I wish there were a clear formula to answer the question, shall I do this adventure? You put all the good stuff in the numerator: the delight; the satisfaction of a life lived far from the couch and the remote; the adrenalin highs; the memory-making; and of course the fame and fortune. You put the awfulness in the denominator: the risks; the terribleness if things go wrong; the financial cost; the shame of failure; the cost of worry to oneself and especially to others.
Then you divide, and if the quotient is 2.7 or greater, it’s “full steam ahead, Melvin. Strap into that bungie-jump outfit!”
The problem is, of course, that both the numerator and the denominator are the muddiest of entities. June 1, 1977. 9AM. London: Queen Elizabeth mounts the royal carriage behind 6 stallions to celebrate her silver jubilee. Meanwhile in Dartmouth, England, at the other end of the social spectrum, Jory Squibb, celebrating his 36th birthday, pushes away from the floating dock to begin a singlehanded transatlantic. Was there delight in that departure? It felt like the clanging shut of a prison door. Rereading the journal of the ensuing 60 days, I see only two days that had the slightest elan: sailing into Madeira on day 17; and sailing into Mystic, Connecticut on day 60. So many of the yellowed journal pages in between are blank, marking days when those intense demons, without the steadying presence of human society, precluded even grasping a pen.
And if the happiness numerator is iffy, the denominator is equally incalculable. August 1, 1977. My mother, having organized her bridge club to pray for me every single day, receives a collect call from a greasy spoon summer restaurant in Shinecock Inlet, Long Island, New York. A familiar voice says casually, “Hi Mom, I’m back”. And her worry has been so intense, that I am immediately balled out with full minutes of uncontrolled fury. How do you put that in the denominator?
I know I’m digressing here, but one more thing: In my experience, even if there were a calculation, there’s never a clear point of decision. Rather, one muddles along in maybe-land, building some sort of momentum for something, and then, almost without thinking, a threshold is crossed.
I arrived at 10 AM on cloudy, wind-less Friday, the third and last day of our Damariscotta idyl.
94-year-old Fred Wardwell was napping in his Saab, waiting for a tell-tale to stir and give inspiration for raising a sail. It looked like it would soon be snowing. I dropped warmers in gloves and boots, grabbed ski poles, and strapped into nordic skates. Ice near the launch was enticing, and when the first hazards appeared 100 yards later, they were easy to avoid. Without any plan, I headed South, on ice so fast, with skates so sharp, I had to keep stopping to check for a tail-wind. No, it was dead calm. This was magic with a capital “M”! Before long, I was passing the islands, and could sight the narrows, miles ahead. Only then did I realize that a destination had already been formulated: I was skating to my beloved Deep Cove, 6 miles away.
On thru the narrows, keeping an exacting eye on the surface ahead…Ice of every type and color crackled beneath my blades, in the steady 7MPH rhythm of alternate poling and skating. After passing the narrows, and now in those exciting less-known vistas, I spied two distant black sticks, waltzing the skaters waltz toward me. They, regular readers of this website, were on a 22 mile circumnavigation of the lake. Equally stoned in skater’s bliss, we gushed our praise for lovely miss D. Still without a wind, the first flurries began to fall, and, crossing more difficult ice, I cautiously made my way into Deep Cove. How I wished for an energy bar, a water bottle. Don’t skaters carry little backpacks with brandy and other goodies?
Now I could feel the remoteness, the risk, the 6-mile stiffness, and, beginning my return, saw that the thickening snow was beginning to cover the hazards. Still, the magic, now small-M, held me. 100 strokes to that island? actually 125…a steady meditation in the growing white-out. Finally, after 12 miles of skating, I re-passed the northern islands, and glimpsing iceboat sails, felt enormous relief in the reprieve from my folly.
By now the wind was 0-6 Kn. SW. And Lloyd with his large lateen sail in “Cheapskate” was footing well, with John in his Mead as a side-kick. Doug Raymond, ever the go-faster, was doing even better, winding up his well-tuned DN in spite of the light airs. Bart Chapin, borrowing Scott Woodman’s DN-Mini-Skeeter, was experiencing the trials of a beginner in light airs. Myself, more dead than alive from skating, could not imagine any further physical exertions, and sadly de-rigged and bid goodby to lovely Darmiscotta. Mixed ‘aggrivation’, perhaps a whole week of it, is on the way….