Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Evanston: Dying: First Annual Report

On a rainy morning I am sitting on the sofa in our spare bedroom.  A year ago two thousand miles to the southwest I was entering San Diego Harbor, ending my sixth circumnavigation and the second part of my life, which I have called ‘being’.  I glance up and see on the wall a drawing of me made by the French magazine, VOILES ET VOILIERS, more than forty years ago.  I don’t often notice it.  That is what I was.  Here is what I am.  Or at least was recently.

Same smile.  Same mustache.  Considerably less hair under the hat.

So what I have done in my first year of Dying, other than expend 366 days of my diminishing time?

I have written four magazine articles, given interviews, made one public appearance, refined the main site, added 178 journal entries, read forty-four books, listened to music, sailed less than 100 miles, made myself physically stronger, loved Carol, and have begun to consider the future and to make tentative plans.

This is not because I have become bored, as some have said I would, but that something innate within me is beginning to stir.  I think of Milton’s ‘And that one talent which is death to lodge with me useless’.  I am aware of the Biblical reference, but there are talents that demand expression.

I have observed that it often takes me a year to move on after a great loss or a difficult voyage.

If you went to the main site, on the list of quotes used at the beginning of my books you would find:

A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.
                                    --Grace Murray Hopper

My soul, your voyages have been your native land.
                                    from THE ODYSSEY: A Modern Sequel
                                    by Nikos Kazantsakis

Curtis probably never found out either [why Two Whistles, a Crow chief, had a crow on his head when Curtis photographed him] because after thirty-three years in the field taking photos of the Indians he went crazy and was placed in an asylum.  When they let him go he went down to Old Mexico and looked for gold, with a diffidence in recovery that characterized the behavior of many great men--let’s go to the edge and jump off again.
                                       from DAHLVA by Jim Harrison

(I) am, I believe, following the clear path of my fate.  Always to be pushing out like this, beyond what I know cannot be the limits--what else should a man’s life be?  Especially an old man who has, by a clear stroke of fortune, been violently freed of the comfortable securities that make old men happy to sink into blindness, deafness, the paralysis of all desire, feeling, will.  What else should our lives be but a continual series of beginnings, of painful settings out into the unknown, pushing off from the edges of consciousness into the mystery of what we have not yet become, except in dreams that blow in from out there bearing the fragrance of islands we have not sighted.
                          --from AN IMAGINARY LIFE by David Malouf

To which I would add a line from T.S. Eliot I have often quoted:  Old men ought to be explorers.  Why not?  We risk so much less than the young.

I chose those when I was relatively young.  Now that I am old, do I live them? 

In part it will depend on time and chance, as do all things, and in part how much suffering I can endure in my eighties.  GANNET brings joy, but she also brings discomfort.  There is the possibility that I will find lasting contentment in the waters and islands of the Low Country.  And there is what I call the Carol Complication, a complication I gladly accept.

My plans, such as they are, are inchoate and my commitment not absolute, as ultimately it must be.

The first step is clear.  Move GANNET from San Diego to Hilton Head.  I had expected to do so in June, but obviously that is not going to happen.  I hope it does before the end of the year.

Beyond exploring the local waters around Hilton Head—and the most enjoyable of the 7,000 miles I sailed last year were the first 10 on Skull Creek and Calibogue Sound—the open ocean calls as always and I am considering crossing the North Atlantic perhaps to Iceland and the UK.  My thoughts beyond that I will for now keep to myself, but I have embarked on voyages that interested me because I did not know if they were possible.  I have thought of another.

Again from the main site:


                                        judge a man, then, by that
                                        against which he must strive
                                        against what
                                        if not this soft night
                                        and the wind and sea
                                        against the myth
                                        he must become
                                        and his own will

                                        the ocean waits
                                        to measure or to slay me
                                        the ocean waits
                                        and I will sail


I sense, perhaps even know how the rest of my life should play out.  If time and chance do not intervene, I am curious to see how it does.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Evanston: penultimate

A year ago today GANNET and I were fifty miles south of San Diego.  29,950 miles behind us.  At dawn I thought we might get in before sunset, but the wind weakened and we did not complete the voyage until the following morning.

I recorded the two parts of ‘The End of Being’ that day.  The above is a frame taken from one of them.  I just watched the two videos.  If you haven’t seen them or if you have forgotten them, I like to believe they are worth eight minutes of your time and, if you will permit a teaser, they will prepare you for tomorrow’s:  Dying First Annual Report.

