Beach at Cancun, October 2014
Beach at Cancun, October 2014

I’m writing this two weeks and one day ago. In one week from this writing I plan to leave for Germany. Also, a bit of France, Belgium, Holland, and Luxemburg, so I probably won’t be in a good position to write up any new posts for the second half of October. But, as you are reading this, things work out, don’t they?

I have travelled quite a bit, but less than I would have liked. Way back in 1976 I got a month’s leave of absence from a factory job (yep) to travel in Europe. I saw some of England, a bit of Switzerland, the Black Forest of Germany, and mostly France. Lots of France. That trip was where I learned how important it is to be polite. I learned that when a polite French woman in a change booth told me how to do it. (Not too tough. Always say Hello, Goodbye, Please, and Thank-You. Best in the local language, but not necessary.) And there is my theme.

If you never leave home, you’ll know a whole lot less!

If you aspire to write stories, then it’s difficult to know too much, so not travelling is limiting your ability to write good stories, and making your career more difficult. Not that bad stories can’t sell, of course, but good ones sell a lot more reliably. So, what is it about travel that helps you write good stories?

It is the things you learn about other people. If you pay attention, and don’t expect everywhere else to be like home (a few people seem to expect that,) and if you are polite, you will learn about what motivates and stimulates the people of whatever foreign place you find yourself in. I’ve done that, for the most part, and have found, to repeat last week’s theme, that people want food, shelter, companionship, and a chance to make things better. If I wanted to set a story in Germany, for example, I’d have to do a lot more research. What would be my grasp of European geography, for instance? What sort of obstacles would pop up to keep me from meeting those basic wants? How do you say “I wrecked my car!” in German? (I could actually do that last one.) (Okay, Mein Auto ist kaputt!) And many other things besides. Same for any other country.

And the best thing that I have learned from travel is that, no matter where I’ve gone, people have tried to be helpful, they have been friendly, they have good food (it can be bad even in France, but good is more normal,) and they all want the same things out of life. So, the title of this post refers to gathering the information one needs to write good stories about all sorts of people. That’s reason enough to go abroad.

Besides, if I didn’t travel, I’d never have had the fish empanadas at Los De Pescado!


