Wednesday, June 18, 2014


I just read Amsterdam, which I picked up in some book exchange in New Zealand. I'm always happy when there's a new Ian McEwan novel out, as I've read them all at this point. But on re-reading Amsterdam I was struck by a similarity with Atonement - wonderful exposition, strained denouement.

There was a line from the book that stayed with me. The composer character comes home from the funeral that begins the story and settles in to work on his latest symphony: "He would work through the night and sleep until lunch. There really wasn't much else to do. Make something, and die."

In the sort of living that we're about now, in the blessed Archipel des Tuamotu, we're not making anything that will outlast us.

[I did write yesterday, and set to work on the last bits of my PhD thesis, but you'll grant the larger point.]

I suppose the experience of being here, and seeing the world from the decks of a traveling sailboat, will inform the men who our boys will grow into, so that is something that we're "making" that will outlive us. Otherwise, though, all we're making is memories for ourselves.

Our memory banks are becoming a bit overstocked now that we're nearly on the eighth year of our trip. I've been struck in the past at how photos capture a memory, and replace it, but also keep it alive. There are a hundred moments from the early years of our trip that stay with me only through a captured image of one of us frozen in some gesture on board our familiar home at some unfamiliar spot. Moments that we didn't photograph disappear, in their details at least. "Was that Bahia Magdalena or Abreojos?" I say to Alisa. "Keppel Islands or Moreton Bay?"

Alisa noticed that we took no photos two days ago when we went ashore at Birthday Island to do laundry. We had the camera with us, but I was in a recuperating mood, laying on a beach towel in the shade and bestirring only to gather and open coconuts, and Alisa was hard at the laundry.

So I'll have to work to remember that day, which was was after all priceless like any day that comes to us, and that we chose to spend in that particular way.

I'll have to remember our clothes hanging from the two lines around the hut and their colors against the just-green of motu trees. I'll have to remember the short line that I hung from the exposed rafters of the hut and the tree that was blown over against the hut that Alisa used to hang the clothes that wouldn't fit on the lines.

I'll have to remember the hut itself - how it seems insubstantial at first - unpainted scrap materials - and how looking at it carefully shows you how much work someone took to bring in all of the materials - the corrugated roofing and the plywood for the walls and the lumber for the frame. I'll have to remember the two plastic barrels in the back that catch water from the roof and that Alisa remembered from three years ago as a place where we might get water for the wash.

I'll have to remember showing Eric the game of seeing what the clouds look like and how he instantly got it and couldn't help but seeing a new shape in every cloud the tradewinds brought by.

I'll have to remember our lunch on the two beach blankets spread under the palms. The bread that Alisa had baked that morning and the cheese and salami and olives and apricot bars for dessert that Alisa had baked two days before and the startling quiet of the boys while they were eating.

I'll have to remember the way that a machete swung into a coconut husk makes a sound precisely between a whisper and a shout.

I'll have to remember Alisa telling me she heard a fruit dove calling, and then hearing it myself, and seeing three fruit doves flying across the channel from the next motu.

And I'll have to remember holding Eric by both hands in the glass-clear shallows and telling him to kick! kick!, his little pro wrestler body tucked up in a rashy and the ridiculous tight swim shorts from Oz.

Little Eric who stubbornly refuses to swim at age four.


  1. Hi there! My name is Heather and I was just wondering if you could answer my question I have about your blog! Please email me at Lifesabanquet1(at)gmail(dot)com :-)

  2. Beautiful piece, thanks very much for sharing!

  3. And isn't that just one of the reasons to write? So that maybe the moments that don't get photographed can be remembered too?

    Love your thoughts & posts, as always!

  4. I think I like this type of remembering better ....