Part 1 was shot with my Nikon AW1.  When its battery died, I shot Part 2 with a GoPro Hero 5 Black.  I was initially surprised by how superior the quality of the GoPro.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Evanston: sixteen shades of darkness

Some welcomed color on a gray and gloomy day in the upper flatlands.

They are Balinese fishing boats that Wikipedia calls jukungs and I in THE OCEAN WAITS called gujungs.  Thirty nine years ago I followed them through the pass into Benoa Harbor, Bali.  From the sea the reefs overlap and there is a seemingly unbroken line of surf.  Under sail the Balinese boats were faster than CHIDIOCK TICHBORNE who was making six knots.  As they wizzed past, the fishermen stared at the unknown sight we were.  Some smiled and waved.  One came close enough to call in English, “Where you from?”  Thinking that California was too far, I replied, “Darwin,” which was startling enough.

The night before not wanting to be blown past the island I hove to.  I wrote:

On a moonless night I found sixteen shades of darkness. 
Six were in the sky: an overall blackness of the heavens; a diffuse gray to the west, although the sun had set hours earlier; the pinpricks of the stars; a few scattered shadows that were clouds; the flow of the Milky Way; and sporadic flashes of lightning far to the north. 
The sea revealed even less than the sky. It seemed to have turned in upon itself and to be studying its own depths for hidden memories. It breathed with deep, low respirations, in rhythm to a long, low swell from the south. The waves, only inches high and from the east, were a lighter gray than the swell, or—rather—than the back of the swell, for it was not visible until it had passed. The shadows of clouds, shadows of shadows, were impenetrably dark. And there were a few flashes of phosphorescence as Chidiock Tichborne ghosted forward. 
On Chidiock could be found six more shades. The featureless triangle of the mainsail undulated above me. Around me was an indistinct cockpit. A solid black line marked the teak gunwale's absorption of all light. And there were the vaguely golden columns of the varnished masts; lumps of bags; and my own form, clad in foul weather gear. 
The foul weather gear was worn in this instance not in anticipation of bad weather, but because everything was covered with evening dampness. For me, on even the best of nights, foul weather gear serves as pajamas. I wondered about the impressionist tenet that all shadows have color.
In all that I saw, only a few stars, the masts, and the foul weather gear revealed even subdued color, hidden as though beneath a thousand years of soot. Yet perhaps more color was there.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Evanston: The Church of Bleach; Bach and Rembrandt; bests: Happy birthday Hubble

There is something that calls itself The Genesis II Church of Health and Healing.  It claims to be a ‘non-religious church’ and was founded by Jim Humble, a former Scientologist who claims to be a billion year old god from the Andromeda galaxy.  The ‘church’ sells a potion which it calls MMS—variously Miracle Mineral Solution or Master Mineral Solution.  The solution, composed mostly of bleach, is to be ingested and is claimed to cure in addition to Covid 19, Alzheimer’s, autism, brain cancer, HIV/AIDS, and multiple sclerosis, among others.  Testimonials to this are found on its website.

I am not making this up.  I probably could have.  Obviously the curiously named Jim Humble or someone did.

Two observations.  One man, one vote sounds good, but it means that the vote of each member of this ‘church’ and each purchaser of MMS equals yours or mine.

You may have seen or heard that yesterday the head of the government of a I suppose still major nation suggested that injecting disinfectant may cure Covid 19 and ‘clear the lungs.’

A friend referred to Thomas Hardy as too severe.  To the contrary.  

I finished THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE.  The novel was first published in weekly installments in 1886.  It is a page turner.  Hardy later said that in order to put new incidents into almost every installment he may have over elaborated.  Perhaps so, but the quality of his writing and the main character, Michael Henchard, redeem it.

The novel begins when Henchard, then a farm laborer, gets drunk at a village fair and sells his wife to a passing sailor.  Sensational in 1886.  Probably resulting in life threatening social media outrage in our inconsistently puritanical times.  That sale comes back to haunt him two decades later.

I have moved from Hardy to Emile Zola’s GERMINAL.

Assuming the world will eventually return to something resembling normal, I expect there will be lasting changes.  Personally I am not going to shake hands anymore.  I don’t need to prove I am not holding a weapon.  And I will not ever watch national television news.  

As I have mentioned here before Apple’s AirPod Pros are life changing.

One of the ways in which Carol and I differ is that I take in information visually and she orally.  This has always been true of me.  I need to see a new word printed or in writing to learn it.  The same with directions.  Carol likes to watch and hear the news on television.  I cannot abide it.  So in the early evening, we sit on the sofa, sipping our drinks, she watching the news, I with my noise cancelling AirPods in my ears, listening to music and often watching videos of performances by the Netherlands All of Bach Project.

