Hulls and Humanity

While Galveston was seeking new ways to celebrate Mardi Gras and South Padre Island continued to hope for a successful spring break, Port O’Connor began cleaning rods and repairing reels in anticipation of the spring flounder run.

Port O’Connor knows how to party, but in Port O’Connor, fishing comes first.  Lying at the end of the coastal road, clinging to the edge of Matagorda Bay like a derelict boat that refuses to die, the town is salted with spray: rusted and grayed, weathered from decades of storms. At first glance, she seems an unpromising destination, but beneath the surface of her bays, redfish and  trout school and scatter. Beyond the intracoastal waterway, across the barrier island and over the dunes, surfcasters work the waves; offshore, marlin, snapper, and tarpon lure the adventurous with the promise of exhilarating combat.

Some years ago, I spent time in Port O’Connor maintaining a classic sailboat. Owned by land-locked partners who wanted to keep their boat near the Gulf for easy access to offshore sailing, it was a delightful opportunity. I labored through the days sun-lit and warm as a basking turtle; evenings were filled with equal delights. After dinners of fresh-caught shrimp or fish, a lamp-lit cabin and uninterrupted time for reading or sleep were there for the taking. If I happened back onto the dock to gaze at stars or watch passing barges, an old fellow who lived aboard two slips down sometimes came to visit, glad for a few minutes of conversation.

The man loved to tell stories, and his tales were memorable. Generally, they involved long, intricate meanders through the details of weekend bar fights: harmless confrontations fueled by drink and boredom. But he watched visitors to the marina with a sharp eye, and recounted their antics with amusement.

My favorite of his stories, a Hemingwayesque account of a young man and the bay, involved a novice who went out to fish in a lightweight dingy without a motor. He hooked the big one he’d always dreamed of, then found he couldn’t land it. The fish towed the dingy across the flats until the line broke. At that point in the story, between snorts and guffaws, the old story-teller would gasp, “Damn fool never thought to cut his line, but even if he’d had the thought, it wasn’t gonna happen, ’cause he didn’t have a knife. No knife! Who goes fishing without a knife?”

Sometimes the old man shared his recipe for ceviche, or bragged on the boys who hang trophy marlins, or reminisced about the old days, when life was simpler. Always, he ended with The Storm. The Storm was Carla, the mythic hurricane that landed on Matagorda’s shores long before Katrina, Rita, Harvey, or Ike provided their own dramatic narratives.

Carla was a Cecil B. DeMille kind of storm: a storm so vast, so compelling, that decades later people still gasped at the memories. Carla carried wheat straw from fields and drove it into the brick walls of homes. She left rattlesnakes hanging from trees, and broke the legs of cattle. Her unearthly howl so unnerved one woman that she ran into her back yard and howled back in defiance, until her panic-stricken family dragged her back into the house and made her drink whiskey.

Almost as an afterthought, Carla raged through Port O’Connor’s collection of boats. Skiffs and jon boats were scattered or destroyed. Shrimp trawlers plowed into fields; sport fishers were carried inland by the surge. Barges forced miles inland were strewn up and down major highways like old-fashioned toys. When it was over, there was nothing to do but gaze over the scene in numbed astonishment and think, Well.

Loss wrought by storms is at least understandable. When wind, waves, and surge tear at rigging and batter hulls for hours at a time, some boats will survive, but many let go before the implacable forces of nature, tossing and tumbling to their deaths.

What isn’t so easily understood is death by inattention: the death of a boat that’s been abandoned — left neglected and lonely, allowed to rot away in marshes, at docks, or on out-of-the-way moorings.

Like dogs or cats callously thrown into the world to fend for themselves, unwanted and unloved boats know they’ve been abandoned, and they grieve. Deserted by owners too busy to give them care, relinquished in favor of other pursuits, cast off as no longer romantic or affordable, they are ownerless in truth if not in fact.

Bereft of attention, they begin to decline. Unused hoses harden and crack. Unlubricated winches seize up; barnacles colonize the bottom. Rust blooms, paint flakes, and hanging gardens of algae begin to ring the waterline. Eventually, as time and weather shred the canvas and dry the wood, the boat begins to settle on her lines, leaning inexorably into dereliction.

Anyone familiar with boats has seen it happen, and knows the truth. A boat has to be loved, used, and maintained, lest it die. But when inattention has led to a boat’s dereliction or seeming death, nothing satisfies more than bringing it back to life.

The process of restoration is neither mysterious nor complicated. The only requirements — apart from money — are a few simple tools, a good bit of time,  and a high tolerance for tedium. It’s also helpful to understand that 19th century techniques don’t always lend themselves to 21st century schedules, and to have a passing acquaintance with the basics of weather. But with diligence and focus, even the worst damage can be undone. With patience and persistence, wood turns silky, fiberglass shines, and machinery that clanked, rattled, and banged begins to quietly hum like an absorbed and happy child.

