Monday, February 2, 2015

The Chronic

I spent two summers in Alaska before I moved there, hitchhiking up and working in salmon canneries to finance hiking trips in the Arctic before hitching back to New Orleans for the winter.

I remember in those early visits meeting Alaskans who said they "couldn't handle the Lower 48." Whatever, I would think to myself. What's so hard about the Lower 48?

But then I made the Great Land my home. And it wasn't too long before I couldn't imagine going back to the Lower 48, either.

A place changes you, I suppose. Or a place can make it easier to be true to yourself.

Alisa just noted that it's been a week since we left Valdivia. And in the timeless way of traveling on our own boat, the place we left behind seems a lifetime away. In that week we've seen blue whales and a dozen new species of birds. We've anchored in six places. We've tied to a commercial dock to make a crew change and watched a fishing boat power up hard against the lines that were holding it rafted behind us, only a meter or so from our solar panels and wind vane, an easy error by its captain or crew from doing real damage to us. I've driven the boat towards the shoals in an unknown anchorage on a falling tide and caught myself, thinking, you don't want to go aground here. I've used my broken Spanish for quick conversations with people we've run into on the beach. I've used that same broken Spanish to talk with a new friend, learning something about his life and life in his country.

And through it all I've been traveling with my children and my wife, and my wife and I have counted on each other totally to get through the routine rigors of navigating and anchoring in places we've never been to before, all while raising the kids.

Can you see why we don't want to stop doing this?

I can't imagine another way of living that would force us to live so much by our wits day after day. Another way of living that would be so fierce, if you will. This morning I saw Alisa's face as she stood in the companionway, scanning the anchorage at first light. If you could see her face as she calmly took in everything around us, evaluating the state of wind and tide and weather and the lay of the land, all the boats and the scattered houses around the landlocked bay and what their life might mean to us - if I could show you the look on her face as she did that, with the light of dawn on her, then you'd know what I mean.

During this last season in French Poly we started to come to grips with when we might go back to Alaska and give up our wandering ways. We decided that two more years would do us - we'd be back in Kodiak in the Boreal summer of 2016.

But now we can feel our resolution slipping. We're just having too much fun. And really, we can't imagine going back.

It helps enormously that I am able to keep working as a biologist while we travel. The finances would never work out otherwise. And my demeanor is such that I would be unhappy if I didn't feel that I was contributing to the common weal in some small way.

So, we have observed over and again the many ways that life can change in some fundamental way and puts a stop to sailors' voyaging. And our sailing continues to be dependent on my ability to find enough work to pay for it all. But, barring those two contingencies, we seem to be moving towards more of the same.

And though we are inclined to keep going because we are so content, there is also that part of us that can't quite see the way clear to going back again. We're like those Alaskans I met all those years ago - we've been changed by the experience of living this way, and it's hard to imagine the life that we took for granted before we left.

We realize that it will likely only get harder to go back as we stay out longer. But surely we can fit in a visit to the Falklands before we point the bow north again?

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  1. What the heck! Let me put a Champagne bottle on ice for you here in Cape Town. There's a lovely place to haul out the Galactic at Gordon's Bay. We'll introduce you to some nice people in the local Marine Biology research scene ;-) Rocco

  2. And books! Please, please, please say there will be more books!!