So much of Earth’s wonder is revealed only to those who leave her terra-firma, who venture out into the “watery part of the world” as Melville would say.
My own sea-given memories will forever follow me. Their constantly glowing embers rekindle, at unexpected times, the new chill of a changing wind, the silver glow of racing clouds across a full moon, the scent of wood smoke on a cold night, the embers flame and I am THERE.
I grasp the forward shrouds as a schooner’s deck lifts and falls beneath my feet. I watch her bowsprit stitch through green, marbled, white capped waves, like a needle sewing through a wrinkled sweater. I feel one with the earth that bore me. I watch a cloud line build toward a late summer squall, billowing high as heaven. Their white, high-topped puffs are kissed with orange edges by the waning sun. They assemble across the horizon like soldiers falling into formation, all of it reflected in the glass of a flat calm sea.
I draw in the chill scent of night, sea air mingling in my nose with below-deck, wood-fire smoke, feeling the warmth of good scotch course through my veins as the Northern Lights dance high above me, and I listen to the groan of a wooden hull, strain against heavy swells. I feel the burn in my palms and the ache of my biceps from hauling halyards, lifting sails on foremast and main. Sailing upwind, coming about on frequent tacks, close hauled as could be before relaxing into a broad reach, taking a well-deserved rest in a towering mainsail’s shadow.
I know the map of stars that glisten above me like diamonds on a black cloak of velvet. I watch August meteors race for their death against the silent witness of space. Below me, lamplight flickers orange through hatch cover squares, mingled with the music of a lone guitar. I stare through the rigging of a fresh morning, laced with the scent of fresh coffee, watching an empty, sea horizon but suddenly get a whiff of fresh cut grass and newly turned soil, telling me that land lurks somewhere just below earth’s curve. I gaze in awe at the terrible beauty of spider fingered lightning bolts dance on and claw at the sea surface and hear that displaced, late rumble of distant thunder. Clouds show their bruised, purple undersides as we rush to batten down.
Headsails fall quickly, sounding like cannon reports as they ripple and spill their wind. We glide to a stop in another protected harbor. The anchor drops. Drinks are poured. Another done day is toasted to. All of these are secrets that the sea keeps from the land locked.
Jack Comeau is the author of Distress Signal, a 2012 novel set on Nantucket.