As work progresses and the boat begins to realize that she’ll sail again, you can sense the signs of new life. A boat with hopes of leaving the dock rides differently in the water. The rigging no longer howls like a woman facing down a storm; it sings in the breeze with overtones of satisfaction and joy. When a boat no longer feels abandoned, when she once again hears the call of the sea, she begins to gaze into the depths of her watery mirrors with a sense of restored dignity. 

When I find myself working on a more-or-less abandoned boat, it becomes  impossible not to think of parallels between its condition and the plight of people left to bob and rot in the backwaters of society. Decades ago, ‘derelict’ was a word reserved for bums, drifters, and vagrants. To be called derelict was to face moral judgements built upon assumptions that you were negligent, undependable, untrustworthy, and irresponsible.

Certainly, there are irresponsible and deeply untrustworthy people in the world, just as there are people who seemingly prefer disconnected and unproductive lives. But some who wander our world have more in common with derelict boats than with skidrow bums or amoral profiteers. Abandoned by family, neglected by friends, or rejected by the institutions and structures of society, their dereliction is less a matter choice than of circumstance.

If transformation is to come, what holds true for boats will be no less true for such people. No matter how damaged a heart, no matter how hardened its lines, no matter how tattered its dreams or hard its grounding onto the shoals of unhappiness, there is nothing that time, patience and loving attention cannot restore.

Repairing a heart certainly requires dedication, an acceptance of the vicissitudes of daily life, and a willingness to engage in repetitively difficult or unpleasant tasks. Certainly it profits from steady faith and a willingness to believe that even when the past makes its presence known, even when its reflections linger and shimmer in the brightness of newer days, all of the shabbiness, disrepair, and simple ugliness of dereliction eventually can be undone.

In a season dedicated to exchanging hearts as tokens of affection, it’s worth pausing a moment to ponder these less romantic realities of life and love. Somewhere, docked at the edges of our lives, moored just beyond our concern, run aground in a marsh of indifference or neglect, a derelict heart leans inexorably toward desolation: forsaken and forlorn. It may be time to begin its restoration.

Comments always are welcome.

151 thoughts on “Hulls and Humanity

  1. The same thing happens with small private airplanes. Drive by almost any airport and you’ll find a derelict old airplane sitting with flat tires, yellow windows, faded paint. Sad. My dad used to theorize that divorce was the cause of a lot of these cases.

    1. Sometimes, it’s not even divorce. I’ve known a few boaters who were passionate about their vessels, but their spouses couldn’t be bothered. One spends time on the dock, just messing about, while the other goes shopping, or gardening, or whatever. Sometimes the conflicts can be resolved, but sometimes the boat (like a child with squabbling parents) is the one that suffers.

      1. Every little bit helps. Thanks for your part of it. Knowing when to leave that determined derelict to his/her own devices… that’s a hard one. At the very least, we keep praying.

        1. When I moved to south Texas to serve a congregation there, one of the first bits of advice I received from some members involved people coming to the church from the nearby highway, asking for help. The practice was not to give money, but to tell the people that you’d be happy to take them to the little restaurant in town, where they could get a good meal. Then, if they needed clothing, they could select some things from our stash. Most accepted gratefully, but some weren’t interested if they couldn’t get cash. It was an odd sort of triage, but it wasn’t the worst solution in the world.

  2. If I ever found myself in need of restoration I would hope to fall into your kind and loving hands. Your heart is as big as the ocean which gives you, and all the lovely boats you so carefully tend, life. Derelict, unwanted, neglected, left to decay, are the saddest words and the most heart breaking concepts to contemplate. I’d rather face a storm.

    1. I’ve been thinking about the differences between dereliction and natural decline, too. For some reason, a tumbled down stone fence, or an old barn or schoolhouse, feels different. There must be some clues that indicate ‘this is the natural aging process,’ and some that say, ‘this one deserves better.’ Maybe it’s knowing that in different hands, objects like a boat might never have begun to decline. In any even, I agree: dereliction is far worse than natural destruction.

    1. And that’s just what I think about your part of the county: so different, and interesting. You have Lake Michigan, and the UP, and American Spoon, and the Trenary bakery, after all! To be honest, you have better lighthouses, too. That’s part of the fun of this blogging endeavor — getting to see the differences from around the country.

      Of course, right now our ground is covered in snow and its 18F. That’s not so very different!

    1. Thanks, John. Sometimes my transitions make perfect sense to me. It’s always nice when they do to other people, too. I hope the state will devote a little extra attention to the power grid once this is over. It’s another example of how neglect (of planning, if nothing else) can cause a good bit of trouble.

            1. Seems that the turbines slow down in the cold and then eventually are taken offline to keep them from getting damaged. Mostly they are the older ones who have already reached their end of life but are still being used.

