February 14, 2006

Times past, fallen away, and brought back

Category: Travel — @ 3:30 pm

It is strange to think that one decision can so dramatically change the course of one’s history, one’s life.

For me, when I was 17, I decided to live on this ship , the R/V Heraclitus, and I think the more important of decision, in terms of impact on my life, was not that I went but that I left after a year.

At the time, it was extraordinarily hard to leave. Life was good and rich, 80 feet and all. Within the constraint of having to show up every morning for work at 8 am, of rarely being able to “leave” the boat, of having only 10 people to interact with consistently, of being pretty darn poor, of living in tiny quarters, there was an expansive cloak of freedom. Part of it was, as my friend put it, “freedom from choice.” Part of it was that life on the sea, with a small group of people, is really so interesting enough that it grabs not only one’s attention, but one’s soul and for a very long time. Part of it was the vastness of the ocean, for it is a liquid land ripe for constant exploration.

I left because if I did not, then years later, I would have to foot the entire bill for college and that was just too large of a bill and school was too important to me. So one sunny day, I walked off the red deck in Belize and since have not really sailed much (if at all??) in my life. I made a promise that one day I would live on a boat again, perhaps even do an ethnography of sea people by living and traveling on a sailing boat, as that I think, has yet to be done. Who knows if that will ever be but today, when I was visiting the R/V Heraclitus site, which I do from time to time, to see where the lovely barge is at, and to catch a glimpse of my former life, I was surprised to see they have a short video of the ship and wow, watching it was, of course, a serious trip down memory lane.

It has been almost 14 years since I left and I have not seen such images since. Many of the objects are the same (the chairs on the deck, the huge silver bin containers in the meeting room, the imposing helm) and there were even some folks I still knew… It was truly wonderful to see the rough black cement, the deep wood of the library, the built environment that somehow, floats a top a vast territory, carrying a motely crew to physical places at the same time that such travels are always an internal movement, the self, transforming, minutely but surely.

Where you or it goes is never down a straight path, but more circular, more mysterious. Heraclitus, of course, says it best:

The world, an entity out of everything, was created by neither Gods or men, but was, is and will be eternally living fire, regularly becoming ignited and regularly becoming extinguished.

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