Some days you find a nice cove to stay in

And some days you see HUMPBACK WHALES!

Two days ago we were sailing back across the Strait of Georgia, and it was that kind of perfect day where you don’t know what else to say except things like, “Hot damn, is this the perfect day, or what?!” And, “It doesn’t get much better than this.” I felt like my grandpa with these banal but benign nice-isms, and I didn’t care because the sun was out, the sky was blue, the wind was perfect, and we sailed for miles on one tack (which means no turning). It looked like this.

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We were en route from Lund to Namaimo via an amazingly beautiful island named Lasquetti. We loved that island so much in fact, that we had to stop and get real. Find a spot to stop and stay for eight years, or push on. This island is amazing, people. There’s a lot of beauty up here, but this, It’s like Portugal and Aspen had a baby and named it Lasquetti Island. You want it to be the Lasquetti Triangle so you have an excuse to disappear there.

Anyway, we frittered around and soaked it up like sun, but we opted to push on. Nanaimo or bust.

We had to detour the roundabout way because the torpedo range was in operation (this is real). And then I saw something big lift out of the water about 20 feet off the bow of the boat.

This was not like a, Oh, did you see that fish jump? Or, look! Porpoises! So cute. Or, Hi, Mr. Sea lion. No, no, no.

This was like, WTF WAS THAT?! And then two seconds later, two big spouts of water off the left side of the bow. WHALES, I shouted!!!! Whales! I looked at Loren and he looked like me. Shaking and speechless and crazy with joy. And that was the beginning of our next hour.

No other boats even took notice. It was just us and a few humpback whales for the next hour or so. We shadowed them quietly and watched them dive down and come up to breathe, and dive again, and a few times they flashed us their giant tails on the way back down.

Each time they dove, they stayed down a little longer than the time before, but they kept surfacing nearby, and we kept finding them.

Finally, though, after they’d crossed back into the bay they came out of and headed back up north, they were gone from our sight.

Our hearts still pounding after all the time that had passed when it was just us and them, we watched the water and held on to one another the way you do when grace happens.

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Given to fly

Three weeks and one day ago I jumped out of an airplane.

It was my dad’s idea. Loren and I were visiting my parents over the holidays last year, and one evening, at some point over dinner, I asked my dad what he wanted to do for his birthday, and without missing a beat, he answered: jump out of airplane.

I couldn’t get the brussel sprout down fast enough.
Me: “I’ll go!”
Loren: “I’ll go!”
Mom: “I’ll stay on the ground and take the pictures!”

Now, when your father, who’s “almost seventy-five years old and can do whatever the f*ck he wants,” says he wants to skydive for his birthday, you a) deliver; and b) don’t wait eight months. Lets just say two outta three ain’t bad.

Eight months later, this happened.

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When you’re out sailing for a month, you end up with a lot of time on your hands. We’ve talked about a lot of things, and one thing we talked about the other day was regret. It’s not like either of us has an insurmountable pile, but we’re neither of us robots.

We’re human beings in the middle of our lives, and we’re the thinker, feeler, do-er types. We have some. One of mine is not being a writer. There’s a little hole in my soul that writing fills that feels like a partially healed stitched wound. It flares up–it bleeds and then stops, bruises, heals, nags, quiets. It’s not going to kill me, but it’ll never go away.

Most of the time it’s fine, but there are times of acute struggle. Times when I not only want more from language, but more from myself. The wanting to express the inexpressible is the expansiveness of the universe.

It’s what it feels like to fall from 14,000 feet without being in a THING. It’s wolves and orcas and all of the wheat. It’s everything wild. It’s feeling every cell but not knowing how to articulate the connections.

It’s also, I learned this week, Princess Louisa Inlet.

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You access this inlet by boat or plane only, and after six hours (if you’re in a boat) up three arms, and across a set of “rapids,” which is a skinny, dog-legged, current-addled channel, you arrive in this fjord that is more beautiful than anything. Except maybe Yosemite. It’s a 6,000-foot high, glacial-topped mountain valley springing straight up from the 72-degree water, fed by various runoff and waterfalls, the biggest of which tumbles into a set of pools at the mouth of the canyon.

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Being in that valley feels like being gnawed to life by a lion.

Fata Morgana

I have some neuroses. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I have OCD, at least not in the clinical sense, but there are a few things that I strongly do or don’t prefer. I acknowledge they are irrational. I could fill a book, but I’ll stick to broad strokes here. Keep in mind that should any of these situations arise, no one, save the four, maybe five people in my life close enough to me to know, know that something “not good for me” is happening. I rarely (read: almost never) display any outward manifestations of my inner freak-out-edness. But I get uncomfortable. My palms sweat and my heart races, and I feel like I might need a nap.

Here are some of the things.