October 2008 About the same time we purchased Windchime, we signed up for an American Sailing Association’s three course series to certify us to charter boats up to 50 feet.  There are many ways to take these courses – over several weekends in California or over a full week charter in Hawaii. Hawaii sounded nice, so we signed up for a one week charter/practicum on a 43 foot Beneteau named Gauguin, with Mike Macklewait as our captain.  A week or so later, a set of books describing the basics of sailing arrived in our mailbox.  I opened up the heavy manila folder and stacked four books neatly on my kitchen table.  Just shy of completing my second year of legal practice, I could still smell the burnt hair and charred brain cells resulting from thinking, trying too hard, and learning something new every day.  Did I really want to crack open study manuals for how to sail?  I wasn’t certain I had it in me, but after all the projects for clients and collegues I knew neither Andrew nor I could be satisfied with a life that didn’t include progress on a project of our own.  So,  I cracked open the first volume and stuck my nose between the pages.  I inhaled the fresh smell of glossy paper, book binding glue and started reading.   I worked my way through, reading a chapter every other night; the alternating nights belonging to Windchime.  We would close up work six, seven or eight p.m. whenever possible, and head straight out to the lake.  Light wind, heavy wind, we would fire up Windchime’s motor and putter out to fool around with whatever skill we were supposed to be learning in the book.  Man overboard drills with life jackets we named Fred; docking exercises; picking up mooring balls, etc. Our Hawaiian “vacation”/test was coming up fast, but we were determined to be prepared.   This was our first vacation since starting our jobs, and it was a new experience.  When I asked my boss for time off he said: “No problem! Just don’t leave me hanging.”  Of course not!  I thought to myself, not realizing how complex of a request this would turn out to be.  At the beginning of October, I looked ahead at all my deadlines and realized I had no other choice but to do all the work that would typically be spread out over the course of the entire month, in the first two weeks of October.  I burned the midnight oil and learned how exhausting taking a vacation could be.  By the time we boarded our flight to Hawaii, we were running on fumes.   We arrived in Oahu, and checked into a hotel room over looking a mooring field of sailboats.  This is the closest we have gotten to boats capable of crossing oceans.  We sat on a patio outside our hotel window and imagined what it would be like to live on one of those sailboats, just out there. Our future, just another eight years of work away. We met Gaugin, Captain Mike, and our fellow boat mates Mark and Ann Fink on the dock the next morning.  In early chit-chat, we declared ourselves to be future circumnavigators; I’m sure Captain Mike sniggered.  We were determined to declare ourselves insane early and often so that we couldn’t back out on ourselves later.  Gaugin rumbled to life and we headed just offshore of Oahu. Our plan was to sail from Oahu, to Molokai, Lanai, Maui, back to Molokai and then back to Oahu. Late season foul weather was stirring up the North Pacific Rain pelted us, waves bounced us around, but the wind never appeared. As Gaugin’s diesel engine chugged along, we inhaled the bitter fumes.  It was not long before Andrew was leaning over the side, issuing the first of his trademark dainty and silent pukes. Hawaii Lesson #1:  Andrew gets seasick.   We arrived on the protected side of Molokai all feeling a little queasy, but the anchorage was well protected and calm.  We observed Captain Mike expertly set Gaugin’s anchor.  We swam to shore, put our toes in the sand, enjoyed open ocean stars, and a beautiful sunrise the next morning. Enough fun!  It’s time for the first of our multiple choice test. Let’s see how well you studied!  After taking our test, we left the protection of the anchorage and sailed on to Lanai for lunch on a pink sand beach.  We each practiced our anchoring, then donned our snorkel equipment.  In we go! We enjoy beautiful coral and colorful fish.  Captain Mike dives to reach lobster in the reef. Andrew definitely wants to dive for lobster someday.   Hawaii Lesson #2:  Andrew loves to snorkle. Next, we sail over to a marina where Captain Mike tops up with water. Even though it’s only been two days, we have run Gaugin completely out of water.  We also discovered that one should never, ever put toilet paper down a marine head.  (Don’t ask.  This is vacation, people!)  I have been yelled at at least twice a day for “slamming the lazarettes” (storage cubbies).  I am so sorry, Gaugin, b

Source: Gauguin

Windchime II

We are anchored out in remote anchorages in Tonga this week.  So far, we have had a new anchorage almost every night, and we still have more to go in this beautiful Vava’u Group.  When we get back to internet civilization, I will upload some pictures and give you the full scoop.  But in the meantime, Tonga has me thinking about our “cruising” days on Lake Mead.  So, I thought I might back up and add to the “Learning to Sail” Series of posts that have been neglected for the past four months. July 2008 By July of 2008, we were getting itchy to get a tiller in our own hands, so we started looking on Craig’s list for something to buy. We had met Windchime II once before.  After a sailing race in 2007, we took a tour of the boats for sale at the dock.  Winnie’s owner at the time had grown too old to take her out sailing anymore, but we weren’t ready to commit.  So, instead, she was purchased by another person who happened to be quite helpful.  He cleaned out old stuff, installed a fancy battery charger and a new sound system complete with an iPod jack.  Then his girlfriend told him he had to sell her because his two other boats, wave runners, four wheelers, and probably a motorcycle or two just weren’t getting enough time and attention.  So, when we found her available on Craig’s List again a second time, we were ready. We scheduled a time to walk through her with the owner, met him in the parking lot at the Lake Mead Marina and shook hands.  The boards of the Lake Mead Marnia rumpled beneathe our feet as headed her way.  Not much for shopping around, Andrew and I were obviously a seller’s market.  A tour of a 1976 27 foot O’Day takes all of about five minutes.  He showed us around from stern to bow, then turned and looked at us expectantly.  $6,000 was his asking price, so I aimed for half.  We wheeled and dealed, then settled on a purchase price of $4,000 but without the air conditioner he had installed in the forward hatch.  (Air conditioner? Who needs it?)  It was the dead heat of a Las Vegas July.    We didn’t care.  That very same day, were out on the lake, the furnace heat of Lake Mead beating down on us as we pulled out her wrinkled sails and hoisted them to the top of her golden mast.  Not a whiff of wind on the water, the sails hung in their crumpled state.  We jumped in to swim instead.  We poured ourselves two glasses of champagne and poured the rest of the bottle on Winnie’s hull in celebration.  We were new boat owners!  One step closer to a circumnavigation.

