Thursday, September 1, 2011

Water People

"Air & Water", 8x8", oil on panel, 1993

Years ago the sea was my world. Images were born from me of light on water, 
the rhythm of waves and thick, ocean fog. In my work, I imagined myself far 
offshore, navigating the changing sea, searching - on a journey to home. Now, 
amidst the sweeping branches of the hemlocks, I can feel that immense blueness 
in the center of my soul, for once you are a water person, you remain one always. 

We set out on our family's last voyage on the Nobska Lady, the boat that has 
carried us on ocean adventures for more than thirty years. The clouds grew out 
of the shore like towering trees, a light wind blew and the sky promised afternoon clearing. 

Since I was a child, I was spirited away on voyages long and short, sometimes 
jealous that my older sister could stay at home if she chose. I now know that 
wild adventures on the sea stitches folks together with the strength of waxed 
linen, and if there should be a tear, the splicing tool is close at hand. 

I'm not sure I always understood the intensity of many situations we found ourselves 
in, but I learned unwavering trust in my father's skill as a navigator and captain. 
I remember many a journey through pea soup fog, sitting on the bow, blowing 
the horn. A deeply etched memory is the time when we found ourselves in the 
midst of a naval convoy, huge gray hulls emerging like silent monsters from the fog. Stationed as I was on the bow, blowing my little horn, I was in charge of spotting 
them and alerting the captain. On a boat when calm sailing turns stormy or foggy or mysterious - as it did when dark hull after dark hull emerged in our path - its all 
hands on deck no matter the age. 

On that same cruise, I saw my first, enormous shark. It was off in the distance, 
basking in the sun close to the surface. When we approached, it slowly sank beneath 
the boat and emerged on the other side. I was transfixed, leaning over the side to 
get a better look, my mother grabbing my belt loops, holding tight a shrieking a bit. 

This last overnight was to Hadley Harbor on the small island on Naushon. Hadley
holds stories from my life from as long as I can remember. On the way there, we
passed by Woods Hole, where I spent most of my childhood. If you follow the link
and click on the photo, you will see a long, low roof of the house my grandfather 
built next to the light house. 

Many a day was spent climbing around on the rip wrapping below the 
lighthouse, resulting in an almost daily stubbed and re-stubbed toe. 

We anchored in the outer harbor, the day having shifted to warm and sunny, 
but with wonderful clouds still clinging to the shore. 

 Mom on lunch duty.... 

You might think that dinner on a boat would be a simple thing, but not on the 
Nobska Lady. Not only is my father a popular crew to invite on long overnight 
journeys to Maine for his navigation skills and willingness to stay up all night, 
but also cause he's an amazing chef. Luckily today the seagulls let us eat our 
steak. Once or twice over the years, while grilling off the stern, dinner was 
lost to a clever, swooping bird. 

Glistening, late afternoon light melted into night
and a candle was lit to light the deck.  

Tucked into our bunks in the cabin, I read aloud from "The Secret Garden", 
by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The book, read aloud over several of our voyages, 
twines around our memories of this boat like a flowering vine. Our story of this 
story is one of my favorites... 

One evening on the Nobska Lady, just before bedtime, the Captain 
and his wife were readying their sleeping bags. It was the time when 
the Captain's wife usually read aloudOn the last voyage, she had been 
reading "The Secret Garden", especially for the youngest member of 
the crew. As it was a somewhat longish book, the Captain's wife hadn't 
finished and had stowed the book away for the next time the youngest 
mate was aboard. The young mate had not signed on this voyage, so it 
was just the Captain and his wife. Once the beds were prepared, the Captain's 
wife climbed in and began to read her adult book by the soft glow of lantern 
light. In his bunk, tucked under the navigation station, the Captain seemed restless, 
and finally asked his wife if she might read the next chapter of "The Secret Garden". 
She replied that the young mate was not aboard, so she didn't think she should.
The Captain reasoned that she could always read the chapter again, the next 
time the whole crew was aboard. So the Captain's wife put down her book, 
and read another installment of "The Secret Garden", just for the two of them.
(He WAS the Captain, after all)

The journey back offered a stiff wind and respectable waves, and I, the youngest 
member of the crew, was in my element - happy, too, to see my father pass 
this well-loved boat on to friends of mine who are just beginning their life of 
sailing, and, who my father aptly said of them - "they are water people now". 


Ms. said...

Oh, you answered a wish tonight. i just said to my yogi friend "I haven't seen the sea in years, and I miss it." Odd, that with a hurricane having flooded so many of friends and relatives, I suddenly long for the vastness of the sea. Well, thanks for the sail. No salt taste or smell, but they are stored in my memories. i could almost feel the swells.

Tracey Broome said...

I love this post. I too am a water person, I grew up on the coast of South Carolina. We spent two weeks in Maine this summer and your post brought back all of those great memories. The last photo is amazing!