  1. I have to eat a probiotic every day.
  2. I hate touching (or stepping on) wet things.
  3. Cocktails (or any drink that starts not cold) must have lots of ice (which means sweat, which means napkins wrapped around the glass because #2).
  4. Washing clothes ruins them.
  5. Drying clothes is even worse. (Whatever worse that ruination is.)

These last two are important because social morays, logic, and reality all suggest that I’m bananas at the very least and really lazy at best. Or I’m not super smart. But here’s the thing. Even though I hate doing laundry, and I am self-aware and honest about it, I never thought that my waiting until I’d worn everything I own at least eleven times and was out of underwear (I have a lot) before doing laundry was because I was lazy or coconuts or not very bright. I truly believed that it was because I thought washing and drying my clothes was ruining them.

It never really came up because I’ve lived alone most of my adult life, and I haven’t always “had it.” When I was still under my parents roof, up until 18, I did not believe that laundering my clothes ruined them. Every night I threw what I’d worn that day into the hamper. Towels used once every morning after a shower? Directly into the washer (why bother with the hamper when they can just make the next load?). I threw clothes into the hamper that I tried on and opted against for that day. Clothes that were on my body for thirty seconds. I also didn’t do the laundry. But this equation never crossed my transom.

Eventually I moved away and went to college and then moved a few more times, spent a bunch of years in another state, in the sleepy wild wilderness, moved back to California (my home state) for graduate school, and then landed where I’ve been since, in Seattle. I honestly can’t remember how much laundry I did during those years, but I don’t remember believing I was ruining my clothes by washing and drying them until about twenty or so years ago, which is how long I’ve lived in Seattle.

My pattern was this. Wear everything a lot, and then one day, for load on end, wash it all. Then hang most, but dry some items, on the lowest heat setting (my happiest laundry days were the days I had an actual clothes line in the backyard). Then I would drag my heels folding and putting away. This part of the cycle could go on for days or weeks.

Eventually I met and married Loren, and he does laundry like a normal person (regularly), and it wasn’t until many months, probably more than a year, of sharing a life and a home and a washer and dryer, that one day he asked why there were so rarely any of my clothes in the laundry. Me: “Oh, I just don’t wash my clothes very often.” L: “Why not?” Me: “Because they don’t get dirty. Plus, it ruins them.” And that was that. He is an amazingly open, patient, accepting man.

***

We knew this morning that a storm was coming in, scheduled to arrive sometime this evening, so we pulled up the anchor, untied our lines, and set out. Our destination was Pender Harbor, approximately ten miles north. It was already windy in the bay, and by the time we got out to the strait, it was real-wind windy. Strait of Georgia windy. Day we pulled into Nanaimo windy. But the winds were in our favor, coming out of the SE, so a) we could sail; and b) we could sail in the direction we actually wanted to go. We had the added benefit of the tide going out, so we were riding the flood in addition to the help from the wind. The seas were relatively rough, but we made ~7.5 knots the whole way (I don’t want to get jargonny with the sailing terminology, but that’s faster than we go with our engine, and for sailing it’s fairly fast, especially when the water is choppy).

I’m new to sailing. I’ve been doing it approximately 15 months. I’ve learned a lot, and I’m OK skill-wise. What I lack in experience and the kind of intuition and muscle memory that come from doing something so long it’s like breathing, I make up for in strength, will, determination, and, I wouldn’t say fearlessness, but close to it. With less fear that most, maybe. I have juevos, and I don’t like defeat. Something in my makeup or raising limits me from feeling or showing weakness. I’m not saying these things are good or bad or that I like or don’t like them about myself. I wear none of these traits like a badge of honor. It’s simply who I am. I’m drawn to things that challenge me, and I’m wired to see how much I can handle. I’m innately unable to tolerate shying away from anything that involves persistence, adrenaline, and/or the combination of physical and mental toughness.

You couldn’t draw a better sport for me than sailing. It requires all of my strengths and demands a list of what I don’t yet possess that would circle the globe many times over. As with anything you’re learning, there are tough patches you conquer–the memory of before [x skill] dissipating almost the second it’s learned–that give way to the tens of hundreds more on the list. And the only way to work the list is to leave your comfort zone.

There are myriad arguments about this, I know. If life is meaningless, then why bother with your comfort zone? I see the other side. And I’m happy to discuss ad museum over cocktails. But for me, it’s live this life now. Don’t wait. And live it in the way you want. For me, the way I want is outside my comfort zone a lot of the time. This isn’t to say I don’t like the warm jacuzzi of my comfort zone. Quite the contrary. It has it’s time and place with me, and like an entire Sunday spent in the kitchen, or an afternoon on the foredeck with the sun and a book, I’m very content there. I just don’t tend to stay very long.

One of my comfort zones when sailing is being prepared. Books and charts and tables soothe me. I love planning the route, checking the tide and current tables, and calculating weather windows. Prep is anesthesia for me.