Source: Windchime II

My US Birthday and the Tonga Boat Yard

Please find photo credits on the linked pageWe arrived in Tonga at the start of the Blue Water Festival.  This festival is primarily designed by the tourism board of various towns and marinas in New Zealand to convince sailors it’s a good idea to sail South for Cyclone season.  But, on the third day of the festival (and the day of my US Birthday) the Tonga Boat Yard invited all the yachties to the yard for a barbecue. So, we figured the festival would give us information about both options, and we ponied up our admission price. The morning of the Yard Barbecue, we strayed into dangerous territory.  It’s easy to get rattled by the notion that one big decision affects all other future decisions.  The decision to stay in Tonga or go to New Zealand will impact our timing for our next sailing season.  It requires us to choose between visiting certain places we really want to see: Australia v. Vanuatu or extending the length of our trip.  If we extend the length of our trip, then we need to think about so many other factors.  Money, time, other responsibilities and life goals.  In a diversion from his usual course, Andrew strays into the Wild West of options with me.   Bouncing along in Grin, Andrew sits at Kitty’s helm and I sit facing backward from the bow.  We list all concerns and conditional what ifs; we try to predict the future.  But of course, predicting the future takes longer than the fifteen minute dinghy ride to the boat yard.  We hop out, and push the pause button.  As we flank Grin and heave him out of the water onto shore, he breaths a sigh of relief.  “Too heavy, guys.  Too heavy.”  He says, referring to our topic of conversation.   We trudge up a long boat ramp and see a line of boats already nestled into their cyclone cradles.  Tall cliffs hug the boat yard in all directions.  The boats are backed up against the cliff, snuggled in nice and tight.  Huge, blue straps lead from one anchor point cemented into the ground, up through the boats’ bow and stern anchors, then stretched tight to a second cemented anchor point on the other side.  The boats are all naked of sails and other deck detritus, ready for a blow.  A yard dog takes chase of a wild pig, shooing her off the premises then turning back to the party with tail wagging.  She spots us and heads over for a pat on the head.  Her yellow eyes are filled with the satisfaction of a mission accomplished; she taught that pig.   The party has started under a large shade tent. Beers, coca cola and ice cold water are being passed around the group.  Ribs sit on a smoker, sausages are hot off a barbecue, and two smoked fish filets are for the picking.  Everybody chit chats until Kate (the owner’s partner) explains the yard’s workings to the group.  Owned by a Brit who spent several years in Caribbean hurricane holes, the yard is gathering a whole team of crackerjack boat technicians.  There is Kevin and his wife Brandy from Texas as the mechanical engineer capable of helping with diesel engines, outboards, and other mechanical issues;  Ken, the aluminum and stainless steel welding specialist from New Zealand; A Tongan Shipwright with a beautiful smile and even better woodworking skills; A crew of five Tongan yard employees; Connections with two local sail makers; and knowledgable administrators who can help secure cyclone insurance and deal with customs paperwork to make sure Sonrisa doesn’t get deported while we are away.   We make friends; we ask a million questions. We learn that last year, while Tonga experienced several cyclones, the yard only experienced a maximum of 30 knot winds.  Sonrisa has ridden out more than that at sea and sitting in the marina in San Diego.   We learn we can pay a beautiful and fabulous fakaleiti to clean Sonrisa of any mildew or mould once per month for $15.00/hr.  We meet the boats and learn some of their histories, too.  All of them are storied cruisers, and I’m sure Sonrisa will make fast friends if she stays.  A couple hours in, a circle of Tongans form around a large wooden bowl of Kava.  At first, they are just hanging out drinking Kava on their own, but as the crowd thins out, a handful of us join the circle.  Andrew takes a seat and the gents indicate I should take my shoes off and come around to the other side.   “What?  Where should I sit?”  I ask, eyeing the already full circle, save for the spot behind the Kava bowl.   “Here, here!” The Tongans exclaim.  “You can be our Toah!  Our Kava Queen!” Apparently, women do not traditionally partake of Kava. A true Kava ceremony requires an unmarried virgin to pour the Kava for the circle of men.  It seemed that no unmarried virgins were available today, so I was the next best choice.  I took my place sitting on top of two blocks of wood, and began to ladle out the Kava.  There is proper Kava Queen technique.  I’m not sure I received the full tutorial, but from what