            2. As so often happens, spending money on maintenance and equipment isn’t sexy and never attractive to political pockets.
              Sadly, what no one seems to recognise is the longer these things are allowed to be put off, the higher will be the outlay for equipment and more complicated (and therefore higher cost) are the necessary repairs after equipment failure and procrastination is no longer an option. In the long run, regular maintenance and necessary upgrades are a much better deal for the Public Purse.

  3. Good storytellers have become quite rare in our times of TV, radio and hundreds of other media. So I understand your pleasure to listen to the man with his tall stories. Thanks for this interesting post on hulls and humanity!

    1. There are a lot of good story tellers around, but a story teller needs a story, and far too many people depend on prepackaged and recycled material from social media for their stories. The rely on memes rather than experience, and it really makes a difference. I suppose that’s one reason I enjoy listening to fishermen, hunters, and boaters — as well as hikers, farmers, and explorers. Their stories are grounded in the real world, and every one is different.

  4. Wonderful essay, Linda–beautifully told. You bring your subjects to life, even the poor, abandoned boats!! While I’m not a boat person or marina savvy, I did grow up on the coast and remember several hurricanes well.

    1. Now we’re going to have to deal with the poor, abandoned plants and frozen pipes. It’s not a hurricane, but it’s certainly going to do as much damage. They’ve having a conference call at 3:30 for Galveston county officials, to try to figure out a way to help people dependent on electricity for health reasons: oxygen and such. It’s a mess.

      There are a lot of boaters who are going to be caught short, too. Outboards that aren’t properly drained or larger boats that counted on electricity to keep things functional and safe are going to have problems. I’ll be interested to get to the marinas and see how things are.

    1. Perhaps we just don’t notice. So many people who could use a helping hand or a generous heart are nearly invisible; they don’t often put themselves forward, or demand attention. They’re not the red tent in the middle of the lake — they’re the trees at the edge.

  5. Wonderful essay Linda.
    You have a new reader tonight, a writer friend of mine, a sailor, a captain, and a big hearted person who appreciates a well written story. Especially where boats and hearts are concerned.

    1. I remember your sailing experiences; I know you appreciate boats, and a good boat story. Thanks to your friend for reading, too. No matter how we travel, the stories are worth the telling.

  6. Thoughtful writing, deep and with meaning. I feel grief for neglected boats, as I do for gardens fallen onto hard times. Care, is love in action. Transformation is needed across all society.

    1. I’ve often said that writing is easy; thinking is hard. Copy editing is one thing, but editing for coherent thought is something else. I’m always happy when I manage it.

      I’d not considered gardens, but they certainly can fall into disrepair, as well. The thing about gardens is — they can restore themselves. I enjoy finding the clumps of daffodils or amaryllis that mark an old homestead. There may be nothing left but half a wall or some steps, but the flowers are there as a token of someone’s earlier care.

    1. I sure have read that. That’s why I amused myself with that reference to “the young man and the bay.” And you’re right that the old man may have borne some resemblance, too.

  7. I once restored a 1954 Chris Craft 19′ inboard. The Coast Guard used to turn on their lights and siren and pull us over just so they could come aboard and see it more closely. We felt like celebrities.

    During this time of COVID, there’s no excuse not to do those heart restorations. It doesn’t take a lot of time. It just takes a willingness to make the first move, to listen, and to give the other “hull” a feeling of usefulness and value.

    1. Was that Chris Craft one of the racing runabouts? It must have been. There’s one named “Flyer” that was at the Concours d’Elegance, an antique car and boat show held here, a couple of years ago. Good gosh, those things are beautiful. I’ve only had the chance to work on one similar boat, but it was quite an experience. No wonder the Coasties wanted a look!

      And, yes. It’s not that hard to accomplish other sorts of restorations. Getting the old finish off can be a challenge, but it’s not impossible.

  8. A bittersweet Valentine’s Day post, Linda. Make you think.

    Every now and then, the local paper will write up something about all the abandoned boats littering our waterways and causing boating hazards here. I’m not sure of all the legal ins and outs but I think the authorities try to trace the owner, fine them and force them to remove the rotting hulk. I don’t think they’re very successful at finding said owners and there’s a lot of fussing about the cost for the city, county or whoever to contract out the job.

    1. There’s not a thing wrong with candy hearts and roses, but sometimes the day seems to deserve a bit more.

      We have clean up days a couple of times a year: once for boats, and once for all the old crab traps that are floating around (or not floating, in most cases). This year’s crab trap removal is taking place this week. Volunteers play a big role, and it’s really a big deal. No one wants to run into one of those traps with their own boat. There are similar programs for turning in derelict boats. Generally speaking, those are the ones that only have a stern or a bow sticking out of the water — if anything is sticking out at all. They need to be gone, since they’re hazards to navigation.

