It snowed the day we bought our sailboat. Heavy grey November sky, cold seeping through rubber soles from the frozen ground, brown cropped grass shriveled into itself, hibernating. The boat towered overhead, nestled in its metal cradle brown with rust, the sea blue keel an upside down fin of a whale.
My hands were numb by the time we finished talking about the boat, climbing about under tarps, checking it over, and then the white flakes drifted in, fat and serious-looking. They whisked past the window as we drove away.
“This is for Bear,” we said as soon as we knew we were going to buy the boat, a 22’ Hurley, ocean worthy and perfect for Superior. We will call it Bear’s Journey, or something like that, we thought, and when Bear is gone she will still be with us in our travels as she always has been.
We hauled it home a couple of weeks later through the rumblings of a snowstorm, up the mountain and into the woods where wet snow clung to trees and slopped onto the roads. We tucked it away amongst the trees beneath its grey tarp for the grey winter, and somehow it disappeared, this wall, grey camouflaged by grey.
Visions of sparkling blue horizons, snapping white sails, calamitous spaces where land meets water, faded as we turned to other things, enjoyed our days with Bear as the snow fell and waterways froze and winter settled over everything.
The boat hid quietly under its tarp, the sails sat in their bags in our bedroom. We stashed cushions wrapped in garbage bags creatively around the house and in the crawl space we carefully stacked every piece of wood, metal and glass imaginable, all of it stripped from the boat by the previous owner. A project to look forward to, we said, after.
Our adventure started on the water all those years ago now, that day on the pond in our canoes when Bear told us we three were supposed to be together and Morgan leaned over the side of a small wooden footbridge and said, “Let’s run away together and be writers.” In the warmth of the air infused by spring sun and the smell of black earth and last season’s bleached reeds and wet dog, how could I say no?
And we did run away together, the three of us. We paddled our canoes and lived in a tent and traveled from the Atlantic Ocean to Lake Superior, exploring countless lakes and rivers in between. We never really thought about the day when we wouldn’t all be together because it was too perfect.
What comes next? We wondered when we realized we three, who have been inseparable from the beginning, were soon to be separated. Our adventure can’t be over, not yet. And then there was the boat and gut feelings and a brilliant idea.
We do not know how to sail, but how could we say no?
In the days after losing Bear a friend sent us this poem which I have to share because it is so perfect:
Gone From My Sight ~ by Henry Van Dyke
I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side, spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength. I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.
Then, someone at my side says, “There, she is gone.”
Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast, hull and spar as she was when she left my side. And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.
Her diminished size is in me -- not in her. And, just at the moment when someone says, “There, she is gone,” there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!”
And that is dying...