Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Watery Meditation

On one of my recent night rambles I found myself drawn back to Key West Bight to walk the waterfront during my lunch break. It's a place I visit frequently when I'm at a loose end downtown, not least because it makes for excellent people watching, but also because there are always photographic possibilities. And then there is the water itself. I like the flat, swell-free waters of the Florida Keys, and I find myself having to apologize to myself for my taste in undramatic seascapes. After twenty years living alongside the crashing coastline of Central California, I take great pleasure in the reef-protected flatness, the horizon obliterating sameness of sea and sky on a silent summer morning. That these waters are usually warm enough to bathe in is just a bonus. An extra bonus if your grammar leads you that way.I enjoy the heat of a summer's night, the smell of salty water which for some reason reminds me of watermelons, all sweet and sticky. I like the quiet noises of a Key west marina,gentle creaks, minor sloshings of boats loosely tied to docks. When I lived on my boat tied to a floating dock in Santa Cruz's Small Craft Harbor, the night was punctuated by waves slapping hard underneath the dock and the bearings creaked and groaned in agony as the tide rose and fell. It's all much calmer in Key west, much less dramatic once the drunks have gone home and tumbled into bed. But as I walk the boardwalk at three in the morning I can spot the little telltales that indicate someone tucked up below decks. A cable television wire for instance, like a rat tail slipping into a port hole:I have listened to the President and the Chairman of the federal Reserve try to reassure us that the worst is over and our economy has turned the mythical corner. Frankly I don't believe them, I find it hard to imagine a strong economy rising up out of a blasted heath of unemployment, false accounting and endless support of insolvency with public monies. So, despite the sighs of relief I hear from the top, I remain a financial sceptic. In my gloomier moments I wonder if things will force us back to a boat, a floating home, not exactly a fate worse than death but...I like our life ashore for now and I would be annoyed should I be forced out. Yet my wife admonishes me, she says we could easily move back onto a boat if we had to, we know how to live with less. We two could even live without a rubber duck between us:My wife and I have lived off the grid as we sailed, we lived without schedules, without work, stretching our money. We bought ourselves a couple of years afloat by selling her convertible (my hated Honda Goldwing was long gone already, I hated that overweight monstrosity once I got over it's overwhelming power). It was easy enough to adapt to life without certainty, to sleep without air conditioning, to live with a new horizon constantly in one's face while paradoxically surrounded by one's own familiar home. Yes, I figure, we could do that again, live on 5 gallons a day of fresh water, on 30 amps of 12 volt electricity, on a dozen gallons of fuel in a busy week. I've done it once I guess I could do it again, and I sigh at the thought.Thinking about an empty Schooner Wharf Bar before dawn reminds me of my wife's indignation when I proposed sailing away. "What?" she said, "give up eating out at restaurants?" she was incredulous. She laughs now, thinking back to that yuppie world we left behind and we laugh at me worrying so hard I was fit to be tied before we cast off. Once done it becomes easy and easier as time goes by. If called upon again we could live by our wits instead of our routines. Perhaps that's why I'm drawn back to the waterfront, for reassurance, for a reminder that as someone wrote in quoting Tom Wolfe, the past is prologue. I hope not, but I suppose it's entirely possible dinghy butt my be sooner in my future than I think.