas and canvass between us and the sky above and the ocean below.

When on deck by myself at night, as Deb slept or read below, I saved myself from the intense draw of sheer vertigo--the seductive, gravitational pull toward the unknown--by the work of maneuvering a boat between the surface forces of wind and wave, keeping the boat upright against the wind, and aiming it straight on the following waves that built up with the forces of both wind I could feel on my face and the ripple--the echo--of storms raging hundreds of miles off, the sea under me heaving in response, continents away. I kept the bow straight, worked the tiller to counter lateral forces, reefed in sail, dead reckoned our course on charts and corrected every few hours on GPS. All that dense black--given visual shape by little more than the unexpected sharp gleam of occasional white tips on the tall waves grasping at our stern, and tactile form by the physical push upward of the seas beneath me and soft cupping, steadying downward force of the starless sky above--whispered to all my sense that there was more, much more, to experience than my philosophy could ever, ever imagine.

Then, in the grey of one early dawn after the wind died, I turned on the engine and motored through the outer harbor at Beaufort, chugging quietly between the mammoth sleeping hulks of outlying tankers and cargo ships sulking heavily at anchor. When I approached the seawall to enter the inner harbor, I woke up Deb, who made coffee, and into shore we putted. At one point, we waved to a crowded tour boat full of recreational fishermen on their own way out to sea, the bow wave from their larger boat nearly swamping us.

I wondered what was next; and if I'd recognize it's source in the mystery from which we'd just emerged so far from shore.

I've not been to sea since then, and now, welcome the new tug of old currents.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is a rich and evocative piece of writing, David. It's not clear whether you ultimately intend it as an extended metaphor for the current feelings, or a more straightforward, descriptive passage about little boat/little person on a vast stretch of unknown water. It starts out looking like the former, and then turns at the fourth sentence ("I've been at sea out of sight...") into more the latter. Is the boat and its sailor intended to continue to stand for the swimmer (and therefore, the falling lover) described in the first three sentences? If the latter, one loses sight of the passion -- its potential rewards and pitfalls -- in the sheer detail of managing the boat. Perhaps you should concentrate on just the swimmer metaphor or just the boatman. And leave out the reference to the other woman (I assume she was not your ex at the time?), which can really confuse the issue. Beautiful prose, in any case. . . .