  9. Wonderful piece of prose, Linda, which I thoroughly enjoy reading. My experience has been that some derelict boats have owners that still laid claim to them even though they don’t lift a hand to maintain them. Those boats, I steer clear off like I would the forlorn foghorn of a lonely lighthouse.

    1. That’s right. If an owner isn’t maintaining the things you can see, the things you can’t see probably haven’t been maintained, either. Rule #72 in the varnisher’s handbook: if you’d going to refinish a mast from a bosn’s chair on a boat you don’t know intimately, insist on a brand new halyard.

  10. I’m fascinated by your smooth transition from boats to hearts, Linda, and I find myself nodding in agreement. I imagine there’s something to be said for regular maintenance on anything we own. Now that you point it out, I’ve noticed my car seems more sprightly after a good wash or visit to the garage for an oil change — love the mental picture of a boat receiving some TLC and being ready to tackle the waves once again!

    1. That’s why, after I got Princess home from her little road adventure and engine replacement, I took her directly to the car wash for a nice bath and a wax. I swear it makes a difference, just as you say. Of course, I tell customers that a nice varnish job makes their boats go faster, too. Some laugh, but I think a few believe it. It may just be that when their boat looks nice, their extra pride in its appearance makes them more attentive sailors.

        1. Well, yes — except that the hulls aren’t varnished. Down here, there aren’t any wooden boats that regularly cruise around. The wooden ones are mostly show pieces that come out for special occasions.

    1. Boats (and storytelling) inspire your most vivid writing. This post was fun to read!
      Hearts need kindness for repair. It’s hard to reach out and offer kindness in these days, when we are more isolated.

        1. We are improving. I missed a couple of important appointments this week, but when I was out yesterday the roads in my area were clear and dry, and this morning it’s already 30 degrees. What a world, when something below freezing still seems like an improvement!

      1. Now, that’s the sort of response I was hoping for — a little enjoyment to go along with the more serious issues of the day. Some of my most enjoyable — and important — experiences have involved boats, so I suppose it makes sense that my writing about them should have a little extra resonance. As for the need for kindness: yes. I’ve had about enough of sarcasm and snark, although a few bits of sharp commentary may be coming down the road. We’ll see.

  11. What a beautiful analogy! And you’re right, very few things, or people, are beyond restoration. Someone just has to care enough to put in the time….but when they do, the rewards are so worth it.

    1. I wasn’t sure I could make the analogy work, but it seems I did. I’m glad you enjoyed it. You certainly address some of the same concerns in your blog, and do it well. Perhaps if more and more of us communicate the same message in our different ways, it will begin to resonate.

  12. As you so often do, you start us in one space, and ever so gently but deliberately, move us toward another place entirely. I think of houses as having a soul or heart; I never thought of boats as having one but I can see why you say this and how very clearly you have discovered it first hand. It makes perfect sense. I regret to say that in my past, I have had my role in more than a bit of deferred maintenance; it took a Rick to make me realize how critical it is and how much it matters. Whenever I am thinking of putting something off again, I will be bringing the images of these boats to mind. A valuable lesson for us all.

    1. What’s interesting about pieces like this one is that I’m not always sure where they’re going. I never start with anything resembling those old high school outlines (Intro/Points A,B,C, Conclusion). It’s more like following the words to see where they’ll lead. At some point I’ll say, “Oh. So this is what it’s about” — and only then do things begin to fall into place.

      I can see your affection for houses — places — in your watercolors. The cabin at the lake, the various homes you’ve stayed in during your travels — you connect with them in a way I don’t. I can think of only one place that affected me that way, and it was the hill country cabin. Maybe it’s because retreat cabins and such are so intimately connected with the natural world, and with escape.

      Anyway. Yes, maintenance deferred often is chaos waiting to happen. I’ve had my own experiences with “One of these days, I really need to…” and it doesn’t always end well. We’ve got a gigantic example going on in Texas right now. People aren’t freezing in their homes because it got cold. They’re freezing because the people responsible for the grid failed in their planning and decision making — not to mention their ability to imagine a worst case scenario based on past events. But that’s a grump for later. Right now, it’s just a matter of getting people through it — especially the poor and the homeless.

  13. Beautifully written and humane, Linda, both for boats and people. Poetic. I never know where your longer pieces are going to take us. That’s half the fun. How are you surviving the icy Texas weather? It reminds me of Alaska, with the difference being that Alaskans expect and are prepared for it. –Curt

    1. Well, I just got my power back. It was only out for about a half hour. I’m hoping they were cycling, like they do when they bring us up after thunderstorms. While the power was off, I couldn’t use my iPad because I had no wifi, and Verizon wasn’t connecting. I just found out that cell phone service is starting to break down over the region as back up generators at towers are freezing or running out of fuel, or both. The wind generators are frozen, the South Texas Nuclear Plant is offline because of frozen whatevers, and we’re headed to a low of …um… 14F. Oh, my.