Source: My US Birthday and the Tonga Boat Yard

My Tongan Birthday

I get two Birthdays this year.  See, Tonga is a full day ahead of the United States.  So, October 5 in Tonga is October 4 in the US and October 5 in the US is October 6 in Tonga.  Andrew tried to convince me that we should leave Niue late enough on October 4 that we cross the date line at midnight and jump straight to October 6.  “Wouldn’t it be fun to skip your birthday?  Then you can be one year younger.”  Absolutely not.  I mean to take full advantage of this.  So, we arrived in Tonga on October 3rd. After some adventure trying to squeeze Sonrisa into a crowded customs dock, we settle in to pay fees, fill out paperwork and otherwise do our check in duties.  Several male officials pay us a visit, each wrapped in long, navy blue skirts, topped with wide belts intricately woven from coconut bark.  Their baby blue button down shirts are neatly tucked into their belt.  They look clean and tidy.  Two very large Tongan men from the health inspector’s office pull up in a van and ask that Andrew join them for a ride to the bank.  All I can do is hope for the best as they pull away and leave me at the dock.  I’m sure Andrew can hold his own if they take him into a Tongan jungle and leave him for dead.  Right?   Nah, they are back in a flash and all is well. Tonga is known as the “Friendly Islands.” Soon, we are settled in on a mooring and enjoying the calmest anchorage we have experienced in our entire trip.  The water is so flat, you can see the reflection of the sky.   The next morning, Andrew is making breakfast and I am writing when we hear “Hello!  Good morning!”  and a tap-tap-tap on the hull.  Andrew pokes his head above decks.  I hear him chatting with another gentleman, then inviting him aboard.  I quickly change out of my pajamas for our guest. When I poke my head on deck, I am greeted by a smiling Tongan man with bare feet and a sachet of wares.  He lays out his sachet on Sonrisa’s deck and I go back below to make sure the bacon isn’t burning.  We offer coffee and breakfast to our friend, Maka.  Maka arrived just in time for Andrew to acquire a birthday present for me.  They haggle over prices, paid both in Tongan Dollars or “Pa’anga” and old rope that Maka would like for his horse.  Maka rubs his hands over Sonrisa’s genoa sheets, hoping to acquire one just like that.  But alas, we need those ropes for sailing and we have no extra.  He settles for one of our old mooring ropes and trades us a Tongan flag to hoist up Sonrisa’s mast.  Once the sale, breakfast and coffee are complete, Maka smiles for some pictures and climbs down, complimenting Sonrisa as a “beautiful boat”. Sonrisa perks up at the compliment.   My birthday arrives the day of the Blue Water Festival regatta.  We decided to team up and race Lufi given that racing is more fun as a team.  Lufi greets me with a Happy Birthday sign, and I hear promise of birthday balloons later, too.  The start horn is blown from the Captain’s Meeting, requiring the Captains to race back in their dinghys.  We watch various other boat’s captains wiz by in their dinghies with operable 15 horse power engines.  Some time later, Lufi’s captain putters up with her somewhat operable 6 horse power outboard.  We drop Lufi’s mooring and motor out of the anchorage.   Most of the fleet has motored away from us.  No worries, we hit the buoy where the sailing is supposed to begin according to the rules and hoist the chute.  BIRTHDAY BALLOONS!  Lufi has to have the cutest spinnaker I have ever had the pleasure of hoisting.  We had a lot of fun, held out until the end and crossed the finish line with the sails up instead of motoring after the 3 p.m. mark as the rules apparently allowed.  As a result, we lost our strenuously held position in the fleet to our tightest competitor who rolled up his sails and puttered off.  A birthday motor race?  Ridiculous. We headed to the Mango Cafe to recover with a slosh of wine and a lobster red curry.  Laura made sure I had sparklers in my ice cream and my rag-tag group of sailing friends (and one guy I had not met before) sang me the birthday dirge.  I call it the birthday dirge because once you hear the Swedish and/or Norwegian version of birthday wishes, you will forever feel like the English version is a poor substitute. Luckily, Jonas The Swede was there and also sang me the Swedish birthday song.  It is far peppier and includes a little dance. I am presented with a beautiful red coral necklace and bracelet from Andrew, courtesy of Maka.  I also receive a “bo-wl” and a “boll” from the Lufis to assist me in learning the “proper” pronunciation – the British (and therefore correct version) of each sound exactly the same to my untrained American ears.  Never mind that “boll” is actually spelled b-a-l-l.   We cap the night off with a quick trip over to the bar that should have been na