Here are two.  The first is a slight girl who amazes that she has obviously worked so hard and is so good so young.  The second a juxtaposition of greatness, Bach played before Rembrandt in the Rijksmuseum, on a harpsichord from 1640.  Even if this is not your kind of music, admire the ambiance and the harpsichord.

I am not competing with you or anyone else.  I compete with myself.  I like personal bests.  

Some of you may recall my writing a few months ago of the impossibility of maintaining stasis, that you are either getting stronger or you are getting weaker.   Inevitably entropy  will prevail, but for a while I am getting stronger.  The proofs are personal bests. 

I did 100 pushups again last Monday.  This makes the third time this month.  I attribute this to the workout I now do twice weekly with ten pound weights.  Not heavy, but the entire routine takes about twenty-five minutes and has clearly made a difference.

I tied my personal best for the stair climb.  In our building from the bottom of the stair well to the top is exactly one hundred steps.  I almost always take them two at a time.  If I go at a normal pace it takes about a minute.  If under 55 seconds, it is something like a wind sprint.  Two days ago I went hard and did 43.5 seconds.

My standard push-up and crunch based workout usually takes about nineteen minutes.  That is when I do just my age or 80 push-ups and crunches in the first series.  When I go to 100 the workout takes a minute longer.  On Wednesday I did the standard workout in 17 minutes and 25 seconds.

In an email to a friend I recently wrote:   I do what interests me.  I report as well as I can.  And I leave it there.  

I’ve defined the responsibility of the artist I think about as well as anyone ever has.  That is also true of the scout who goes ahead of the main troop.  His responsibility is to learn what he can and report it truly.  He has absolutely no responsibility about what anyone at headquarters does with his report.

So I am just reporting.  Draw your own conclusions, if any.

The beautiful photo above is not of the birthplace of Jim Humble, but of a star forming region a mere 163,000 light years from Earth that astronomers have nick-named ‘The Cosmic Reef’ because it resembles an undersea world.  It was taken by the Hubble telescope which was launched thirty years ago today.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Evanston: real deaths; pause; two poems by Thomas Hardy

The NY TIMES did what I was unable to and tracked past average death rates to compare with current ones.  A chart is above.   Here is a link to the article:

These are not as I had conjectured ‘substitute’ deaths.

There have been some beneficial consequences to the pandemic.  Among the least important are that Carol’s alarm does not go off on weekdays at 5 a.m. and I can sleep to a more civilized 6 or 6:30, and we are eating better.  When she has time Carol is an excellent cook.  During a ‘normal’ work week she does not have time and Monday through Thursday I heat frozen dinners for us in the microwave.  Turning on a microwave is half my cooking skill.  The other half is boiling water.  These are enough.  Now that Carol’s commute to the office has been reduced from one hour each way to one minute each way, she does have time to cook and we are both enjoying the results.  Shrimp pasta most recently.

A more significant consequence is that our destruction of the planet is being briefly paused.  There are many signs of this, among them a remarkable reduction in air pollution. In India millions are seeing the Himalayas for the first time in their lives from homes as far as a hundred miles away.

Here the reduction of aerosols in the air is clearly shown.

I am sure this is only temporary.  We’ll be back in business and on track again soon.

I really like Thomas Hardy and have since I first read THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE as a teenager.  It was the first Hardy I ever read, and I am currently rereading it.  During the six intervening decades I have read almost all his extensive works.  He is as far as I know the only writer in English to be equally exceptional as a poet and a novelist.  A long time ago a newspaper editor asked who my favorite writers are.  I said then Hardy, Conrad, Zola.  I would say so now.

You may know that I read a few poems each day.  Currently I am reading Hardy and Cavafy.

Here are two poems by Thomas Hardy that I have recently enjoyed.

The first about mountain climbing.

The Schreckhorn
(With thoughts of Leslie Stephen)

Aloof, as if a thing of mood and whim;
Now that its spare and desolate figure gleams
Upon my nearing vision, less it seems
A looming Alp-height than a guise of him
Who scaled its horn with ventured life and limb,
Drawn on by vague imaginings, maybe,
Of semblance to his personality
In its quaint glooms, keen lights, and rugged trim.

At his last change, when Life’s dull coils unwind,
Will he, in old love, hitherward escape,
And the eternal essence of his mind
Enter this silent adamantine shape,
And his low voicing haunt its slipping snows
When dawn that calls the climber dyes them rose?