      Sometimes I don’t know where these pieces are going to take me, Curt. This one’s been rolling around for a long time, and it finally jelled. I’m glad it pleased you.

      1. We’ve been keeping up on the Texas weather via Peg’s brother, Linda. And he has been out of power more than with. And of course, the media. This morning I read about the Texas mayor of Colorado City who told his constituents that they just had to toughen up. He was tired of all the whining. He has since resigned. Apparently his constituents didn’t have much of a sense of humor about his empathy. He’s resigned.
        As for your writing, I am always willing to follow you down any path you choose to go on. –Curt

    1. I wouldn’t have believed the straw into bricks myself, had I not known the people it happened to, and seen the photo. They were still living in the same house — and left the straw in place until it finally rotted away! It was gone by the time I met them, but it was something to listen to their stories.

      1. I recall seeing a photograph in an issue of National Geographic (way, WAY back!) of an intact piece of straw that had been found after hurricane winds had driven it into and totally buried in a utility pole…

        1. My ‘favorite’ hurricane image after Ike was the juxtaposition of a destroyed house and the string of pearls hanging on a tree next to it. You can’t like the destruction, but it’s impossible not to be amazed by the craziness of it all.

  14. Profound piece of writing, shoreacres. Restoration is needed is so many areas of our lives right now. Even though we don’t live near a large body of water, we do have area lakes and a beautiful river that runs through my hometown. And I often see those forlorn, old boats left to ruin and wonder why. But I also wonder the same thing about abandoned homes I also see out here in the country. On another note, having witnessed first hand the strange and unbelievable sights left from a tornado’s destruction, I can certainly believe the straw hurled into bricks via an overpowering hurricane.

    1. You sure have experienced some of the same effects that hurricanes produce. It’s not just the strength of the forces that come with such storms; it’s the oddities of the effects. I remember seeing a photo of a house that had three walls stripped away by a tornado. On the fourth wall, there was a china cabinet with all of the crystal intact. Inexplicable.

      The restoration many of us are hoping for now is the restoration of electricity and cell service. Once this winter chaos is over and the thaw begins, the need for restoration isn’t going to end. The damage done by burst water pipes is going to be overwhelming — almost as overwhelming as the anger of people who’ve been forced to living in sub-freezing temperatures with no power, for days. Tree limbs on power lines is one thing. Poor planning is another, and it will be interesting to see what, if any, consequences are faced by people who didn’t do their jobs. It was as much a failure of imagination as anything — or, as the old saying has it, “Just because something hasn’t happened doesn’t mean that it can’t happen.”

  15. Wonderful and well told. I think that the value of kindness is often underrated, but it’s what we most need in our world today, and maybe it’s always been so. It goes a long way to righting so many things.

  16. “… their dereliction is less a matter choice than of circumstance.” That’s a profound truth that seems to baffle some people. I like your ability to relate an abandoned boat to the ways in which some people have experienced their lives. Sad, but true.

    1. It can be hard learning to deal with unhappy circumstances, too. That’s one reason I worry about kids whose parents never allow them to experience failure, or who do everything for them. We learn problem solving skills by solving problems, and if we’ve learned to deal with the little ones, the big ones aren’t quite so daunting. Dealing with the physical world’s importnat, too. It teaches another big truth: that actions have consequences. Sand with the grain, and wood is lovely. Sand against the grain, and no amount of varnish will hide the marks.

  17. For our wedding in 1972 CD’s old Girl Scout camp counselor made us a gift of her beloved but under-used 17-foot aluminum Grumman canoe that was already almost 30 years old at the time. We named her Sacajawea. She has served us faithfully ever since, and has stood up to many a dent and scrape in the intervening years. In 2007 and into 2008 we started to work on her to try to bring her back into a semblance of her younger self, but the effort seemed worthy of Sisyphus and we couldn’t seem to find the time necessary to devote to the task. So before we closed down the cabin in the fall of 2008 we put her into the hands of a local artisan who said he could restore her over the winter. The day when he delivered her back to us in the spring of 2009 was one of the best days in mutual north-woods memory. I thought that I had done a post on her restoration, but I see that I was mistaken. I may very well have to rectify that soon (and when I do, I’ll include a link back to this inspiring post of yours).

    1. I’d love to read that story, and see some photos, too. You’ve mentioned the canoe a good bit, and sometimes showed photos that included it, but never a closeup that I remember. I’d have at least a clue about how to go about restoring a wooden one, but the thought of trying it with one made of aluminum stops me cold. I wouldn’t know where to start.