Source: My Tongan Birthday

POV and Diversity

Scene along California Route 2, North of Los Angeles.
Scene along California Route 2, North of Los Angeles.

I was talking with my friend John Hill yesterday, complaining about how it’s tough for a guy like me to write, say, a black character’s viewpoint. John, who has actually published a lot of stuff, told me things that got me thinking that perhaps the ability to write from somebody else’s point of view, even somebody completely different from me, is a great gift. And, heck, maybe I should try writing a story with a black protagonist. What the heck, eh? So, here’s my thinking on that topic as of just now (which, for the record, is more than a week ago as of the date this posts.)

I’ve already written from the POV of a teenage latina. And it seems to work. (I love it, but then I love all of my children. Time will tell.) I imagine that if I can put myself into the mind of a 15 year-old daughter of a Mexican immigrant, I should be able to put myself into the mind of a middle-aged black man getting stopped by a traffic cop. In fact, I’m sure of it, and here’s why.

Many people, when they think of other people, emphasize the “other.” Because they are “them” they must be different. But, in fact, that is not the case. As an extreme example, consider the facts reported in the book Freakonomics. In case you’ve never read it, the author got to know a drug selling entrepreneur in Chicago, and also the people who sold his product on the street. Those street sellers were making so little money that they repeatedly asked the author if he could get them a job as a janitor at his University. They prized a chance to get a job flipping burgers at Burger King. They were not inherently different from anyone, but there was no place in their neighborhood for them to get a job, so they scraped by on roughly $3 per hour (in the 1990s.) They wanted to “take care of (their) families.”

Take care of their families! If you write, you know what people want, and it’s simple. Food, a place to sleep, companionship, and the chance to make things a bit better for yourself, and more importantly for your children. That’s what people want.

My Latina falls madly in love with an Anglo boy, which causes great complications in her life. Falling madly in love is aiming at a family, one way or another, right? It all boils down to the basics. That black man getting pulled over is maybe on his way to intervene in some earth-shattering crisis, and damnation if some cop doesn’t decide that his tail light has been flickering! In fact, I have been pulled over for such things, not all that often, but still, all it takes is a modicum of empathy and imagination to flesh out how this guy is going to react. Because, what does my middle-aged black guy want? Hmmm?