Julie Whitmore Pottery said...

What a wonderful post, and gorgeous pictures, and moving stories. What a trip of a lifetime.
Thanks for letting me have a peek~

Nancy said...

Oh you lucky gal you! How nice it was to take this armchair adventure and to see the sea in such a positive light with all of the worry and misfortune of many recently.
I just spoke of The Secret Garden to my grown daughter and planned to read it! I have such good memories associated with that story :)
Thank you for this lovely post.

Charlotte said...

How wonderful, I shall pass this on to friends of ours, they sail (along with their boys) in the most beautiful wooden two master.

My husband is also a yearner for the sea, his Grandfather sailed the Baltic in Babalu (not sure of the spelling as she was a Swedish boat).

Your photo's are beautiful and what wonderful memories you have to carry with you always.

trish said...

Thank you for sharing your beautiful memories and taking us on a wonderful journey with you. Oh gosh, your beautiful painting from 1993! I love it.
Much love

Penny Berens said...

Magnificent watery memories...though I don't think I would have enjoyed finding myself among those frigates at all at all!
And then 'The Secret Garden'...on of my favourites...think I should read it again.

barbara said...

In my most beautiful childhood memories I feel the green sighing gentleness of our sea, so near to our home, and my hands on the old doorway into that garden

Kathryn Dyche said...

I loved this post, felt as though I was going on a journey with you. Beautiful.

Tiffany D. Davidson said...

A delightful post, indeed! I feel inclined now to sit and watch either film: The Secret of Roan Inish or Ondine :)

jude said...

this is all so close to my heart, remembering the family and the sea, so much a part of my childhood.

Kimberly Wachtel said...

Valerianna, It's so nice of you to share this part of your connection with the ocean, with sailing and with your family. Beautiful pictures and stories that fill in a part of you for me that I knew a little about but with the help of pictures and more stories I can see this side of you more clearly...thank you for taking me along on your lovely trip!

yew tree nights said...

Oh, this makes me want to go on a high seas adventure too! And that painting is so lovely... how rich you must feel to have a little piece of the sea frozen in time and place.

Michala Gyetvai (Kayla coo) said...

Amazing clouds!
The Secret Garden is my favourite book from childhood.

Windsongs and Wordhoards said...

Such amazing images and stories of your seafaring childhood!It sounds like a great adventure, what a wonderful thing to share as a family...
Fascinating too after getting to know you here rooted in the woods, to catch a glimpse of another aspect of Valerianna! So pleased you shared with us... :)

Gwen Buchanan said...

absolutely wonderful.. except when your dinner was lost to the gulls!! what a joyful life you have lead... so many memories!!!

Beautiful photographs.. Thank you for sharing them..

Valerianna said...

Ms - My father had to haul the boat during the hurricane and put it back in afterwards so the new owners could take possession - thank goodness we were able to go on one more cruise before the hurricane came!

Tracey - Yes, I remember that post of yours... and I love Maine, was just there a few weeks ago myself. I like that last photo, too. It surprised me, cause I was being knocked around on the bow and was shooting away at what I thought would be interesting abstractions, but couldn't really tell. That was the best of them.

Julie - thanks... such a gift that it worked out with weather and selling the boat, etc. for us to take a final sale together, lucky, really!

Nancy - Up here in the hills, the ocean was the least of our worries during the hurricane, it was the almost 10 inches of rain in one day! If you are don't already have a copy of the book, I highly recommend the one in my photo, I really loved the illustrations where each chapter begins with a drawing of flowers. Its lovely.

Charlotte - I wonder what sailing on the Baltic is like? My father's grandparents were from Riga, Latvia, I wonder if they sailed the Baltic?

Trish - thanks for coming along for the journey... and I'm fond of this painting, it hangs in my house and I look at it every day, but seeing it here allows me to SEE it again.

Penny - no, the convoy memory is probably so etched in my mind because it was quite intense and scary. I remember my Dad trying to radio them and saying that for some odd reason they seemed to have their radios switched off. Can you imagine? A large convoy of naval ships moving through the fog WITHOUT their radios on? Crazy. We got through it, but not without stress!

Stille Linde - It was wonderful for me to grow up by the sea, sounds like for you as well.

Dyche Designs - I like taking virtual journeys in blogland, so many places to visit!

Zen Forest - Oh, for me, The Secret of Roan Inish, for sure, cause at that film the mystery and magic is real!

Jude - I wonder, did you grow up sailing?

Kim - sure!

jodi - Rich, sometimes and sometimes queasy with an ocean inside!

Kayla Coo - Aren't they? I was psyched, because sparkling blue skies can be ever so boring in photographs.

Swan Artworks - I've always lived both in the forest and at the sea, except now where I am only in the forest, so its interesting that folks know me only as a forest woman!

