Blunderbuss

I think if I had named my boat, maybe I would have named it Blunderbuss. My little bateau is called Even Keel. Has the ring of destiny to it, eh?

Between blunders and squalls we tested that evenness thoroughly this weekend. It was one of those adventures that makes you repeat the mantra adventure can’t happen without danger, adventure can’t happen without danger. As if that will make the scariness okay in the long run.

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It started out smooth and sunny: Kit came up from Vermont and we spent a few days sampling the bakeries of the midcoast. Moonbat City, here in Belfast, got a nine out of ten for its chocolate croissant, which is a vote of confidence indeed.

We ferried out to North Haven to visit Sean at Nebo, and Kit stared out at the circle of water around us on the crossing, new to this ocean. The fog was in and we were in that silent, padded room away from the rest of the planet. While she watched the water, I finished reading Ordinary Wolves, marveling at the familiar descriptions of village life, and started reading Sharp Objects, which Stephen King described as an “admirably nasty piece of work” which might have been an apt description of my teenaged self. It’s a long ferry ride.

We hiked up to Ames point and watched the fog roll around in the theater of the bay, then ate at the restaurant, and were not disappointed. Of course not. That place has some pretty rockin dishes, and with Sean in the kitchen, they can’t go wrong.

In the morning, the three of us headed all together back to Belfast, met up with Gideon, and provisioned like lightning for our sailing adventure. Two bottles of wine, a big bag of herbal corn, some hot dogs and a couple jugs of water and we were ready to go. My dinghy was fueled up with a full spare gallon, my sailboat had a full tank. We were ready, so off we went.

The cruise across the bay was sweet and easy. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and the wind was perfect. I’m still learning, so heavy wind scares me a little, but it’s nice to have enough to go somewhere. Staring at the same lobster buoy for hours just sucks.

We arrived at Holbrook Island a little after my folks did, and Gideon and Sean, beasts that they are, hopped into the ocean and swam over to Islander. Mom met them with huge towels, and put the water on for lobsters. Kit and Gideon zipped up to the seal rookery with dad and drifted back, listening to the big dogs yawp. I waffled about a swim. It was cold, and I knew it, but it had to be done. When Sean rowed over to my boat to pick up his fishing gear, I met him coming back, and like the jerk he is, he hauled ass away from me! He got his when I caught up and soaked him for his trouble.

Sean caught a mackerel and hooked a few more than that, but none made it all the way to the plate. Can it get better, though, than eating lobsters on deck with melted butter (from Hannaford, of course, which has the best butter, according to Sean), and chucking the shells into the ocean?

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We played Taboo for a while, with the following timeless moments:

“I wear this to bed…”
“Glasses!” “Earplugs!”
“No…”
crickets

And, in an instant classic, destined to go down in history, Kit said “not sex, it’s… a physical thing”
yup. Everybody lost it.

Bed was a rocking cockpit bench, with a blue moon rising full and orange and a night bright enough to see color. The seals croaked for hours, and the mosquitoes hummed, but mostly the water hushed by the hull and the sky sparkled.

Sean dropped Kit in Castine the next morning, and came back with a dinghy full of pastries. We needed the very finest in provisions for our adventure: an upwind sail to Western Island.

We sailed off the hook and out into the bay. As usual, the wind was from the south, so we were taking it on the nose, but we had time to spare and it was awesome good fun, crashing over the swells as they built from two to six feet over the course of the afternoon, dipping the nose from time to time, tacking and getting nowhere really but deeper in fun. Gideon and Sean rode on the bow for a while, cackling as the spray spat up around their shoulders, and I sat in the cockpit getting a sunburn and grinning.

DSC03431DSC03439A few hours in, Dad called. It looked like there was going to be a storm. We could turn and run downwind back to Holbrook, or we could head on to Western. We were most of the way there, by then, and said we’d keep an eye on the sky and motor if things looked dicey. For a while everything was hunky dory (insert awesome emoji of hot dudes in a rowboat), but then Gideon pulled up the radar and we started to see the sky going grey.

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We’ve talked over and over this next bit, wondering if we made an avoidable mistake, but I think we made the right choice with the knowledge and info that we had. “Let’s keep going. We’ll be there in no time flat if we motor.” No problem. We dropped the sails and lowered the outboard, Sean took the helm, and we motored on south toward Western Island with wary eyes over our shoulders as the black clouds stacked like block castles behind us. A minute later, the motor died and we were drifting, rolling hard as the waves took us broadside, with neither sail nor motor to keep us on course.

