Monday, September 13, 2010

I Went on A Trip!

The Messenger

A month before we left for our trip to Southeast Alaska, I dreamed of a bald eagle, three white wolves, and the lifting of the veil. I won't describe the entire dream here, but one of the things I remember most clearly about it is the flying pattern of the bald eagle; a very specific sort of spiraling descent. On our way into Disenchantment Bay in Yakutat, I walked out onto the upper deck and happen to glance up. I saw a bald eagle, disconcertingly close, spiraling downward in the exact formation that I saw in my dream. After that, I stood still for almost an hour, watching the mountains and water. Eventually, I began to cry, helpless with grief at the beauty I was witnessing. I actually had to leave the deck to stop from falling prostrate, breathless, and worshipful before it. I don't fully understand why great beauty is so powerful; why it would cause almost debilitating physical pain.

My friend Dana started The Compassion Project several days before I left for my trip. She generously invited me to join her in it when I told her I admired what she was doing. I told her that I would think about what felt right to me on the trip, and see if I wanted to write daily about compassion, or if something else came up for me. I have decided to parallel with her on “The Beauty Project”; daily meditations on beauty.

My Simplicity Fantasies

I am constantly haunted by the feeling that my real life is somewhere else. I crave authenticity and tend to think it's anywhere but in the life I happen to be currently living. I therefore spend a great deal of time constructing elaborate simplicity fantasies. For each town we came to, I wrote one in my head: In Sitka, some crazy wealthy man built a lighthouse on one of the Baranof Islands, just for show. He's selling it at a the low, low price of half a million dollars, and I figure it could easily be converted into a bed and breakfast. I could operate it for tourists in the summer. Or learn to kayak so I can take visitors out on trips, then spend the winters knitting cute little hats to sell on Etsy. Or I could be a waitress at one those worn-out little diners. A fixture. Everyone would want their coffee from me and me alone. I could move to Juneau and open a used book shop. I could get a job tending bar in Ketchikan, and cooking aboard a vessel during the fishing season. I am convinced that any one of these paths would be the real life that I long for; the one I've been waiting for so many years.

Then I have to sternly remind myself that I spent my entire life trying to escape isolated, economically depressed, snow-locked little towns, and moving to one in adulthood is not likely to be the cure for what ails me.

Cold Play

Growing up in the regions that I did, (in the remoter areas of Alaska and Michigan's Upper Peninsula), you learn to find life in unlikely places. The peaceful breath of a long snowfall; the living silence of a clear, frigid evening, the vitality lurking in the stillness of an icicle. I think this is why I'm so drawn to glaciers. I feel them as alive things, as beings with an essence. Hubbard Glacier is very much a living entity. It has a voice; its bones rumble and echo as it settles and moves and thrusts itself forward. Parts of it break off periodically and cause a thunderous wake on the shoreline. It creaks, it mumbles, it adjusts. It muscles in with tremendous, incremental momentum. It is frankly and indifferently stunning. And it cares nothing about our existence. If God had form, it would be a glacier.

How to Dance a Poem

Evenings, we got into the deliciously lazy routine of settling into the Ocean Bar to listen to a trio called The Neptunes play piano bar favorites. I liked the lead singer. He was funny and warm, and he seemed to truly love his job. One night, Edelweiss was requested. An older couple, probably in their late 70's, approached the floor. They began to dance, looking deeply into each others eyes the entire time, moving in a perfect choreography that they knew so intimately it seemed too personal to watch. Their dance was a flawless whirl and bow of: I love you, and I thank you. I love you, and I thank you. Because even now, I tend to doubt my own perceptions, at the end of it, I glanced over to the cello player, a very young gentlemen. He was smiling humbly and swallowing back tears.

The Value of a Body

There were of course a number of elderly people on the ship; many of whom were slow and fragile. I hope to one day be old and slow and fragile. And I am frightened of one day being old and slow and fragile. As much of a disappointment as my body has been, as much as I feel it has failed me, I do enjoy it's small powers. I enjoy feeling my legs work, pushing past my knee pain, my arms working through the ache to get that kayak up the straights. I like feeling fast and and capable. I like the childlike pleasure of pushing against obstacles; feeling my body generating heat under it's own power. This is when I feel the value of my body beyond any notions of it's dubious aesthetics as a commodity, beyond the desperate desire for it to be thinner, frailer, more pleasing, more feminine. I love the feel of it's bulk protecting me; the power of my height serving me. I am worried only about surviving the cold, or the hike, or the last few miles to shore. Worried only about doing what needs to be done, everything reduced down to the most essential. My body against the elements.

I fear being incapacitated by age or injury, and I am sad that I spend so much time hating my own, relatively healthy, functional, body. I am afraid I will be punished for hating my body by having it's function taken away from me. Because I do not appreciate it enough.