Another one is being away from land. Being close to land equals rocks and cliffs and shallow water and danger. We draw four to fourteen feet of water, depending on whether our center board is down, and  our mast is fifty-five feet high. There are dangerous obstacles when we’re near things. But today our course was safest fairly close to land. It kept us out of rolling waves hitting us sideways.

I sailed for a while in the late morning, and then when things got a little rougher, Loren took over. We were very close to land, running before the waves, and getting tossed hard. We were never out of control, and never in danger. Loren is a skilled sailor and would never put us in harm’s way. The only real danger was in my mind (“…blown into the rocks” is a phrase I wish I hadn’t read nine hundred and eighteen times), and I had to sit with it for much of our journey. I got scared, and I said it out loud. But, that was it for outwardly manifesting my freak-out-ery. I concentrated, stayed focused, listened and processed why it was safe. I trusted Loren, learned a little more, and gained immeasurable experience.

We safely sailed out of the strait and got to a sheltered marina in the harbor. We checked in, exchanged some dollars for loonies, grabbed a shower, and threw in a load of laundry, all before the storm hit.

I washed every single thing I’ve worn since we left home, and I only excluded five things from the dryer.

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They don’t call it the Sunshine Coast for nothin’

The crossing was calm and uneventful. Everything we could have hoped for.
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After reading practically everything I could get my hands about it, checking all available weather sources, confirming the torpedo range on our course was not practicing today, and keeping yesterday’s high winds in mind, we approached it with cautious optimism and more than a little enthusiasm. And as is usually the case, prep and a watchful eye (at least two at a time) paid off. Also Loren’s good judgement about leaving at the break of dawn.

It was so quiet I even got to take a good, long nap for a chunk of it.

Six hours later we were safely tucked in behind the Surrey islands, securely anchored, and lying on the beach on South Thormanby Island.
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p.s., the water is 67 degrees. So much better than citrus jail.

C stands for Colony Park

 

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All that stuff… The ayes, the hyper-country-loving, flag-bearing; the slow talking…. it’s all true. Canadians aren’t in a hurry, and they’re incredibly polite. At all times. Even when under pressure. There’s no standing in line at the market without some idle chit chat with the guy in front of you about Jen and Ben, or dinner out without a good 10 or 15 extra minutes from the overly chatty (also kind of awe-inspiringly slow, forgetful) waitress about the drum circle in the park. You’re out of Malbec? Oh well, I love a good Pinot. You just found out you can’t serve oysters today? No worries, scallops sound GREAT!

Brits. Men in non-ironic suspenders. Indecipherable accents. Its Canada. It’s how we do! No worries.

Embracing the easy come, easy go Canadian sensibility, we left Clam Bay this morning en route to Nanaimo. Up and out early, through Dodd Narrows, which is so narrow and blind dog-legged that you have to radio on approach to alert boaters waiting to come through that you’re heading in. (I  have come to love the radio. Maritime manners plus ass-saving!)

We were an hour and a half past slack tide (unplanned), so we had a well, let’s call it a brisk current to ride. No problem. EV pulled us through without a hitch, we bobbed across the white water on exit, cleared the south-bound boats holding for us, and set our sights on the final five miles of the day. Piece of cake.

The seas were rougher than expected, and with the current against the wind, we bucked three to four foot waves the whole way in. Nothing scary, but we stayed alert and monitored the radio. It’s Canada, bitches. We take whatever you got, and go running after.

Speaking of which, Running into a headwind is hard, but not as hard and docking in high winds. Or low winds. So, pulling into our slip in the marina was the hardest part of the day, given the 20 or so mile an hour winds that had built up by mid-day. But no problem.

We got our assigned spot, found it  after a circle of the marina, and with a very polite and calm dock master to give us a hand, Loren docked without fanfare, as he is wont to do. Even with winds blowing us into the side of the dock.

Not such um, smooth sailing shall we say, for the  two boats that came in behind us. The First one, with a clearly experienced captain, came in tight, almost clipped us, raised the tension, but with help from everyone on the dock, managed to pull in without taking out half our transom.

Mr. Two–an aggressive captain, driving a monster 50-footer, carrying a screeching, panic-stricken tweaking basket case of a woman, and two yelping dogs–not so much. Too fast, too sharp, too harried. Now there’s boat on boat, the screecher is screeching, the captain is yelling, the dogs are barking, and the lovely couple on boat number one are doing what you should never do: putting their bodies between the collided boats.

Luckily the calm Canadian (dock master) was there to get the captain back on the boat, couple Two out from between the bow rail and the bbq, and to help ensure we all stayed on tasks, grabbing lines and getting them tied up.

No one got hurt, wine was exchanged (and hopefully insurance info), and we made haste back to our peaceful oasis and took a nap.

On our way to the marine store, we spotted this sweet Colony Park family truckster with wood paneling and maroon velour interior. Keep it coming, Canada.

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