“Okay no problem… what’s causing this? We have fuel, we have… AIR!” I shouted, and pushed Sean off the bench to get to the fuel tank and open the air valve. She started right up again, and we turned our bow back into the swells. “Can I get a high five?” I crowed, “I never would have thought of that at the beginning of the summer!” I got my high fives, and the engine spluttered again, and died.

It was too late to run for Holbrook under sail. We couldn’t make it before the storm. We looked at each other and at the towers of storm clouds and at the rocky cape we were minutes from washing up on, and sprang into action. Sean tried tinkering with the motor, but it wouldn’t start. I called my dad and he suggested that maybe all the crashing through swells we’d been doing all afternoon had swamped the outboard, that it might not run if it had gotten wet, but that if we could start it and keep it from soaking again, it might dry itself out. “Dad, I’m scared.” I said. “Call me every five minutes, Keely, and put on life jackets”

Gideon and I put the sail back up while Sean worked the outboard, feeling like we had rocks in the pits of our stomachs, knowing the wind was going to be gusting up to sixty soon. I’d never been through anything like this before without someone to look to for instruction. I felt helpless and I felt afraid and it was up to me to take care of Sean and Gideon. We sailed out away from the cape and also away from Western. The wind wasn’t too heavy yet, but I couldn’t get up enough speed to tack against the swells. We called Dad. “I’ll be there in twenty-five minutes, guys,” he said. I tried and tried and kept trying to tack, and cursed and cursed and finally swung around and jibed instead, jarred by the crack as the boom swung over my head, then shaking with relief as we were able to head up toward our destination.

We could see my parents in Islander coming closer from the north, and we could see the wall of white storm moving in from the West. Our island was still a bit to the south but we were clear of the cape. We were moving, but not fast enough. It felt good to have a little control, but we weren’t going to make it. Sean would get the motor started and it would run for a few seconds then die. It was awful. We felt like the girl in the western, tied to the tracks and watching the train come, helpless to do anything. After a while I made the call to take down the sail. I didn’t want it to be up when the wind came (I later heard a story about a guy whose boom was ripped off in this storm, so it was the right call to make. I heard another story about an inflatable dinghy shredding in the hail at Holbrook island. Madness). Gideon went forward and wrapped his arms around the mast, hoping not to become a human lightning rod. We did our best to point into the wind, but the seas were pretty heavy and there wasn’t much I could do. The sail whipped crazily and we clung to anything we could get a handhold on while we lashed it down, rocking broadside again and now drifting in a sudden west wind. When we looked behind us, Islander was gone. My parents had disappeared into that eerie wall of howling white.

“Yes!” Sean yelled as the outboard cranked up, maybe for the seventh or eighth time in thirty minutes. It sputtered but stayed humming, and he aimed us for Western as fast as he could without risking swamping the motor again. The wind was howling now, out of the west, and it laid the swells down quickly. Rain came and soaked us, but we hardly noticed. Our knuckles, on hands gripping rails and tillers tight, went ghastly yellow as we watched the storm engulf the shore. First Islesboro, then Cape Rosier disappeared completely. We were just south of it, in a circle of wind and rain that felt like a cakewalk next to whatever awfulness had to be going on behind the curtain of white.

It was strangely beautiful: The ocean was the color of willow leaves, pale green, and there was a low layer of white spray from the fat raindrops tearing into the salt skin of it. The rain kept pouring down, but the sun found a split in the clouds, and we had our own double rainbow, its foot hovering always eight feet off the port rail. We were starting to let go of the blind terror, but we weren’t sure yet whether the outboard would cut out again, whether we’d make it to the anchorage, whether the storm was going to slide south and engulf us after all.

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We made it. We slipped over the skinny bit of water that covers the cove at low tide and picked up the mooring there, suddenly able to feel the cold of our soaked hoodies, to let out celebratory hollers that bounced Western Island’s cliff face.  The wind blew the storm away to the east and suddenly the sky was blueing. We called Mom and Dad to give them the good news, and soon they came around the cape. Dad dinghied in to us with news and chocolate and cold beer.

“We tangled with a water spout and the wind ripped the supports for the bimini right out. Did you hear any of that on the radio? Water spout caught a couple of kids in a little Laser. We saw them capsize three times right off the rocks. Radioed the coasties, issued a Pan Pan. It was Sophie’s choice: should we come help you guys or should we help these kids right here in front of us? I sent Mom to get the rope. It was awful, but we’re all okay. Everyone’s fine.”