Food, a place to sleep, companionship, and the chance to make things a bit better for himself, and more importantly, for his children.

That, folks, is all anybody wants. It can get twisted and perverted, but underneath it all is that basic set of desires. And that is the beauty of writing fiction: that simple set of wants is all it takes to create whole worlds!

Dammit, John, are you always right?

Last Passage of the Season? By Sonrisa

The wind had been dead calm for almost two weeks, and it was on a Friday that the forecast looked slightly favorable.  The forecast said 10 knots (pretty light!) Friday, Saturday and half of Sunday, then it was to die again.  Andrew and Leslie debated the risk of leaving port on a Friday, but I told them not to worry.  I’m not into all that sailing superstition hocus-pocus anyway.  Tonga is known as some of the most beautiful cruising grounds in the entire world, and I was itching to get my sails up.  After patching up one small snafu with immigration, we dropped our mooring and headed out to sea.  With the water smooth as glass and ten knots on my beam, I glide along easily at 6 knots.  It’s sunny, warm and beautiful.  Ahh!  I just love being out at sea!  As we sail along I think back on the several years I spent holed up in San Diego, and I’m just so glad to be back out here.  Do you ever sit behind your desk and get a feeling that you just have to get outside, breathe fresh air and run? That is how I feel when I am in one place for too long. I need to move! This passage is only two days long if our wind holds out.  And, it does.  We enjoy two night watches that are perfectly dry, pitch black, and filled with stars.  Leslie sits on deck with me the first night, watching stars and listening to music. The second night, we all get addicted to the first season of House of Cards.  Whenever Leslie is not distracted by either sleep according to her watch schedule, a show or a book, she is pestering me about this Tonga/New Zealand dilemma.  I don’t know the answer, yet.  How am I supposed to make this call without seeing our options in Tonga?  The Tongan Boat Yard is new, so I haven’t ever seen it before.  Either way, though, I will be fine. I’ve been to New Zealand twice; I am not feeling bad if I don’t go there again.  I will miss Andrew and Leslie while they are away, but I want to circumnavigate!  If we think that goal will be helped by me staying in Tonga, then that is what I want to do.   Leslie fusses and frets over everything.  I know its because she cares so intensely about me and Andrew, our dreams and our safety.  But really, she needs to cool her jets.  I try to convince her that our highest potential will unfold if we offer ourselves without reservation and work hard when Neptune asks us to work hard.  Hope, faith and trust are emotional votes of confidence that Neptune will provide the inspiration, tools, and even trials necessary to refine our experience into its best form. All this fretting is wasted energy and misdirected focus.  The right decision will become clear in time, one way or the other. Andrew and I finish the early morning watch on Sunday, but as we slide along side Tonga our calendars and clocks all jump a full day to Monday.  International Date Line Magic.  Huge cliffs barricade the Kingdom of Tonga inside natural volcanic walls more than 100 feet tall.  It’s a bitter sweet approach from open ocean into Tonga’s tightly clumped group of northern islands of Vava’u.  It feels like we just barely left San Diego!  How can we possibly be at the end of our sailing season?   Andrew rousts Leslie out of her bunk, and she heads on deck to sit on my bow.   Osmond even joins us on deck to check things out.  Together we contemplate those very tall and protective looking cliffs. “I guess this is why Vava’u is considered a safe hurricane hole?”  Osmond says.  “Yeah, I guess!”.  The wind dies off as we round the snail-shell, and Andrew turns on the motor.  The ocean flattens into waters as calm as a lake.  We enjoy the view as we arrive in Neaifu, Port of Refuge.  It’s a bitter sweet landfall.  If we decide to stay here over Cyclone season, then my sailing season is finished until next year.  I have to stay put for six whole months!  You might think this season has worn me out, but I feel like I’ve only just hit my stride.   …maybe I should push for a trip to New Zealand after all!

