We are on day 8 of this long passage, about 2 weeks to go. We were talking last night and reflecting together about how it doesn’t seem like it’s already been a week since we left the islands. Here on a small boat where we don’t even know what time zone we are in, much less do we care about that, time is revealed to be the false construct that it really is. The only moment that time is important is that it keeps us apprised of shift changes. Otherwise it’s either daylight or not.
Our days are measured by the changes in weather, wind direction, boat comfort and course heading. One moment it’s time to make the sails bigger or smaller. Another moment it’s time to tweak the wind vane. As the boat floats across the sea, we float through this passage with it, time measured only by moments of activity and focus, carried along by forces so much greater than us they defy efforts to understand. It’s like living in a great metaphor for life overall.
After a week of this one begins to have an appreciation for why some people would rather be at sea than anywhere else. I’m not saying I am that person. Ask me when we have arrived in Washington state and I have been out here for thousands of miles, not hundreds. But the inklings of understanding are there. The world really does titrate down to
what is literally right in front of us in a way that is hard to imagine when living on land surrounded by all the things we feel responsible for controlling, or at least managing. Out here, over 1000 miles from the nearest civilization, hundreds of miles from the nearest human being, there is quite literally nothing we can do about anything anywhere but right here on this boat. Nothing.
This is both freeing and terrifying. I prefer to compartmentalize the terrifying aspects of this and focus on the freedom. If you are going to sail, as we say, ‘far away from the dock’, compartmentalization is a psychological skill you should develop. It’s one of those sailing skills people take for granted but shouldn’t. It’s exactly why people can be on a small boat in the middle of a great and powerful sea and sleep like a rock when given the opportunity. (Well, that and fatigue. )
Of course we need this construct of time, and the many other constructs we create, in order for civilization to work. But it’s interesting to experience how much it rules our thinking. I am reminded of a woman we met who was asking questions about our way of life. She asked what we did at night if we were away from land. Did we drop an anchor in the middle of the ocean? This was an intelligent person, you could see on her face that she knew that didn’t make sense even as she spoke. But she was asking from her own assumptions about how people go to bed at night. Her day stops with her little ritual of expensive evening ablutions, followed by her head lying delicately on her silky pillow, then sleeping until the alarm clock rings.
No. I said. We just keep sailing into the night and into the next day. We sail on and on in our safe little ship, our little womb on the sea. She looked at me in that way people do if they can’t quite figure out which box to put you in. You know the look: first it’s scanning you up and down as though to take the measure of your physical self. Then one part confusion, one small part fear, a bit of amazement, some shaking of the head and looking away. ‘Better you than me, sister.’, she says. This part of her that I represent right then, the part that would be outside the box of the culture she lives in, has just been put away, compartmentalized. It resides safely somewhere in the darkness of her own shadow.
And it’s the part of me that she represents that lives in a compartment all her own in my own psyche right now. The part that wears the uniform of the expectations of others: the hair, the branded clothing, the jewelry, the nails. Oh yes, and the makeup. When we get back to a land life I will take this aspect of me out to play for awhile. We will get our hair done and go to Nordstrom and buy pretty clothes. We will go to bed at a certain hour and make appointments and have more complex routines. But for now, we sail on.
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