Monday, November 9, 2015

Evanston: epic


        I was jet-lagged and tired Friday, so I gave myself the day off.  But Saturday I strapped on my Apple Watch and closed all three circles.  I also did 21 flights of stairs and my complete workout. 
        Our stair well is clean, well lit and carpeted, but boring.  The views from Opua hill are superior. 
        I did not workout while on GANNET, but I did work.  I would not have been disappointed if I could not have completed my full routine, and I will not push my shoulder too hard if I experience pain.  That life aboard GANNET is exercise enough was proven by my not only doing my age in push-ups, but, knowing that in a few days Tom and I are going to have to do one more, I added two and did 75, which will make me good until November of 2017.


        Although most trees are bare, Chicago was an unseasonable 70ºF/21ºC when I arrived, but the past two nights have seen lows below freezing and this morning I lit the fireplace for a while.
        The afternoon is sunny and 52ºF/11º C.  This was the usual low temperature while I was in Opua.  I may take a bike ride tomorrow, my first in several months and possibly my last for the year, or even until 2017.  I don’t figure to be here during bike riding weather next year.


        Epics from ancient Greece and Rome and the American West helped form me.
        I came late to Virgil’s AENEID and this was only the second time I’ve read it. Written in the century before Christ and long after Homer, it is part ILIAD and  part ODYSSEY.
        The Trojan warrior, Aeneas, survives the destruction of his city and leads others west to fulfill his destiny to found Rome.
        There are storms at sea, tricks by malevolent gods, a love affair with Dido, the Queen of Carthage, the subject of a famous opera, and, of course, wars, from a vivid retelling of the fall of Troy, to battles as the Trojans establish themselves in Italy.  All the equal of Homer.
        The poem was unfinished at Virgil’s death and he left instructions that it be destroyed.  The Emperor Augustus had it published instead.
        I read a brilliant translation by Robert Fitzgerald.  I highly recommend it.
        Fitzgerald includes a postscript, giving some of the historical background of the poem and Virgil, and relates how as a young naval officer in 1945 he read the poem on a South Pacific island while being deployed for the invasion of the Japanese home islands.  “More than literary interest,” he writes, “kept me reading Virgil’s descriptions of desperate battle, funeral pyres, failed hopes of truce and peace.”
        I have at various times met four men, an America, two Englishmen and an Australian, all of whom were also being moved toward that invasion where a million Allied casualties were expected.  All told me that but for the dropping of the atomic bombs, they did not expect that they would have been alive.

        Peter Stark’s ASTORIA is subtitled:  John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Empire:  a story of wealth, ambition and survival.  All without exaggeration.  
        Carol and I have been to Astoria, Oregon, but I did not know that it was the first American settlement on the west coast.  The Spanish had opened a string of missions as far north as present day San Francisco and the Russians had a few trading posts in what is now Alaska, but there was no European/American settlement in between.
        Astor wanted to monopolize the fur trade.  Thomas Jefferson, while no longer President, wanted the young United States to span the continent and encouraged Astor in his plans.
        At his own expense—Astor is ranked as the fourth richest American of all time based on equivalent currency values—Astor send a ship around Cape Horn and a party overland, both to meet at the mouth of the Columbia river and establish a settlement there as well as a string of fur trading posts inland.  Of a total of 140 men in both parties, 61 died.  
        One pregnant woman, married to a half Indian interpreter, with two small children, survived, including one winter alone in snowy mountains on her own.
        The story is epic.  No other word will do.  Peter Stark tells it very well.


        I am in fact rereading a third epic, STORM PASSAGE. 
        Forty years ago today the author was twenty-two days out of San Diego on his third attempt at Cape Horn.  South of the Equator his 37’ cutter, EGREGIOUS. was sailing well, making 160 to 170 miles a day on a close reach against the southeast trade winds.   He knew her hull was cracked.
        I’ll write more about STORM PASSAGE when I finish it and know how it turns out.