So many boats in my dreams, this last while. Boats and boats and then again boats. I like boats, always have (particularly those powered by muscle not motor), maybe as the result of having for a father a man who in his youth was a sailor or maybe as the result of my Piscean nature.
When I was a kid my dad had a sailboat, a little 19-footer, that was like a gateway drug for me — it was on that boat that I first began to experience the strong, strange, shivered-up feelings of connection and sentipensante I’ve continued to experience all my life, whenever I’ve involved myself in any meaningful way with the green world. Thing is, I was kind of a badass, there on that boat: I invented for myself a method of sailing that involved sitting on the boat’s bow with my legs dangling over as she flew along, knifing through lake. And my father — a total badass himself — let me. Let me! If you don’t think that letting was a gift — oh my christ, such a gift — then you should think harder. Much harder.
My version of sailing was intense and powerful brainmagic — intense and powerful bodymagic too. Moving across the world’s surface in that way was the freest I’d ever felt, maybe the freest I’ll ever feel. It made the world big and small at the same time, endless, but with exciting possibilities of manageability, navigability. It made my body thrum and zing, not with sturm und drang, but with the aliveness of being. It made me feel of a piece with the world to ride up like that, of a piece with the water and the wind and the sky. It was a chance for trance (or something very near it) and a chance for letting go. Epiphany and catharsis, my old chums.
As a kid, I had a few boat-lit obsessions, too, with Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki Expedition topping the list. I loved that book into dust and had to acquire another copy, so ardently did I read and reread it. I was also hung up on Jerome K. Jerome’s comic novel Three Men in a Boat, written and published in Victorian England, a somewhat oddball fascination for a pubescent girl in 1970s Montreal to have, but it’s such a funny bit of writing and such an excellent counterpoint to the Heyerdahl. I mean, the Heyerdahl is this great roistering saga of crossing the Pacific on a raft and the Jerome is a delightful bit of drollery about a boating holiday on the Thames. Contrapuntal punting. I like. You too?
And no character in children’s literature was more compelling or more resonant for me than C.S. Lewis’s Reepicheep, the gallant mouse who paddles away to the end of the world in his little currach in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Oh my god, the number of times I salted the pages of that book while reading about those venturings into the unknown. Tears! Goosebumps! He’s still my hero, Reepicheep, and one of the reasons I like to travel in the manner I like to travel — largely unplanned, the antithesis of package- or resort-holidaying, because the joy and terror of not knowing what’s around the next corner is so delicious and skin-prickling, and Reepicheep showed me that, for true.
Later in life I became pretty consumed by Trawler, Redmond O’Hanlon’s account of joining the crew of a real-life fishing boat working the notoriously rough North Atlantic. I think I’ve read that book 10 times now and I plan to read it 10 more before I die — hell, maybe 20 — because O’Hanlon is both hilarious and insightful and also I do love to read about people pushing themselves physically and mentally, about how they cope with stress, suffering, privation — how they cope and manage and find in those moments exhilaration and hilarity and — who knows? — maybe epiphany and catharsis too. There’s plenty of all that stuff in O’Hanlon’s book because it’s about, you know, men on a motherfucking fishing boat in a cruel, brutal, beautiful sea.
A boat, you say?
Yes, love, a boat. I am a dame who does love a boat.
Not many more exhilarating poems to write with your body than the boatpoem of flying across water on the surface of the world. Not many at all.
Oseberg ship excavation, 1904, Tønsberg, Norway. Via Science Blogs
From the Where the Wild Things Ought to Be contest. Via U23D Live