      What a great name you gave her. I assume you still have her, and that she’s up at the cabin. That’s just another reason to hope for getting back there sooner rather than later.

  18. Such an evocative piece of prose, Linda. I enjoyed every sentence of it. Of course, I suppose I could pick a favorite part and who would not love the tale of someone howling at a hurricane? How fortunate too you were to have a grizzled bay veteran to regale you with tales only he could tell.

    I’ve asked myself similar questions when being given a almost totally destroyed or worn out antique cabinet that needs its life restored. How could someone let a beautiful old piece fall apart? I once had a contractor come to my house, actually the guy who built the addition on our house that became my shop, and laugh himself silly when he saw that I was “wasting my time” restoring a 300 year old chest of drawers that looked like Carla had rampaged it. Once finished, the owners would have scorned his opinion. While it is a shame to see those once loved boats become rust buckets there is also a certain beauty and poignancy to them and therefore a good reason why so many photographers seek them out for imaging.

    I just saw your response to Gary above this box I am filling and hope that your power has been restored. It must be frustrating to have it on and off repeatedly as Steve has experienced up around Austin.

    1. I never met the woman who howled into the wind; she’d passed on before I met her family members. But I can well imagine the response; it reminds me of stories I’ve read about pioneer women in the emptiness of the prairies who went a little crazy. I’ve been in the house that accumulated the wheat straw, too. Some of the effects of nature are unfathomable.

      People don’t always understand that restoration and refinishing are different. I do mostly refinishing, but I’m in the middle of a project now that comes close to restoration, and it certainly gives me some appreciation for your work on that chest. I suspect you understand my little joke when people ask me how to restore certain things. I say, “Just rub enough money on it, and it’ll be fine.”

      As for winter delights, I’m one of the lucky ones. I lost power twice, for a couple of hours each time, but it’s been on since it came back yesterday. I have water, too, and we’ve been above freezing since this afternoon, so I think any lines around here would have broken if they were going to. There’s no predicting, of course. We are under a boil water order, but that’s fairly easy to cope with: at least for those of us who have both water and power. I made sure to have two really big plastic containers filled with utility water, and plenty of bottled water. Prepper skills are transferable from hurricanes to ice storms.

            1. Same here with my investments, such as they are. All in mutual funds that sit and grow steadily. I don’t have much but it’s more and more each year in a reliable Fidelity fund with no withdrawals…except for the minimum required distribution.

  19. Your prose stirred memories of younger days vacationing in the bayous and waters of Lake Ponchartrain. Uncle Jewel (my ex husband’s uncle) was a pivotal man in my life. He’d begun life as a landlubber, which never suited him. He was drawn to the sea and moved to Louisiana as a young man. Every year we visited him in May to feast on soft-shelled crab and gobble up flats of strawberries. We fished every day – though Uncle Jewel and I boated alone in a smaller craft since his friends voiced “we don’t want no black cat on our vessel”. I learned a lot about life, being happy and not having regrets. He spoke of caring for the things that mattered – people and the tools of a trade. The things he loved, loved him back. We can all be that person who cares and nurtures, who teaches and considers. Doing unto others as you would have them do unto you reaches much farther than a good deed. It’s the way of life and love…

    1. Your remark that your Uncle Jewel “spoke of caring for the things that mattered — people and the tools of a trade” brought to mind something that Annie Dillard included in her book about writing. She said that, “In working-class France, when an apprentice got hurt, or when he got tired, the experienced workers said, “It is the trade entering his body.”

      That’s it, exactly. It’s like you with your deer or me with my varnish. There comes a point where you simply know what to do, and when someone asks how to replicate the effect that’s been created, there’s no way to tell them. There’s no formula, or recipe, as there is with a cake. It’s a deeper, intuitive knowledge of what’s right and what’s wrong, based on years of experience. It’s immensely satisfying — as you know.

  20. A superb and absorbing essay!

    I have been owned by several boats during my lifetime and parting with each one was difficult. Spending long hours afloat requires that you trust your craft. In turn, your craft trusts you to keep her ship-shape.

    And now you have reminded me it’s time to reach out once more. There is a heart which is still a restoration in progress that needs attention.

    Thank you for sharing your talent.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it, Wally. Your remark about being ‘owned’ by several boats rings true, and everyone who’s had that sort of relationship knows the pangs that come with having to sever it — whatever the reason. Even William F. Buckley, Jr., had the experience; I wrote about that here.

      You also brought to mind these words from Tristan Jones. They’re true as true can be:

      “A makeshift craft will not do for any kind of serious voyaging. Skippers and crews are influenced above all by the temperament of the vessel they sail, and they adjust themselves to her living spirit. That a yacht can be but a machinelike convenience for sailing to distant lands is an illustion. She must be more. She must live, and she must be made to live. She must have the character, the turn of temperament, the high spirit, to dwell in salt water — with the flow of the wave, with something of the wind, captured in her very bones.”

