I wrote this the other night- I was pretty hammered. I had to fix some typos, but overall, I write better drunk than I can speak when sober. Hmmm.
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It’s a funny thing, comfort.
I’m sitting on my patio, listening to the trickle of water in my fountain, smoking a cigar, writing my little screed, and sipping at a glass of ice and Jamison. There are smallmouth and bluegills jumping at the bugs above the pond I share with my neighbors. My patio has a screenhouse, so there’s no bugs here, but between my wife’s collection of massive tropical plants and orchids inside here, and the warm concrete under my feet, it’s tropical enough. I spent today repotting her hybrid roses that like the tropics, trimming the palms and lime trees inside the patio, and hauling out a 100lb bag of soil that the ants got into. Seriously. 100lb bag of ants. It was horrible, cutting that fucker open.
For all the breathtaking beauty, it’s not natural to me. We were talking about that after dinner. My wife and I went for a swim, then did the 3-mile walk around the neighborhood.
When I was a child, and a teen, I worked, and it was dirty. One time, pulling the old timer’s docks up on the beach one frozen November, I slipped and fell on the deck of the dock, and my thigh landed directly on a frozen knot in a piece of rope. The pain was intense, and I was glad no one saw the tears as I walked it off. It hurt for a while, but bruised up, and I was fine in a few hours. No problem walking or anything, though it was pretty tender for a few days. 3 months later, a buddy went pie eyed at the jet black bruise that ran from above my knee to my waist when we were changing after swimming at the Y. Took 6 months before that bruise completely went away. I didn’t think anything of it except that he brought it up 10 years later when we were both presenting papers at the same academic conference.
This place, my home in Florida, is beautiful, an artificial construct. The kids in my neighborhood ride their bikes at 11pm in the summer, when it’s cool outside and they can play. It’s the opposite of racing to finish up a game before the streetlights came on, when I was growing up, but it’s pure and fine to see, nonetheless. Even the kids know that we’re in an oasis of privilege, where such things can still be a thing. On Mondays the landscapers come and do everything. I don’t own a lawnmower because I live in a gated community.
When I was 13, we made stuff, sometimes. My kid at 13, is so amazingly creative, it makes my heart ache to see the things that he can picture in his mind’s eye, and put into paper. He’s been working on a 2x3 painting of a single rose for a few weeks, off and on, up in his room, where his easel is next to the Xbox and the compound bow he shoots religiously, already pressuring me to go turkey hunting with, come this fall. Creativity for me, at 13, with a mouth full of copper nails, inch and a quarter long, I’d nail the oak laths to the frame of a lobster trap, cut it flush with a hack saw, and be proud of my artistry. 6 nails. 2 to the kitchen end, 2 to the bridge, 2 to the parlor end of the trap, cut and continue, until the 6 foot laths were too short to use, and then they’d go into a kindling pile.
I’m not sure who enjoyed the craftwork more, me or my kid. I can’t draw, and my hands are so knotted that signing my name is uncomfortable. I can still sew, and braid netting (I made a little net with a box of floss last month), but the last wooden lobster pot passed under my hand when I was just a little older than my kid is now. The wire and metal mesh ones are easier and better in most ways, but the visceral experience of fixing them isn’t there. Fuck, I haven’t handled a lobster pot in 6 years.
This place… I’m so proud of what my little place has become, and it IS my place, but it’s not, at the same time. It’s not natural to me. I walk through the woods, and the plants and trees passing under my hands are plants of the tropics, not the temperate and boreal plants I know by name and touch. I love where I live, but sometimes, when I’m in my cups, I miss New England, too, even though the things that I loved most were the things I mostly gave up before moving here.
Fact is, I miss things being simple, and I can’t go back to that… or at least, I don’t want to pay the price I’d have to pay to go back to that. Copper nail, oak lath, start the engine and go catch food. That was a part of my life once, and even though I don’t want JUST that for my life, I do miss it. In 1987, fogbound in Nantasket Roads, no GPS, no sounder(the boat had just a compass), the old guy got turned around, and with maybe 100 feet of visibility, and the shipping channels around the harbor quite active, kicked the controls to idle, went below, and pulled out a sounding lead, a tool from the age of sail, a metal slug about 6 inches long, with a little hollow at one end, at the base of a rope with depths marked off on it. He took a big dollop of lubricating grease and stuffed it in the end of the iron, threw it over the side of the boat, let it hit bottom, marked the depth, and pulled it back up. Sand and cobble, with bits of broken corraline algae in it. He kicked the boat in gear, swung it according to the compass, drive for a minute or two, stopped the boat, and armed the lead again (put more grease in the end), repeated his sounding, again looking at the armed lead. From there, he adjusted course again, throttled up and rode a few minutes until we met with a channel marker, whereupon we just rode marker to marker and headed in. Reading the bottom like that was a regular activity- I could do it just a little, here and there, and when talking about lobstering with other lobstermen, we’d sometimes talk about spots a few miles offshore, where the bottom quality would change (“you know that mud hole south and east of Thieves ledge, where there’s a cobble streak to the north?”). But there’s a world of difference between knowing bottom quality in an area and being lost in the fog and navigating by using the depth, compass bearing and substrate type. At my best it would be an associative tool. I certainly couldn’t do what the old guy did. Chances are, no one can anymore.
At any rate, I’m not bitching- I’m blessed, and I know it, and you’d have to point a gun at me for me to move up north again, but there ARE aspects of it that I miss. Being up north is fine, except for the people and the weather.
Hell with it, I’m going fishing. I can’t fish and stay on the patio, but it’s only like 40 feet from the pond to my fridge where the beer is.
Couple more days until I have to go back to work.
I'm going to be 42 this week, also. I met a Brazilian guy over the last weekend who was really bad at hiding the fact that I look older than that. I don't think they realize how much a life spent outdoors beats on the skin of a man who can't really tan, but between sun damage, a hairline that says 'maybe chemo, maybe not' and my naturally pink/purple complexion, what can you do?