As I have learned Leslie Stephen was an author, editor, historian, pioneer mountain climber, and the father of Virginia Woolf.  The Schreckhorn is a mountain in the Alps near the Eiger.

At Lulworth Cove a Century Back

Had I but lived a hundred years ago 
I might have gone, as I have gone this year, 
By Warmwell Cross on to a Cove I know, 
And Time have placed his finger on me there: 

"You see that man?" — I might have looked, and said, 
"O yes: I see him. One that boat has brought 
Which dropped down Channel round Saint Alban's Head. 
So commonplace a youth calls not my thought." 

"You see that man?" — "Why yes; I told you; yes: 
Of an idling town-sort; thin; hair brown in hue; 
And as the evening light scants less and less 
He looks up at a star, as many do." 

"You see that man?" — "Nay, leave me!" then I plead, 
"I have fifteen miles to vamp across the lea, 
And it grows dark, and I am weary-kneed: 
I have said the third time; yes, that man I see!" 

"Good. That man goes to Rome — to death, despair; 
And no one notes him now but you and I: 
A hundred years, and the world will follow him there, 
And bend with reverence where his ashes lie." 

A note of the end of this poem reads:  In September 1820 John Keats on his way to Rome, landed one day on the Dorset coast, and composed the sonnet, ‘Bright star!  would I were steadfast as thou art.’  The spot of his landing was Lulworth Cove.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Evanston: a Sunday drive; three emails; aerosol Earth; last dance; deported

Yesterday spring came to the prairie with sunshine and a temperature around 60ºF/ 15.5ºC,   and Carol took us for a Sunday drive.  We went north through some of the richest suburbs in the country.  Two, Glencoe and Winnetka, are eighth and ninth on Bloomberg’s list of the richest places in the U.S., both with average annual family incomes of more than $350,000.  

Sheridan Road, which we followed, twists and turns, passes Northwestern’s Campus, and is often just a block from the lakefront.  Not all the homes are mansions, but some are.  Few are new.  The money has been there for a while.

There were a lot of people out.  Walking, running, biking.  Less than half were wearing face masks and all were maintaining social distance or seemingly trying to.  I expect that there were at least as many as if there were no stay at home order, which does permit outside exercise.  Perhaps even more.

Of face masks, I am ambivalent.  Carol has made us some and we ordered some that may be delivered in a week.  I have never liked wearing masks, though I have done so while doing boat work, such as removing the old antifouling from GANNET.  They make breathing difficult and fog up my eyeglasses.

While it was pleasant to get out and see something slightly different, I look forward to when I can see something completely different:  the ocean.

I received three emails over the weekend with lines of interest, at least to me.

From Paul came a link to a Sailing Anarchy forum topic about a sailor who is building a 45’ proa.  

My boat is an art project/pocket cruiser for near shore tripping.   Once they get dialed into the idea that I want to learn some new skills, pace the project around my other interests and NOT pull a Webb Chiles and go hard and deep off shore - we all relax and chuckle about this/that.   

I am amused and pleased that my name has become an action.

From Michael came:  And if you think you will be content to potter in the creeks like a normal retiree you are delusional.  Not a good thing to be at your advanced age. 

And from another whom I do not name:  You have outlived your social usefulness.  Report immediately to the nearest termination center.

A bit harsh, but perhaps it is meant in the same spirit as my ‘Geezer Guru’ and not to be taken seriously.  

I replied that I am willing to do so, but don’t know where the nearest termination center is and I won’t stand in line.

The above beautiful image is from NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day site.

The explanation:   It was just another day on aerosol Earth. For August 23, 2018, the identification and distribution of aerosols in the Earth's atmosphere is shown in this dramatic, planet-wide digital visualization. Produced in real time, the Goddard Earth Observing System Forward Processing (GEOS FP) model relies on a combination of Earth-observing satellite and ground-based data to calculate the presence of types of aerosols, tiny solid particles and liquid droplets, as they circulate above the entire planet. This August 23rd model shows black carbon particles in red from combustion processes, like smoke from the fires in the United States and Canada, spreading across large stretches of North America and Africa. Sea salt aerosols are in blue, swirling above threatening typhoons near South Korea and Japan, and the hurricane looming near Hawaii. Dust shown in purple hues is blowing over African and Asian deserts. The location of cities and towns can be found from the concentrations of lights based on satellite image data of the Earth at night.

Last evening ESPN began showing THE LAST DANCE, about the Michael Jordan Chicago Bull’s 1997-98 season in which they sought their sixth championship.  I watched the first episode and recommend it.  Beyond sports, it is about the pursuit of perhaps unparalleled excellence.