Source: Last Passage of the Season? By Sonrisa

Adventure Niue

On the first day of first grade, I stood in my front yard posing for the requisite first day of school pictures.  The weather was still warm, but you could smell fall in the air.  I lived in a smallish town, and it was safe for me to walk the few blocks from home to school.  On this first day, though, my mom was going to show me the way.  We were only a few steps into the walk when path converged with another first grader and her mother who had just moved into the house at the top of the street, Rebecca.  Rebecca and I began walking together, our moms walking with each other from behind.  A new friend! Rebecca became my adventure buddy for years afterward.  One of our favorite games was to create imaginary worlds where we had to explore caves, swim through snake infested waters, creep through abandoned cities and run from giant spiders chasing us through forests, and find magical, enchanted lands.  We were always on some odyssey or another, arguing only over who was to lead and who was to follow.  Niue is the adventure dome of our imaginations in real life. Niue is different than any other island I have visited so far.  It is not a volcano, but instead the largest block of coral in the world.  Obviously, it was originally made by a volcano, but the volcano has long since sunk back into the deep and the large block of coral is left hovering 70 feet above the current sea level.  So, the terrain is made of a giant limestone sponge.  This makes for very interesting contours.   You never know when you will come upon an amazing cave to explore. Where does this turn lead? Or this jungle? Ahhhk!  Look out! Boy, I’m starving.  How are we going to survive out here without food? Oh wow!  Check this out! Look!  It’s the cavern where ancient Niuean Kings were anointed! Maybe time for a swim! My favorite swimming hole required a trek down a bit of jungle, through a small cave, across a reef and into another cathedral domed cavern.  The water is a mixture of fresh water and salt water, so it is cold.  I slip in and roll over on my back.  I am floating on the surface in the shape of an “X”, looking up at the cavern dome.  The water is cold on my body, an unfamiliar, refreshing chill here in the tropics. The stone above me is melting, yet frozen in place with all the colors of rust: red, orange, green, grey, white and black.  I think back on all my adventures from childhood to now.  Life is supposed to be an adventure, explored with curious eyes and heart to the very end.

Source: Adventure Niue

Literachur, Part Two

I believe this image to be in the public domain.
I believe this image to be in the public domain.

When I wrote last Wednesday’s post about literary fiction, I had no idea that I would be hearing that one of my very favorite poets, Bob Dylan, has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Because this fits that theme so well!

I know that there are literary purists out there seething because the top prize in literature (The top prize, folks!) went to a lousy folksinger who is a damned musician, and not a writer at all. Sheesh! Get a grip, folks!

A few years ago the Writer’s Guild had a campaign pointing out that everything you read was, in fact written. You think Shakespeare’s stuff just magically appeared on the page, like maybe Oberon took pity or something? Do you think that those ads for toilet paper write themselves? Have you ever read a Dylan lyric?

Here’s one for you, the last verse of Mr. Tambourine Man:

Then take me disappearing through the smoke rings of my mind,
Down the foggy ruins of time,
Out past the frozen leaves,
The haunted, frightened trees,
Out to the windy beach
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow.

Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free,
Silhouetted by the sea,
Circled by the circus sands,
With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves,
Let me forget about today until tomorrow.

Yes, that song was recorded by a rock band (The Byrds) and it made a lot of money, but dammit, that is some fine imagery. As good as any I’ve ever read, in fact.

Which takes me back to my days in college, when I knew a lot of poets. I never got what they were saying with their poetry. I came to believe that I didn’t understand poetry, in fact. Years later, it occurred to me that, really, I knew good poetry very well indeed. Because, at that same time, I was both listening to and performing Bob Dylan songs. And today, of course, there are entire college courses devoted to his work.

Can’t remember a single name of those literary poets back in college.