      Makes me want to raise a sail again — as soon as it warms up, of course.

  21. That is such a beautiful invitation to see the world – of people, of boats, of more – differently. Thank you for this. I hope you are surviving the winter weather. I have been thinking about you and your fellow Texans. Such extreme weather for your part of the world. Peace…

    1. ‘Seeing differently’ is a key to so much in the world. Needless to say, there are people who are seeing certain Texas regulatory agencies differently this week.

      It’s been a hard week, although I’ve not suffered as much as some. I lost power for a while, but not significantly, and I have water. Thanks to my somewhat obsessive interest in the weather, I saw this one coming, and have enough water, food, and battery power to last another two weeks. Since it’s supposed to be 60F by this weekend, I don’t think I’ll need it!

    1. Thanks, Steve. I think it might appeal to the editor of a magazine who’s published others of my pieces. Perhaps I’ll run it past him once our current weather crisis has ended.

      I hope you have your power back, and no broken plumbing. Galveston was hit harder than we were, although most of the Island has heat now. Water’s a problem, but it is everywhere. Current warnings include, “Don’t stand under the icicles!” I’ve seen photos of some that became four to six feet long as the melting commenced. That’s heavy enough to do some real damage.

      1. Some years ago after I posted a picture of rare icicles high on a cliff a reader from Ontario warned me about the dangers of getting beneath them. This Tuesday and Thursday I again reveled in taking icicle pictures in Great Hills Park.

        We’ve gotten our power back; people in some parts of our area are still without. A boil-water notice has been in effect since Wednesday night.

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. This is one of those pieces that gave me particular enjoyment, too. Finishing and publishing it was a good antidote to the winter outside.

  22. I am not a boatman in that I don’t own a boat, but I have always loved boats, sailing and being on the sea. Like you, I find it sad to see boats abandoned and not maintained. Particularly wooden boats as I think is the case for the boats in the photo. Decay aside, I loved your writing. Made me sail again. (As much as I don’t have a real boat, I still enjoy kayaking, diving, fishing and other activities in and around the sea).

    1. What a nice thing to say — that the piece took you back to sailing. I think there’s something about the sea that stirs something primal, even in people who don’t work or recreate on it. Like sunrises and sunsets, or fire, the ocean always is changing, and yet always the same. It’s fascinating — I’ve read that more people remember the first stanza of Longfellow’s poem than any other:

      “The tide rises, the tide falls,
      The twilight darkens, the curlew calls;
      Along the sea-sands damp and brown
      The traveller hastens toward the town,
      And the tide rises, the tide falls….”

  23. I think of structures decline causing a certain degree of sadness whatever the reason, I often wonder what must it have been like in its heyday? Certainly that would be true of boats, ships I read of that have been mothballed, too. I’ve never lived through a hurricane other than through the stories and photos of others. Fishermen seem to be unique tellers of tales over and above the classic exaggeration of a fish’s size or the one that got away.

    1. We’re certainly going to have a lot to restore after this pandemic is over, and just now most of the people I know are having to work at restoring their gardens and plumbing after our terrible cold snap. It’s nice to reflect, and realize that there’s much that can be brought back with care and attention.

    1. I think a little restoration of routine will be good, too! I somehow missed your comment here. I’ll plead frozen brain after our rare experience of ‘real’ winter! Then, I’ll join you in a toast to every sort of restoration.

        1. Warmer temps not only are on the way, they’re here. Predictions are for the 80s later this week, before another cool-down to more seasonable 60s. The buds are showing, and the birds are pairing up. On Saturday, I couldn’t help laughing as I drove down a local road. A pair of crows was walking along the shoulder, for all the world like a couple out for a stroll. What made me laugh? One was carrying a beakful of grasses, no doubt meant for a nest. Maybe they still were looking for a suitable location.

  24. Thank you for this. Though the connection might seem oblique, your elegant tale resonated strongly with an interview I watched today of a newly minted County legislator named Barrington Atkins. He is a gentle fellow, on a mission to do good in his corner of the world. Among other things, he works with what many would deem “throwaway” teenage boys, using his skills and empathy to try and reclaim them.

    1. That was an interesting interview. I enjoyed hearing his perspectives on the field; it certainly has changed since I got my degree in the 70s. Still, there were similarities between his work today and my work in hospitals as a medical social worker. Restoration does take many forms.

      I did have to laugh when he mentioned Poughkeepsie. I used to know some bloggers who frequently moaned about their muses taking off for exotic locales: Paris, Strasbourg, Calcutta. Sometimes I’d have a little fun, and say that my muse had departed for Poughkeepsie. It may not have amused anyone else, but it amused me.

