Will The Circle be Unbroken?

Lessons learned while circling the globe come home for the holidays with CW's blogger Alvah Simon.

As sailors we learn to live simply yet well. A sail well stitched, a bag of rice, and a good spear gun saw me through the oceans of the world.

As sailors we learn to live simply yet well. A sail well stitched, a bag of rice, and a good spear gun saw me through the oceans of the world. Courtesy Of Alvah Simon

With the Roger Henry safely tied up in Seward Alaska, Diana and I flew to Missoula, Montana, to spend the first Christmas with my family in far too many years. I was at first reluctant to submit a blog written from 600 miles inland of the nearest saltwater. After all, this is a sailing website. What possible connection could Western Montana have with sailing, cruising, or anything even hinting of the nautical? Here all talk is of well-shaped skis, not sails, wapiti, not whales.

But the world is round, and any course held steady must eventually return us to the place from which we left. I left this dusty little western town over 30 years ago with a burning desire to explore distant horizons and hopefully expand my own. I wanted to be, and on reflection needed to be, hull down on the life I was leading here. I did not so much as look in the rear view mirror as I headed towards the sea and the free life afloat.

But however wild and independent I thought myself to be, my escape was by no means complete. When I found myself in far-flung outposts of an indifferent world, lonely or sick or broke, my thoughts would inevitably drift back to these burnt hills, to my family and friends. Montana was and remains my emotional port of refuge.


Courtesy of Alvah Simon| |As sailors we learn to live simply yet well. A sail well stitched, a bag of rice, and a good spear gun saw me through the oceans of the world.| I suspect that in the hold of nearly every hull that fetches a foreign shore there lies a similar story. A story of something gained and of something lost–of dreams undeniable, of loved ones left on the dock wondering why this good place was not enough.

These home-town places are enough. Departures of their native sons and daughters should not be seen as rejections of the place or its values, but rather as an extension, as an exploratory probe into the wider world on everyone’s behalf.

I return often to the writings of the gifted yet apparently forgotten naturalist Loren Eiseley. He wrote, “It is common place of all religious thought, even the most primitive, that the man seeking visions and insight must go apart from his fellows and live for a time in the wilderness. If he is of the proper sort, he will return with a message. It may not be a message from the god he set out to seek, but even if he has failed in that particular, he will have had a vision or seen a marvel, and these are always worth listening to and thinking about.”


As cruising sailors we have indeed set ourselves aside from our fellow man and lived for a time in the watery wilderness. I would like to think that we are of the proper sort. I believe that in these times of a troubled economy, with people visibly shaken by diminished wealth and future uncertainty, the message we return with is particularly worth listening to and thinking about. For, more than most, buffeted by the fickle forces of nature, we have seen the darkness and the dawn. We have learned to live with incessant uncertainty, letting each day take care of itself. We have learned that to live simply is still to live well. We have learned to simplify our joys without diminishing them: a green flash at sunset, a bird skimming storm-tossed waters, the feeling of a building breeze on our skin. Most importantly, we have learned to value each other, for we are all in the same boat, literally and figuratively. We are part of a team, a team we call the crew.

Perhaps now is not the time to regale the home crowd with tales of life exotic and derring-do, for the realization of such dreams has seldom seemed so ethereal and far away. But rather we should simply share the calm and confidence the sea has taught us, for a fair wind is certain to blow.

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