From Carlos comes the following.  I thank him.

if this journal suddenly comes to an end, I may not be dead, but deported.  With my vision I am an easy catch.  They need only come up on my right side and the net will be over me before I know they are there.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Evanston: nonessential; St. Webb, The Geezer Guru

Snow fell heavily yesterday morning.  More than 2” at O’Hare, four times exceeding the old record for the date.  The photo above is in color if there were any.  The temperature now is 51ºF/10.5ºC.  The snow is all gone.  Color has returned to the world.  The sky is blue.  And the forecast for the coming week is almost springlike.

I received emails this morning from among others, Chris in Durban, South Africa, and Pat in Queensland, Australia.  Pat writes, “locked down and loving it.”  This is no surprise.  Pat, who is about my age, can build almost anything: boats, houses, furniture.  He and Dianne got some beautiful tomatoes—he sent a photo and they were—and sun dried some and used the others on home made mouth watering pizza.  He sent photos of the pizza too.

I asked Chris about sailing now in Durban.  He responded that it is banned.  So is the sale of alcohol.  I speculate that authorities are afraid that some will stay home, get drunk and become abusive.  Sale of alcohol here is considered an essential business.  Good.  As is, in some localities, gun sales.

Roger and Laurie are anchored in the Bahamas.  Except for boats carrying freight all inter island traffic is stopped.  There is a curfew from 9 PM to 5 AM every night.  They are allowed to go ashore for 90 minutes a day to obtain supplies and for exercise.

Zane in Auckland, New Zealand, reports that sailing is prohibited there.

In the UK Bill is unable to get to his boat, CALSTAR, in Plymouth.  His annual slip rental ran out March 31 and he was due to move to a new marina.  The move remains on hold.

Markus, the Estonian commercial fisherman, now cycles between being at sea fishing for two weeks, followed by two weeks quarantined with his family.  The boat on which he fishes is based in Finland, so every time he returns home he has to quarantine again.

Hugh’s boat is stuck in Panama until further notice. 

Here in Chicago marinas usually open May 1.  I doubt that will happen.  I know that Jay cannot get to his boat, SHOE STRING, and has been varnishing boat parts in his home workshop.

I could probably get to GANNET, but the marina is closed, the showers and toilets inaccessible, and Mission Bay off limits.

I checked the San Diego Harbor home page and find that San Diego Bay is closed to sailing.  “Water recreation is not considered an essential activity.”  Obviously they have not read the words of a great poet,

the wind that is
blows against my face
an indifferent lover
blows into my skin
enters my fingers
flows through my body
more essential than blood

Bureaucrats are not noted for having soul.

Some of you will know the storied reply of St. Francis who while weeding his garden was asked what he would do if he knew he was going to die that night.  “I would go on tending my garden.”   While not aspiring to sainthood, or even being a Christian, that is pretty much what I am doing.  I wash my hands more frequently than in the past; we have more items delivered; and we have our groceries brought to the car rather than go into the store; but otherwise my life is as usual.  I read some poetry every day and more, I write, I listen to some Bach every day and other music, I workout six days a week.  I watch an hour or two of television with Carol in the evenings.  Presently we are watching a Netflix series, Dirty Money, and the BBC series, Killing Eve.  

Of workouts, it has taken me almost eighty years but I have figured out how to get rich.  From time to time people tell me I have inspired them.  I could now in my old age become The Geezer Guru.  A YouTube channel.  Facebook.  Geezer Guru Twitter.  Instagram. Motivational speeches.  Books.  On how to be old like me.  Vanity. Vanity.  But I am sure there are tens of millions my age and considerable younger who would like to be as healthy.  That my health is probably largely a genetic gift is besides the point.  

As always let's look at the numbers.  78 years old.  6’1”.  153 pounds.  Blood pressure 110/70.  Resting heart rate mid-40s.  Medications taken: 0.   One finds different reports, but the average American over 65 takes between 8 and 15 different medications each year.

This came to me two days ago when I went to 100 push-ups for the second time this month and the third this year.  Some of you may recall a post in late January when I stated that stasis is not possible, that you are either getting stronger or weaker.   Well I am working out harder and getting stronger.  It is almost disgusting.

Of The Geezer Guru, I am sure others are already making fortunes doing this, but to paraphrase the late, great Mohammed Ali, I’m prettier and better with words.

I am not going to become The Geezer Guru—it is a catchy name.  I have enough money and better things to do with my time.  But I smile at the thought.  And you know it would work.


An update.

While many of us can’t, Steve Earley sailed for us.

Thanks, Steve.