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It’s true. Chocolate does work for Dementor shock. Cold beer doesn’t hurt. Sean and Gideon and I built a fire for roasting hot dogs and walked out to the headland. I was still too full of adrenaline to talk straight or use my brain for anything but giddiness. Gideon popped the cork on a bottle of wine and we hopped in the dinghy and rowed out on the flat-calm purple water, past the jaggedy rocks and the cliffs, to watch the sun set. It did, which seemed like a miracle. We got a bonus bald eagle flyover, and lots of little guillemot visits, before we rowed back in to our campfire and our dinner and the big white moon.DSC03461 DSC03470 DSC03469

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I’m still learning, and I have a long way to go. Sailing is awesome, and it’s a little scary sometimes. We made it, though, with no casualties worse than a hat lost at sea, a bad sunburn, and a couple bumps and scrapes. Not too bad, all things considered.

Marlinspike and Sunshine

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So you may have noticed that the blog is kind of on hiatus. I’ve been avoiding even checking my email these past few weeks, and I haven’t really looked at facebook in months. Being home is wonderful, and the sun and the salt and everything keeping me busy have made me too happy to worry much about the rest of the world, or writing it all down. Basically, it’s taking an act of parliament to get me to a computer, but here I am, saying hey and apologizing for radio silence.

I’m spending today in the sunny back garden of my childhood home splicing thimbles into various lines for various things. I’ve never done it before, but with the help of youtube I’ve become competent.

Did I mention I bought a boat? Well I did. It’s a Tanzer 22, and I went for my first sail on Monday. Yesterday the weather was crap (also known as ideal for reading and beef stew and making cookies), but today is gorgeous, and Dad’s going to coach me in safe anchoring this afternoon. Jealous yet? I’ve already learned to step a mast, and how not to launch a sailboat from a trailer, and what chainplates and cotter pins are, and I’ve shaken off the outboard curse (an affliction I think I was born with) and now have a 70% and climbing success rate with the two outboard motors I’ll be running this summer. I’m brushing up on using charts for navigation, and I know how to use a radio. Penobscot Bay has been my back yard since I was a kid, so I’ll have a little edge. All that’s left is the part I’m good at, which is balancing between wind and water. I’ll learn the rest, and if I’m lucky and a little smart, I won’t damage anything in meantime. Wish me luck.

So far, the summer is exactly what I needed. Old friends, whopping good news from afar, salt in my hair, lupines and beach roses, excellent food, and a lovely fellow on an island nearby that I can pick up on a whim and go adventuring with in the bay. I’ll be back in the fall, and may put in a few words before then, but for now I’m taking a break from the internet to soak up every second of this perfect summer.

Red, Right, Returning

If there is a picture of homecoming that is etched on my heart, it’s the sun setting over Belfast harbor on an August evening. I see one set of lights like the ones you see when you come around the bend in a road and catch sight of your city, illuminated, and your heart lifts up, but then I see another set of lights in the trembling reflections in the water, bursting as we pass and disappearing in our wake.

If I have an anthem, it is the thrum of a motor, the seashell swish of the murky water (quieting for the evening as the wind lies down) rushing by the hull. It is the deep clanging of the red bell buoy by the ledge as it rocks in our wake.

Happiness tastes like salt on my skin, in my hair, in the warm shore breeze, in the very fabric of the comforter wrapped around my shoulders.

It’s a sunburn, the rocking of the earth when you come ashore after days on the water, salt ocean stinging a barnacle-cut foot, a three-strand dock line passing over a palm.

Sunset from Little Pickering

Sunset from Little Pickering

We spent last week in Maine with my family, mostly on the boat. Dad said my eyes got bluer with every passing day, and I could feel the cotton clearing from my chest cavity, the fog clearing from my mind. Summer in Maine is a pure shot of light.

Sean's friend

Sean’s friend

Sean's friend meets mayo

Sean’s friend meets mayo: my mom makes a killer lobster roll.

That charm? I come by it honestly.

That charm? I come by it honestly.

I totally vanquished my foes and conquered the island of Catan in Seal Cove.

I totally vanquished my foes and conquered the island of Catan in Seal Cove.

Bre and TimZ came out with us for an adventure, and took advantage of the opportunity to recover from a night of ginsntonics with a boat nap.

Bre and TimZ came out with us for an adventure, and took advantage of the opportunity to recover from a night of ginsntonics with a boat nap.

We set up camp on Little Pickering island, the paradise of my childhood.

We set up camp on Little Pickering island, the paradise of my childhood.

Incidentally, as my father was snapping the above picture from the bridge, he was running the boat aground on a sandbar. The tide was outgoing, and it was a bit of a disaster.

Bre, Tim, Sean and I invited my folks to join us for dinner, and we had a spare tent set up for them in no time. We wrapped potatoes and corn in foil and roasted hot dogs over the fire. Bre played her ukulele and we sang along. The sunset, the smoke, and the sound of waves on the beach were soothing, and we soon retired to our tent. Mom and dad didn’t sleep: they spent an anxious night hoping Islander wouldn’t roll and then waiting for the tide to come back in to float her again.

