Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Catch What You Can

Years ago, I discovered one of the most remote yet inhabited places in the entire world…or the world as I’d seen it up till then. Seward, Alaska - a northern port city, where the sea and the sky blend together so easily that you can only tell where one ends and the other begins by the bold black gash of mountains lining the horizon. I wore a jacket but still felt cold. It was August.

I was mesmerized, entranced, captivated. I have always loved gray northern places. I love the sea…but not the bright, cajoling seas of the SC Coast where everyone heads for vacations. I want a rocky, remote sea. I don’t want to bask in the sun in a string bikini…I want to wrap up in a blanket and feel the chill that rides the crest of waves colder than ice water. I want that other sea, that rocky, rugged sea that Captain Ahab knew. I have never entertained the slightest notion of taking cruises to the Bahamas or other sun-drenched shores…but I’d jump aboard an icebreaker in an instant, just for the offhand chance I’d see a narwhal.

My fascination with the far north has been with me since childhood, but my fascination with the sea came to me as an adult, when something about the vastness of it seemed to pull me in. Standing on a dock in the middle of Seward, I was suddenly possessed with the thought that if I ever wanted to run away from something, this would be the place I’d come…no doubt. No one could ever find me here. No one would ever think to look here, of all places. It would never occur to anyone who knew me well that I’d flee to one of coldest, farthest-reaching corners of the US. And yet I could dissolve so easily, so completely in this cold, windy place. I could find work, rent one of the numerous little apartments that dotted the cityscape, spending my free time knitting items I’d need for a harsh climate and tossing food scraps to gulls and eagles on the rocky shoreline. There was only one glitch in this little fantasy…it’s not in my nature to run away.

Stepping outside just past daybreak, the cool air and overcast sky remind me of my time in Seward. I was in my early 20s then, and I had few valid ideas about, well, anything. I had no experience with what kind of situation might actually make one want to run away. And I had no idea that, when presented with these situations time and time again later in life, I’d prove to be a fighter, not a flight-er. There would never be a time in my life when I would consider running away from, well, anything. And there would never be anything in my life that I was more willing to go to bat for than someone I loved.

“I so enjoy your writings about letting go,” says a friend to me via text this morning. “You make it sound so easy!”

I think for a moment of the power of words, how they can flow so smoothly from our minds to the page. My words convey a sense of ease about the struggles we all face, because I want somehow to encourage people to actually face those struggles, to break free and live the lives the dream about. I try to accomplish this by taking my own experiences and putting a positive spin on them, so that someone else might draw strength from my observations, just as I draw strength not from palm trees, hammocks, and a still sea, but from birch trees, thunderclouds and crashing waves against a rocky shore. In Wilmington, NC last summer, I was struck by the beauty I saw. But these are not the beaches that strike a chord with my soul. Seward, Alaska, was a place more suited to my nature, more beautiful, even in the cool drizzle of late August rains.

I look down at the text, and send only a simple smiley face icon as a response.

I think it’d be nice to return to Seward…I’d like to watch winter descend on a Northern seaside town. I’d like a new experience to take my mind off one I’m trying to forget. But I’ll go to the library instead and check out Ahab’s Wife, or, The Star Gazer, by Sena Jeter Naslund. It seems a little less impulsive than hopping a plane to a place I’ve not seen in over 15 years and hoping to crash in a lighthouse for a week or two. Not to mention a trip to the library is much more financially reasonable than the catastrophe of expenses a spontaneous Alaskan adventure would incur.

Memories…I cast them out, like rocks into a raging sea. I hold on to nothing, not even tokens of affection I once treasured. And I write about letting go, striving to make it seem so damn easy that everyone will want to cast something out of their lives, just to get in on the fun.

I think for a moment of the power of words, how they can flow so smoothly, just like water. Cup your hands, try to catch what you can…but it’s as futile as trying to hold back tears.

There are some fights that you just can’t win.

When I looked at the water, I felt contempt. The color was more green than the dark blue of English poets, and the waves were small and choppy.

“It’s not wild enough,” I said.

“You always loved a storm,” she said. And she told me again how when I was a small girl, only freshly equipped with language, when it rained I had said, “Harder,” and begged her to make the rain bigger and more extreme.

“How do you like the lighthouse,” she asked.

“I wish that it were taller.”

She laughed. “Accept the world, Una. It is what it is.”

~ Ahab’s Wife, or, The Star Gazer - Sena Jeter Naslund

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