Blueberries for Osprey
Sailing in Maine, you hear a great deal about fogs, tides, and lobster pots, and not without reason. What they don't mention so much are the blueberries. Few fruits are as perfect yet as labor intensive as Maine's low-bush blueberries, and it occurs to me, as I crouch amid a patch picking them one by one with careful fingers, that these sweet, small things are not unlike cruising itself. You have to be a little lucky to find them and work steadily to get them, but the result can be something wonderful, like blueberry buckle fresh from the oven on a foggy Down East morning.
The result can also be a wicked case of poison ivy if you aren't careful hiking up the mountain to said blueberry patch. And there are always the mosquitoes; they seem especially to like hovering about the dewy tips of the blueberry-bush leaves.
Such is life, yin and yang. And the sailing life, after we've been at it now full-time for a bit more than a year, has turned out to be no different. There have been some dark nights of the soul when a plane flight home looked really good. And there have been times of intense satisfaction and happiness that only this choice could have made possible. The late Hunter S. Thompson probably said it best: "Buy the ticket, take the ride."
Sometimes, when I'm thick in poison ivy, I wonder what the heck we're doing. I have to remind myself of the purposes that pushed us here: the longing to live an entirely different way, tied more closely to the natural world than to the suburban grid; the ambition to show our children that we can be happy without all the material stuff that American society seems to demand; the desire to explore other cultures, teaching us to be citizens of the world; the hope to make new friends; the profound need to learn and evolve and to live life, not just survive it. When I stand back and reassess in this way, I realize that we're doing all of these things. These are the blueberries, the hoped for but never expected treasures.
There was the answer our daughter instantly gave when a friend asked her what was the best part about living aboard and cruising: "Seeing my daddy every day." Like many small-business owners, Johnny worked grueling hours in the years leading up to this-the kids were usually asleep when he left the house and close to it when he got home. Now they're fully a part of one another's lives, sunup to sundown.
There are the quiet nights at anchor with just the four of us-no sundowners, no socializing-when we dine together in the cockpit, endure a brief and lively debate over who's doing the dishes, then gather around the table under the lamplight and read aloud the latest book that's captured our attention.
There is the aching beauty of watching my kids swimming through turquoise water, entirely immersed in a world they find so fierce and enchanting. There is the pride in seeing them stand a watch, plot a position, help one another, help a stranger.
There were the spotted eagle rays, gliding five feet beneath me. The whales that sounded in the Gulf of Maine, their flukes shining in the late-day sun. The horizon limned in that pale, hopeful dawn after a long night at sea.
And there is this, hiking over the ancient Appalachian granite and hearing the footsteps of my father, who loved the sea and these mountains. Being here is a pleasant surprise in and of itself, something I hadn't planned on, but if there's one thing that the sailing life has taught me, it's that change really is constant, ready or not. For this willingness to live in a moment, to be nimble in my heart, I may find a treasure such as this: the image of my dad in the faces of his grandchildren, all of his sense of joy and wonder alive in their own at this unexpected surprise of berries, a petite sea of green and blue. The circle continues unbroken, and I know with a sudden clarity and gratitude that this is why we've come this way.
Wendy Mitman Clarke and her family continue to head south looking for the small gems to be found in the cruising life-and avoiding the poison ivy.