I woke in our tent at midnight to the sound of the waves of the incoming tide burping through the swim platform. I unzipped the door and looked out at the great hull, glittering in the moonlight. Dad was rowing the dinghy around on captain’s business, and mom stood on the beach, watching. I threw some wood on the embers of the fire and walked down to the water. Glowing algae was spilling off dad’s oars like smoke. I splashed my hands in the water and they glittered.

We dragged the kayak down the beach, and I woke Sean up to paddle around a bit. It was eerie, coasting behind the beached trawler, lit only by the helm LEDS. It felt like a ghostly shipwreck: the only sound was the slapping of wavelets against the hull and the swish of the kayak pushing aside the water. It was beautiful though: the campfire glittered at the high tide line, the wake and every dip of a paddle lit with bioluminescence, and the sky was full of sparkle. I stood on the beach with my mom and watched for shooting stars. We saw a few, and before long the tide had lifted the boat back to a float and my parents took off to anchor nearby for the night. I sat by the fire and watched for a few more shooting stars.

In the morning, we had breakfast tacos, which consisted of scrambled eggs and bacon stuffed in pancakes. No plates needed! It’s been a while since I’ve been luxury camping. How delightful to have a frying pan and a cooler! We went swimming and paddling and gathered sand dollars on the sandbar, and in the afternoon we said goodbye to our friends in Buck’s Harbor.

For the next few days, we explored Merchant’s Row. Sean and I dinghied into Stonington for a few more jugs of water and some lobsters, and we anchored off of McGlathery, which is reputed to have a wild sheep population. We didn’t run across any woolies, but the island was beautiful, and Hell’s Half Acre, our next anchorage, was, if anything, more beautiful still.

Mom and Dad and their boat in the background

Mom and Dad and their boat in the background

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Shadow mermaids

Shadow mermaids

We stumbled across this sweet creek on McGlathery.

We stumbled across this sweet creek on McGlathery.

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At Hell's Half Acre, Sean and I floated for a half hour with the wind, just watching the sky go by.

At Hell’s Half Acre, Sean and I floated for a half hour with the wind, just watching the sky go by.

On our last night, I stepped out on deck to brush my teeth. The tintype moon hung in a fog sky, and my heart cracked. Maine is my native country, and it’s beautiful, and I will go back someday to my home by the sea.

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Hard Work

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IMG_1767On Saturday, Sean and I got up and started working at 8 am. We didn’t quit until 4, unless you count a break for lunch and to entertain some guests. We cleaned out the chicken house (think Augean stables) and set up the little chicken family in their new digs.

This wire cage is partitioned, so the chicks can move freely between the halves but the big chickens can't. The idea was that Freckles could come and go through the open top, but the chicks would have half the cage to themselves so that they could be safe from the big birds. Unfortunately, Freckles shoved her big chicken self through the tiny doorway, so now it's just kind of a tiny cage for the silly bird.

This wire cage is partitioned, so the chicks can move freely between the halves (chick food and water go in the covered half) but the big chickens can’t. The idea was that Freckles could come and go through the open top, but the chicks would have half the cage to themselves so that they could be safe from the big birds. Unfortunately, Freckles shoved her big chicken self through the tiny doorway, so now it’s just kind of a tiny cage for the silly bird.

We built trellises for the peas, started planting a flowers and forage project in the chicken yard, tilled and weedwhacked around the upper garden, washed, dried and folded two loads of laundry, and planted salad. We’re just sitting here now, trying to study up what we can do now to show the world that we ain’t afraid of hard work.

Sean made a pork sirloin roast for lunch. It’s from the pig’s lower back, just above the hams. IMG_1781

I don’t know how that man does it, but I will never let him go. With the pork we had our first garden salad of the year and some sweet potato fries with sriracha mayo. We ate on the porch, enjoying the breeze and the quiet, drinking in cool water and the pleasant, quiet shade.

check out the cool garden to-do board Sean hung for us!

check out the cool garden to-do board Sean hung for us!

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Days like Saturday, I wouldn’t trade this for anything. Sweat was beading on the sunscreen behind my ears and the plane just above the unscratchable spot on my back was sunburning anyway. I’d been working since I woke up and could have worked until I dropped and not finished everything, but I was splitting my dimples all day.