Purple

In Sitka, our kayaking guide wanted to show us a purple starfish she had made friends with some days ago. We paddled over to a rock formation that was covered in golden moss, and sure enough, she found her starfish buddy. She peeled him off the rocks, and we passed him back and forth. He was soft and suckery and slick and magnificent. I was happy she knew where his home was, and made an effort to find him. To show us something she took joy in.

On the last day, we spend a few hours poking around the shops in Victoria. After visiting an Irish import shop, I have decided that I must have a luxuriant purple reversible wrap shawl to huddle in throughout the winter.

A Moment of Greatness

I tried on a pair of $3,000.00 Ammolite earrings in Ketchikan, enjoying the momentary fantasy of being a woman who could walk around wearing $3,000.00 earrings.

The Happiness of Others

Being a naturally reclusive person, I don't engage in the camaraderie of "ship life". I kept mostly to myself. Mr. Typist and I did not eat dinner at group tables or engage in social activities. I wanted a lot of time alone. But I found that watching other people have fun was itself a lot of fun.

We had gone kayaking with another couple, a bit younger than us—a fellow shy red-head and her husband, who like Mr. Typist, works in IT. They were amiable and fun. Later, I saw them together in the lounge. She had on a luxurious black velvet gown, and her hair was in a curvaceous updo. They looked in love, and I was glad for them. On the last night in port, we got back to the ship early and hung out up in the Crow's Nest, where the ships' comedian was getting cheerfully drunk on tequila shots and cracking up at his own impersonations. It was “Sing Along Night”, a sort of karaoke evening where you could pick a song and sing it with a live band. There was much nervous giggling and whispered plotting behind us. A group of four, two couples, excitedly got up and sang an Abba song together. They were laughing the whole time, embarrassed and thrilled and having a blast. It was clear that they had all been friends for a long time, and that this was a great moment for them.

Towel Animals!


My favorite was a monkey they hung up over our bed. Photos coming soon!


End Times

We avoided any organized trips, opting to find our way around on our own, which allowed us to stumble onto salmon spawing grounds in a river in Sitka on our way to the raptor center. The water was stinking, thick and black with chum, the frenzied females laying eggs and swimming to shore to die within minutes. The best poem I ever heard about the salmon spawn is this: Many years ago, I had a friend who I worked with at a neighborhood deli and wine shop called The Cork and Crock. One day we were watching a documentary about the spawn. At the end, she was outraged. She slammed her fist into the table repeatedly and yelled, “What the fuck? They spend their entire lives swimming up the river just to breed and die? This is outrageous. Why the fuck did you let me watch this? Get out of my house!” Then she went into her room, slammed the door and started sobbing. It was days before she spoke to me again.


--Kristen McHenry

3 comments:

Frank Moraes said...

I am happy you had happy days on and off the ship.

Once, up in the Washington rain forest, I watched two bald eagles circling together for almost forty minute. I'm not sure what they were doing; I don't speak bald eagle, but it was fascinating the same way a tree-lined hill is. I don't understand how such a random line can be so beautiful while: paint + canvas + me = disaster. I think this is kind of what attracts you to glaciers.

Everything is alive, I think. We are all just so damn impatient. My thoughts have been heavy this past week with Haumea and its adorable moons Hi'iaka and Namaka. But I fear there is much romance in my thinking. Perhaps too much is made of the difference between affection and sentiment. It is all authentic inside. At least it is if you give it the slightest effort.

Your dreams are big! My blog article before today's talked about a little used bookstore I found for sale for just $25,000! It was so tempting. But then I thought better of it. People would come in asking for a Patricia Cornwell novel and I would chase them out of the store with a chef's knife. I would end up in jail, all because of my very good taste!

I feel sorry for that purple starfish. I feel like people are doing that to me all the time. "I don't care if you know where I live! I don't want to come out! I don't want to visit!" And I'll tell you this: anyone does that to me, they'll feel more than slick suckery! (Not that I don't understand and appreciate your guide's intentions.)

If I had my own band to back me up, I would do "The Way You Look Tonight," but only because people would snicker if I did, "Someone to Watch Over Me":

I’m a little lamb who's lost in the wood
I know I could, always be good
To one who’ll watch over me!

The Good Typist said...

I assure you no starfish were harmed during our gentle fondling. He was plopped (lightly) right back down on his favorite rock after less than an minute, and he was perfectly fine. Starfish are tough. (And now he has a good story to tell all his friends).

Frank Moraes said...

Ugh! I'm not talking about harm here, Mrs. Typist! I'm talking inconvenience! I'm saying that Ol' Purple Starfish was probably very busy doing some important slick suckery things. Regardless, you don't know, do you? I hate unannounced guests and I see no reason to believe that Ol' Purple Starfish is any different!

And sure, he had a good story to tell. "So I'm just sitting there, minding my own business, doing my usual slick suckery stuff when BAM! This disgusting dry, absolutely non-suckery thing grabs me and passes me around to some other non-suckery dry things like I'm a piece of jewelry. Then after they get bored or whatever those things get, they plop me back in the water. I was so freaked out, I had to take a Xanax!"

You're right: it is a good story.