Niue Under the Sea, Part Two

We schedule some scuba the next day, and find the water is as clear and beautiful from 50 feet down, as it is from the surface.  Fan coral, swim through caverns, caves, chimneys and deadly sea snakes are the highlights of Niue diving. Andrew and I get so revved up about the clarity of the water and the challenge of the swim throughs that we decide to take advantage of a cheap certification deal and get our Advanced Open Water Diver ticket.   This means five dives each in which we focus on improving buoyancy control and air consumption, refresh best practices for how to dive to 100 feet (since we did that several times in Fakarava already), learn how to dive at night, learn how to navigate under water, and practice some stress and rescue situations.  Imagine diving 100 feet down in water with 100 foot visibility.  The feeling of being suspended in space is amplified as we could see at least 100 feet below us as well as the 100 feet above our heads. Playing with our buoyancy gave us plenty of time to float quietly and listen to a choir of dolphins singing around us. Of all these, though, the night dive was the newest experience.  We watched sunset as the instructor briefed us about the dive and quizzed us on the techniques we were learning.  We hoist the dive gear onto our backs, waddle down the stairs, then step into our fins. Now, the only light around is the lamps installed on the wharf and the stars.  We take one large step forward, and fall into the deep. We situate our masks, and ready ourselves.  The gurgle of air leaving our BCD vests bubbles around us as we descend into darkness.  We each have a waterproof flashlight (or torch as they all say here), so its easy to locate the group.  Andrew’s beam swings to the right and we see the wall of the wharf.  My beam swings to the left and we see reef.  In front of us, nothing but 1000 foot ocean.   My hands clasped beneath my stomach, I find my buoyancy using my lungs as my rudder.  Do I want to lift slightly higher to go up and over coral?  I slowly intake more air.  Do I want to sink lower to reach depth? I breath out a slow and steady hum.  I swim forward using one relaxed frog kick.  Then, I wait.  Just like when I am at Sonrisa’s helm, every move I make has a delayed response.  If I turn her rudder to the right, it takes a few seconds for the water to wash over it and create movement.  I don’t use my arms or hands to swim at all, which is an odd feeling.  I can almost just think up, down, right, left and if I wait a few seconds, my body will slowly adjust.  I sip air, a three second intake of breath; then, I slowly blow out to at least a count of eight.  I wait three seconds at the bottom of the breath, then I sip again.  I feel calm.   They say that when a group of divers dive together, they will naturally breathe together.  If one person begins to breathe very quickly, it is contagious and the other divers have a tendency to breathe quickly, too.  I consciously breathe slowly, relax my body and move as little as necessary.  It is like meditation, but with fantastic scenery. My flashlight beam traces in front of me.  All the bright blue sea urchins who usually tuck themselves into the crevices of the reef have climbed out and are waiving their spines around in the water.  Everywhere, coral have sent out their ferns and fans, and like soft feathers in the wind, they wave forward and back in the surge.  Snakes swim through my flashlight beam, and then I can’t see them anymore.  I find an eel I have never seen before; he has alternating black and white along the length of its body, with a yellow green head.  He is completely out of his hole, resting on the ocean floor.  I see a Lion Fish, his fronds displayed in all their glory.   At one point in the dive, we hide the beam of our flashlights.  We are in pitch darkness, but as the diver in front of me paddles his feet, the same bioluminescence that streams off Sonrisa as we sail along lights up from under the water.  I am in the middle of the little green ocean fireflies. By the time we surface, I feel like I have done a full hour’s yoga session.  My mind is calm, my breathing slow, my body relaxed.  It is the best feeling in the world.  I am clearly developing an addiction here.  That night, I dream of scuba diving. We top off our training with the stress and rescue course.  We explore a cavern swim through and reach a giant domed cave.  As we surface inside the cave, we see the beautiful Niue stalagmite and stalactite formations resulting from water dripping through the coral sponge.  We are inside  Niue.  A couple of Ugas hang from the side of the walls, their beady eyes looking at us as if we don’t belong in this dark echo chamber.  We can see the bright blue water of the cave entrance below us, obscured by our ripples on the water surface.   We sink back do

Source: Niue Under the Sea, Part Two