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We left home around four to head to the Juke Joint festival in Clarksdale, Mississippi. I loved it last year and I loved it this year. There aren’t a lot of events that celebrate Delta culture and heritage, so Juke Joint is special. The way Clarksdale lights up one night out of the year reminds me of the Magic Toy Shop pop up book I had when I was a kid. There’s a lot more beer, crawfish and guitar at Juke Joint, but the mood is the same.  ‘Nuff said.

In a total change of scenery, on Sunday, we went to the Orpheum to see Ballet Memphis’ Peter Pan. The Orpheum is a beautiful old theater in Memphis; it’s all chandeliers and gold and silver paint. The show was magical. The ballet and the flying were seamless, and the fantastical, dreamlike mood of ballet suited the story perfectly. I’m still working on understanding the language of dance; a dance party will go on for a while and I’ll lose the plot, fail to understand what the dancers are saying with their movements. I’ll get there, or maybe I won’t, but I’m trying.

On the way home, there was an emergency weather alert on the radio. It’s that tordado-ey time of year again. Sean asked “do you think they make these announcements crackly and use that creepy automatic voice to give these announcements a scary, doomsday kind of quality?” I’ve never heard them that way at all. I grew up thinking that the robot voice was a guy named Noah. When I hear weather radio, I just assume I’m on a boat adventure and that Dad is there, looking out for me. I might be about to get wet, but I feel safe and exhilarated and salty. Thanks for bringing me up on boats, Mom and Dad.

The sand bar at Little Pickering, summer 2002 or 2003, probably. The Larson was my favorite boat, or maybe we just had my favorite adventures in it.

The sand bar at Little Pickering, summer 2002? The Larson was my favorite boat, or maybe we just had my favorite adventures in it.

Off Pond Island, summer... uhh... 2002 or 2003?

Off Pond Island, summer… uhh… 2002?

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The little porkers are getting friendlier by the day. I managed to pet one while it was snoozling the other day, and they didn’t scamper away when we went into the pen earlier this evening.

Coming back to school from break has been challenging. Waking up before sunrise every morning doesn’t feel sensible anymore, and spending all day inside feels like madness when the weather is perfect. The mosquitoes aren’t out in force yet, and I spent an hour this evening reading on the lawn in the purple shade, soaking up the bike-riding light, the t-shirt temperatures, the silence of butterflies on the purple flowers in the grass and the smell of yesterday’s rain. The redbuds are blooming like confetti in the understory, and the sassafras tree by our steps has these peculiar firework flowers. Trees are poised to leaf out at a moment’s notice, hazel alder catkins are dripping from branches everywhere, and the quince in the side yard is electric pink. I don’t know how to describe the smell of the wind, but it feels like a warm washcloth on your forehead.

Seeing my kids again has made me happy. I missed their ingenuousness and their contrasting self-consciousness. I missed their jokes and their smiles and the ways they express their frustration. I love teenagers, especially my teenagers. I’m feeling inspired this week, which is a pleasant change from the frustrated apathy I’ve been feeling toward my job recently. Geometry has been awesome and conceptual. I wouldn’t say they’re all grasping the material, but I can confidently say that several of them are grasping it at a high level, and most of them are grasping it adequately. Algebra has been okay. My 7th period is a train wreck right now, but my first and fourth are doing impressive work with quadratics. I have a few students who have made incredible strides this year, and I know that if I hit PEMDAS and writing expressions hard next year (hard = ton of bricks vs. tower of eggs) I’ll see some real magic happen.

When I got home tonight, the piggies had snurfled dirt up over the lowest electric wire of the fence and joined the chickens in the chicken yard. Bad Pork! I chased them back in and collected eggs, noticing the carpenter bees bumbling around the eaves for the first time this year. Freckles is still on her eggs, fluffing up to approximately a cubic foot and gurgling every time someone enters the chicken house. We expect her eggs to hatch within the next ten days.IMG_1695
Look at all those eggs! These birds are out of control!
You can see our automatic chicken door in the background, which has been an absolute life saver and, along with the solar fence charger, one of most useful technological advances in farming since the dibbler.

We had dinner yesterday at Pizza Hut in Helena to help a friend fundraise to bring some of her Spanish students to Costa Rica. You can help her out by making a donation here. On the ride home, Sean and I almost finished listening to Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. We couldn’t stop, so we finished up while we washed dishes together. The book was beautifully written (another win for Gary D. Schmidt, who has a gift for motifs that astonishes me every time) and told a story about my home state that I had never heard before. Mainer or not, you should check out the book, but if you’re a Mainer, you should make a point to learn about Malaga Island.

Look what was raiding the critter-food bin! The flash scared it off… for now.  Dang things have those cute little hands and they always figure out how to get into our feed. Sean is going to put something heavy (like our fat cats?) onto the food bin to thwart the varmints.
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