  25. Haha, well, as you may know, you are not alone in mentioning Poughkeepsie in such a context:

    Suddenly There’s Poughkeepsie ~Grace Paley
    December 16, 2007

    what a hard time
    the Hudson River has had
    trying to get to the sea

    it seemed easy enough to
    rise out of Tear of
    the Cloud and tumble
    and run in little skips
    and jumps draining
    a swamp here and
    there acquiring
    streams and other smaller
    rivers with similar
    longings for the wide
    imagined water

    there’s Poughkeepsie
    except for its spelling
    an ordinary town but
    the great heaving
    ocean sixty miles away is
    determined to reach
    that town every day
    and twice a day in fact
    drowning the Hudson River
    in salt and mud
    it is the moon’s tidal
    power over all the waters
    of this earth at war with
    gravity the Hudson
    perseveres moving down
    down dignified
    slower look it has
    become our Lordly Hudson
    hardly flowing
    and we are
    now in a poem by the poet
    Paul Goodman be quiet heart
    home home
    then the sea

    1. What a wonderful poem. I know I’ve heard Grace Paley’s name, but I don’t think I’d read anything by her. I did read the Art of Fiction interview with her in the Paris Review, and loved this:

      “People often ask Grace Paley why she has written so little—three story collections and three chapbooks of poetry in seventy years. Paley has a number of answers to this question. Mostly she explains that she is lazy and that this is her major flaw as a writer. Occasionally she will admit that, though it is “not nice” of her to say so, she believes that she can accomplish as much in a few stories as her longer-winded colleagues do in a novel. And she points out that she has had many other important things to do with her time, such as raising children and participating in politics. “Art,” she explains, “is too long, and life is too short.”

      Amen, Sister!

  26. As usual I marvel at your word pictures such as “hanging gardens of algae begin to ring the waterline” and pine that I did not have a teacher such as you in my former days. The heart you have given these relics moves me to respect even old worn-out and forsaken treasures. I have had some of the same emotions for old cars or buildings but would not be able to put words to the paper as you do. Thanks for eating of my simple fare and drawing me into your writing kingdom.

    1. Such kind words, Oneta. There’s a school of writing advice that suggests we should write what we know, but I’ve never tended that way. I’d rather write about what I don’t know, and learn about it in the process, or write about what I love. It seems like a better way to avoid boring my readers to death!

      Like you, I love old cars, old farm machinery, old buildings. I don’t believe in ghosts, precisely, but I do think there’s some way that the spirits of the people who were associated with such objects still linger: even if it’s only in our imaginations, as we try to reconstruct their worlds.

      I’m glad you enjoyed my algae gardens! I favor accidental gardens, too. This week at the marina, I passed henbit, clover, and sow thistle blooming along the edge of the sidewalk. Some call them weeds, but after a long winter, they’re just as heart-warming as any rose.

  27. Well..I’m now off to Google Earth to tour the town you wrote about.
    We have a 29 Erickson Tall mast. So. Much. Work. When I see abandoned boats I wonder about the owner’s story.

    1. The stories are as varied as the owners: no question about that. Retirement, death, divorce, loss of energy, or just new interests: all contribute. Sometimes, especially post-hurricane, people just can’t face the damage, and simple avoidance leads to a lonely boat. I’m glad to have the chance to bring some of them back to life.

        1. One of the biggest changes I’ve seen in the past decades is the coming of the developers and the tourists. I’m glad I came to know the places here when they still were fishing villages, and sailors had to wait for the drawbridge to open.

          1. Due to health concerns we stay on a barrier island on the ‘Forgotten Coast’ of the Florida Panhandle sometimes in the winter. Developers are rubbing their hands over our chosen area now. Condos going up, locals moving out because the price is now too high. The small town feel is going away. We volunteered for the local theater and at fundraisers for the local fire department so we were more than tourists.

            The same thing is happening to our real home Muskegon. We were an Industrial city, we still have a deep water working port and can and do host ocean going vessels. People/tourists avoided us because we are a bit rusty and a genuine mix of peoples and our downtown was totally gutted do to the exit of factory work…but people are moving in now, buying up our homes near the beach and turning them but they call them VRBOs. :( I feel like the hotel concierge if I am out in my gardens during the height of tourist season.

            Still..I am thankful I live here. I’m so glad when the tourists leave.

  28. I have been to the place Port O’Connor and it is just as he describes. The first impression you would think this place is boring but like he said when you scratch the surface its beauty shines thru.

    1. It’s a wonderful place. It’s far more popular — and more populated — now than when I first started going there. Still, the people are great, and the pace of life is a little more relaxed, although I hear it can pick up when there’s a fishing tournament going on.

      1. Oh it does pick up for tournaments like a town festival. My late husband was working down there digging out canals for houses with canal lots . I loved it down there . The water is so shallow you wouldn’t think the fishing is as good as it is.

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