Gwenn - Do gulls ever steal your dinner up there on that bluff?

Gwen Buchanan said...

Not yet, they must be more drawn to floating food.

Velma Bolyard said...

v- lovely. i was there on the boat with you. really, i so could have been a ship rat/kid! i love the water, and grew up a short walk from a mighty river-the niagara. not sure i cold choose between salt and fresh water, if i had the chance, that is!

A mermaid in the attic said...

Beautiful, just beautiful Valerianna! Like most Australians, I've grown up not too far from the coast, spent my childhood holidays by the beach at my cousins' beach house, sailing in little yachts with my parents, and it's very deep in my soul (Hebridean ancestors too!). Lately though, I've felt a shift away from the sea to the green of the bush...I always thought I wanted to live by the beach, but now I see myself surrounded by trees and hills. But as you say, it's there deep in my soul, and I could never move too far away from it...even my dream bush block would be no more than an hour's drive away!

Anonymous said...

A different world from mine - and so very beautiful. I loved reading your story and seeing these gorgeous photos!
Thank you for your sweet visit over at my little blog.

layers said...

I love to look at water scenes.. I live on a cliff overlooking the Puget Sound..and love the sun sparkling like diamonds.. but am happy on the ground..I think one has to grow up in boats like you have- you have wonderful pictures, and stories and memories.

Valerianna said...

Gwenn - Maybe so - floating food for gulls!

Velma - I feel I know salt water better, but I love the rivers here.... my absolute dream place to live is right here, but with the sea just a bit away, that I could walk to.

mermaid - Considering your blog name, I'm not surprised! I'm now about 2 hours away from the sea, and that feels far, but here I am and I'm where I'm suppose to be, so, maybe late in retirement, when heating with wood is too hard, I'll move to a tiny cottage on the ocean in Maine..

Zuzu - Glad to see you here, blessings on your present journey.

layers - yes, the light on water is truly something. My Dad was pointing out toddlers who were on nearby boats in the harbor and commenting on how in 3 years, they'd be running up and down the boat while it was under sail, climbing up the masts and completely at home on the boats having grown up on them. I guess its true, its very unusual for me to be afraid on a boat, though there have been moments. Mostly, its a place I've always been, so its natural.

Lynn said...

A beautiful, blue voyage. I, too, love the water - but from shore, I'm afraid. I love the openness, the expanse, the hugeness of water and sky meeting.

I had my first boat voyage last Summer on a friend's beautiful wooden boat. Felt sick the whole time! And slicing bread when the boat was listing up out of the water was a challenge and a half...

The Secret Garden is the first book that I actually have a memory of reading.

Thanks for sharing this beautiful, family voyage!

Donna Iona Drozda said...

I so enjoyed going along on your voyage and the sweet 'looking over your shoulder'...into the secret garden of the sea...I'm so glad that you were able to get out in front of Irene to make this most deeply meaningful memory.

Sharmon Davidson said...

I loved reading your story about your childhood on the water, and about your journey with your parents. Thanks for letting us tag along.

Virginia said...

Oh, lovely, as usual. Thank you.

I try to read The Secret Garden every year on the vernal equinox. It's sometimes difficult to remember, in Houston - it's practically summer by then.

I was talking to my sister last night, who admitted to me that she long ago turned a copy of The Secret Garden that I lent to her, filled with lovely pictures, hardcover, into a boat, having read it in the bath.

But it wasn't my beloved copy, which is just a cheap paperback that I got when I was a child. So it's all good. And it reminds me to put my books in plastic bags before I climb in the tub.

the wild magnolia said...

Wonderful sharing, a life, then and now.

ramona said...

Oh! I can smell the sea air! Wonderful collection of images. The small painting of the sea despite its size carries a lot of weight. Beautiful!!

illustration poetry said...

Unfortunately i live about as far away from the coast, so any new ideas for a seaside substitute are very welcome...
i once wanted to live in the lighthouse.

wishing you and the cat and the raven a very lovely day


Sophie Munns said...

Another water person here who has been known to spend rather a lot of time underwater then try to paint what she saw!
i loved this post Valerianna! I was transported by this reverie ... so many moods to the ocean much to learn and experience and be grateful for ... safe homecoming and the team effort!
Secret Garden...I'm with the captain...this is a magical story and yet full of truth!
Gracias V!

Tammie Lee said...

so many wonderful memories and experiences. i can almost smell the sea air as I read your post and enjoyed your gorgeous photographs

rivergardenstudio said...

How wonderful to read of you voyages, this one and those of your childhood. The ocean is so blue here, and your words and thoughts like a song.

zedon said...

The boys which used bunk beds are very beautiful and nice looking. The boys in the colleges and universities hostel have allot of little things which they want to keep in the safe place like desk so they want to buy the boys bunk bed with desk. In this way they can put their little things like books pens etc in the desk of their bunk beds.