1. To the Light Spot.
I was in Portland, Maine on vacation recently. It was that time just between summer and fall when you would wake up and not know whether the 65 degree day would feel warm or cold. And that was doubly true on the coast of Maine. We went to the docks to see if there was a kind of tour boat that we could take a ride on to see the many small islands that dotted the near-sea. It was going to be the one part of the vacation where I could take pictures, the rest of the days being a mess of rain and stores which made for a fun time, if not a photogenic one. We found that there was a boat that went to five of the bigger islands and delivered mail twice a day. It seemed like a fun idea, joining this service for a few hours. The tour was supposed to last for three hours, and we made jokes about which of us was Gilligan. I think we decided I was.
It was a windy day and the sky was mostly clouded, but it didn’t seem particularly bad until we got out on the open water. A few of us started the trip at the front of the boat, on deck and waiting patiently in our seats for the boat to start moving. When it did we quickly left our posts for the closed in lower deck. The view wasn’t as good, but it was warm. The warmth was all that mattered after a few minutes of the wind biting at my face. It was pretty crowded in the lower deck, though there was enough room for all to sit. It got louder and louder as people began to talk over each other and the loud, constant hum of the engines powering us forward. At the first island stop I went above to see how the whole operation went down. It wasn’t very exciting. Just a few guys pushing a cart off the boat and then pulling on another cart. The transaction was easy and let the few townspeople (islandspeople?) talk to the young guys that did the loading for a few minutes. This clearly wasn’t a situation where time was the driving factor. We got moving again after a few minutes and those of us that went above to see the process happen quickly retreated below again. The next island couldn’t entice us out of our warmth.
It was on the way to the fourth island, about the middle of our voyage, that I dared to try the upper deck experience again. It was sunny now, not that gray chill but the light warmth of an early-October afternoon. It wasn’t exactly a perfect ride up there, the wind was still blowing but it seemed to be blocked a bit by the surrounding islands. The sun made it bearable and even pleasant, though. I resolved to stay up there until the next, penultimate stop on our ride. It was just me and the boat and the water. The boat propelled me, the water supported me. I was moving and immobile. I had no agency, no power, no way to change anything in this situation. I had only my resolve, my dedication to myself that I wouldn’t move until we got to the next island.
But it got really cold. The wind blew the clouds around in patterns I couldn’t figure out. One moment it was clear, the next cloudy. I looked up and saw that the clouds probably wouldn’t part for a long time. There was one small hole in the clouds. It was closing quickly, the spot on the water lit by the sun shrinking by the second. But we were headed right for it. The boat propelling me closer and closer towards the last moment of warmth that afternoon. The wind was picking up and I was getting colder and colder. It was now a battle of wills. I could barely keep my eyes open, they watered and I had to blink constantly just to keep a clear-ish view. I almost couldn’t tell if the sun spot was there anymore. I only sat there, fighting the wind just to stay in one spot. Using my hands to hold my camera and get a picture was out of the question. I was afraid that the wind would blow the camera over the edge of the boat even though it was strapped around my neck and I was sitting in the middle of the deck.
I was so focused on staying in one spot that I didn’t even notice we reached the sun spot until a second after we entered it. I looked up and saw the clouds closing in around the bright disk. The sun turned their edges silver for a moment until it disappeared behind their dark curtain. The last moment of warmth lingered for a second, long enough for me to feel it. The wind returned, or it never left, and now that the potential return of the sun was out of the question there was nothing left to keep me up there. I sat for a minute, getting colder and more miserable. The joy of my last moment in the sun fading quickly but never fully disappearing. That last spot, the thing that compelled me to stay would never return. But the memory of it, the waiting and those sweet seconds when it was more than just me and the boat and the sea, when the sun joined in our reverie, that would last.
2. After the Storm.
We had a hurricane recently. It came up the coast and drove straight through our state, rampaging and knocking over mailboxes like a car filled with high school kids drunk on beer and the freedom of their first drive. It was a big hurricane, the biggest storm in the history of the country in terms of how many people were affected by it. Our house suffered no damage and we had power throughout the storm. We stayed inside and watched movies, the flickering screen distracting us from the constant wind and rain. It started while we were sleeping and didn’t end until after dinner. Then, an hour after the storm ended, our power went out.
The winds still blew and that’s what knocked down a branch into the power lines that supplied the power lines that supplied our house with that sweet juice. It wasn’t dark yet, being near the end of summer but still quite light until just before 8’o’clock. We went out in my car to see what happened around town. They all told us not to, those people on TV and the radio warned us that the roads might have downed power lines or big branches blocking the way, and that we should stay off of them for our safety and that of the power and emergency service people. We ignored those electronic enjoinders. We will not be told what to do! We are Americans! We can drive wherever we want!
Nothing happened. We saw a few downed branches and the river a few miles away from our house was quite high, but that’s all. It was a disappointing expedition. It was dark when we returned, and we lit candles to read by. Soon I was the only one still awake. My book was good, and there were no distractions. I looked up from my flickering page out to our street. It was strange a strange lack out there. A lack of light, of sound, of people coming and going. It was just calm, blue, air. I went out.
Upon exiting my house, I found that there was something more than the calm. There was a nice late-summer breeze. The storm hadn’t left us entirely, not yet. Now we had just the tail, the last dregs of the storm. Or, I had those dregs. There seemed to be nobody else. It was never exactly a busy street but if you went out at any semi-normal hour you would see a neighbor’s bedroom tv set casting that blue-white light on the window shades or a car returning from a late-night adventure. Or, at the very least, a cat prowling for crickets and birds. But that night there was just me. The wind had blown away the clouds that hid the beauty of the sky with their low hanging grayness for the past two days. There was no light leaking into the sky, either. You could see every star. The entire universe. Everything that ever existed and ever will exist. I felt small, a tiny piece in that bigger-that-big puzzle. What did I matter if there was so much other matter? And then that passed. My smallness excited me. It invigorated me. I was small, yes, but in that smallness I could be anything. I could do anything. I was out there, just me and possibility, potential. It was freeing. I stood out there for five minutes. Then I went back inside. I read some more. When I woke up the next morning we still didn’t have power, but I did.
NOTE: All of these pictures are by me. The pictures from the first story are actually from that trip on that boat. The pictures from the second story are not from that day. They just evoke a storm.