By land or sea, nature?s mysteries run deep
On a cooling afternoon we stood on a weathered dock in a small harbor on an island off the Massachusetts coast. Gulls wheeled and screamed; white dashes of feather and light against the blue sky. We were waiting for a boat but nobody knew what it looked like, not for certain.
After a while: “I think that’s it”, someone ventured. A sleek white boat with tall masts approached with the certainty of a being guided by someone who’d done it before. The boat was under engine power but tall masts stood proud. It was white as seagulls were white, and sleek as the birds’ wings. It swung wide, eased up; stopped alongside the gray planks of the dock.
We boarded, tentatively, the hesitant step of those who are not familiar with what they are doing; practice does make perfect and none of us were practiced at this. But we settled in, the woman on the boat coiled the ropes, pushed us off. The man stood at the wheel. Engine started up. We moved away.
We sail in the hour that the sun seeks the horizon as if coming home after a hard day. The ship (I am told that correct term is Yawl) leaves the dock under power, the engine unseen, growling below deck, the boat moving forward with purpose. Once outside the clutter of small craft in the harbor the husband and wife crew cut power and raise sail. There are three sails in all; explanations are given as to their various names and specific tasks. I forget as soon as I am told; names are not important; function is.
Wind catches sail; boat lifts and surges like a bird on wing, away from the busy harbor. We look forward, over the bow: dark blue water; horizon line, blue sky dusted with cloud. That is all. There is a breeze this evening; conditions are very good.
The man asks, “Who’d like to steer?” and my cousin rises to take the wheel, a wooden, spoked wheel three feet in diameter. She stands, hands on wheel; boat eases into the turn as she rotates the wheel. The boat moves forward; sails full.
The boat was built 50 years ago in Germany, 56 feet long, and remains to this day all original. There is no fiberglass on this craft; no carbon fiber; no plastic. Instead, solid wood gleams in soft light and brass metalwork stands in a dullish counter to the wood. Teak boards, 18 inches wide, form sides of the cockpit; clear and straight and clean. The teak is the color of amber honey and as pure as if the honey was formed into planks, cut, milled, shaped, installed. All the wood is finished clear and looking at the wood is like looking into a stream that flows over golden sand.
It takes four to six weeks to sand and refinish the wood on the boat. They do it every year. The thought of it; sand, wipe, varnish, repeat, leads one to think of a Zen exercise as much as routine maintenance. It makes grousing over refinishing the wood gunwales on a canoe seem inconsequential.
When talk dies down all sound fades away save for the sound of boat over water, the shisssing as if cloth was being torn, evenly, consistently, endlessly.
We sail over dark water with no indication of depth; it may go on forever for all we know. All water holds mystery and none holds more mystery than deep water, deep and dark, water that holds no answer.
We spend two hours on the boat; pass cheese and prosciutto and paper cups of wine. All the time the wind blows steady and the boat rides high and proud and free. There is a world on shore but for this time it might was well not exist. By the time we return the sun is behind the trees and the shadows darken the shore and a nighttime chill comes down around us.
The next morning I wake before dawn, take the ferry, take a bus, head to Boston. At the Boson airport I wait for a flight home. It is a clear, sunny day; a good day to fly. The TV news chatter is on; background noise until I hear talk of the memorial service for the attacks of September 11; a clear, sunny day, that one, a good day to fly.
Someone asks: Is it weird to be flying on September 11 and out of the Boston airport at that? And I said it really wasn’t; seemed like any other day in any other airport even though, when you think of it, it probably was not and probably never will be again. You cannot sit in the waiting area of the Boston airport on September 11 of any year and not think of that day.
Then home on and on the weekend grouse season opens and I take Riika and Thor
to the woods. The woods are still more summer than fall, immersed in greenery rich and thick.
The high blue sky overhead rises on and on. All sky holds mystery, high and wide and going on forever, the sky holds no answer only mystery, and between the deep blue ocean water of two days before and the rising blue sky, one has to accept one’s insignificance in the scheme of things. Such thoughts bring a humbleness and some confusion and it is sometimes best, at times of overwhelming displays of power and glory, to focus on the single task at hand.
And so we hunt, my dogs and I, the dogs moved by the deep primal drive, the simple task of seeking scent. I, the same, but seeking the dogs instead of scent for in this realm they live in a different world that I.
There is light breeze and the leaf in the trees makes a sighing sound like cloth being torn, like the sound of water under hull of boat. The leaves are green now; give them two weeks and they will turn, turn to red and yellow and orange and blaze bright. Then fall to duff.
We do not hunt long; we cannot for Riika has aged and cannot go long. Her leg, repaired ACL still on the mend, will ache. And with all dogs the best we can do is protect them from themselves for left unchecked she would run until she could go no longer, would run until she did herself harm for such is her drive and her heart.
We hunt half an hour; that is enough for the first day, enough to keep Riika from damage, enough to set the stage for what is to come; for the long, intense season of the hunt. We do not see a bird, do not hear a bird, have no reason to think that birds exist at all in this patch of woods. But as with all hunters before the gun and before the boots and before any of the gear, before all this there is optimism and that is what kick starts any season, any hunt.
For now we are content to walk the woods under the arching sky and think of time and place and of deep water and high sky and nice days to fly and good days to follow a dog to the edge of a season of glory.
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post in downtown Rhinelander. Call (715) 362-5800. To comment on this story, visit StarJournalNow.com.