Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Sea Gypsy Christmas

[There's just two days left to go for the Unspell Fundraiser. If you haven't donated yet, please do, and future generations of children will thank you for it. Meanwhile, here is a lovely guest post by Ray Jason.]

It is Christmastime down here in the Banana Latitudes. Far to the north in the Frenzied Latitudes, the shoppers are body-slamming each other with vigor and venom. In a little Panamanian town square, I savor the sight of the Indio families in from the hills letting their children marvel at the lights and the decorations. Compared to El Norte, it is all so calm and unhurried and moderate. Surely gifts will be exchanged on the big day, but there is none of the fevered gluttony for stuff that soils the holidays in the First World.

As I leave the park to head back to AVENTURA, a faint, sweet music whispers from the little chapel across the street. I cross over and answer its call. It is a choir of children practicing Christmas carols. The beauty and innocence on their faces is enough to inspire a Leonardo to reach for his canvas and brushes. I am spellbound by the sound of these old English folk songs exquisitely rendered in Spanish. Their last song is a playful version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

It is still joyously cascading in my head when I step back aboard my lovely sailboat. Since eggnog is not available this close to the Equator, I improvise and combine some warm milk with some Bailey’s Irish Crème. It keeps my festive joy simmering; and I settle in to ponder what “my true love might give to me.”

I chuckle at the realization that I don’t have a “true love” to bequeath me twelve days of gifts - or even two days of gifts. What woman would wish to mate with an impoverished, sea gypsy philosopher who is already becalmed in his Middle Years? But as I scan AVENTURA’S small but handsome interior, I realize that my boat has been my truest true love. Through heart-stopping dangers and heart-soaring delights, she has been my companion and my enabler. She has allowed me to embrace a tough but extraordinary “path less traveled.”

When I begin to meditate upon this more deeply, I am pleased by how swiftly I can tally up twelve days worth of blessings that my sea gypsy life confers upon me. And so I enumerate them on my little Socratic clipboard. (Yes, I often write without a computer!) Then I explore each of them more thoroughly. None of these can be purchased or wrapped or packaged - but what fine life gifts they are!

1) CONTENTMENT To be happy and healthy in the here and now of one’s daily Life, is the greatest gift that any true love could provide. And this condition is even more remarkable in our era, because it is so difficult to unshackle ourselves from the powerful Modern Discontentment Machine. The relentless juggernaut of our materialistic culture does everything in its power to convince us that we are sadly inadequate, and can only be complete if we buy more stuff.

2) IMMERSION IN NATURE My sailboat and I do not just visit Nature, we are immersed in it – both literally and symbolically. Suspend your reading for a moment, and ask yourself if you know what stage the moon will be in tonight. Or can you distinguish the call of an osprey from the sound of a laughing gull? Such things might seem inconsequential compared to the latest iPhone app, but there are many who believe that Nature Deficit Disorder leads to enormous problems in the modern world. Drop one of the few remaining hunter-gatherers into a sprawling, concrete city and observe his extreme distress. We delude ourselves by thinking that we are civilized and urbanized humans. But we are still hard-wired as hunter-gatherers and when we are almost totally separated from Nature, it causes significant psychological damage in both the individual and the society.

3) FREEDOM I know of no other way of life as independent as that of the sea gypsy. And for me it is not just geographical emancipation, it is the joy that comes from not being a part of modes of living that profoundly disturb me. I can completely liberate myself from the War Machine the Shopping Machine and the Rape of Mother Earth Machine.

4) COMMUNITY The sense of togetherness is far more pronounced in the sailing fraternity. And I am not speaking in vague, ethereal terms, but in brass tacks reality. This morning most of the sailors gathered on the VHF radio for a daily communal network where we shared information and assisted the newcomers. Two of today’s topics were the Christmas Eve potluck that is being finalized and some questions about nearby low-cost medical care. The bonds of support and harmony are much stronger here in our water world than they are in terra world.

5) SOLITUDE Although I cherish the wonderful sense of community amongst the sailors, I also relish the solitude that I can so easily find by simply hauling up my anchor and sailing a short distance away to an isolated, pristine cove. There I can reconnect with my other community – my animal friends who live in the sea and the sky. For a contemplative spirit, this seclusion is essential. Indeed, for a philosopher, tranquility is one’s friend and frenzy is one’s foe.

6) FERAL-ICITY Most of humanity is totally disconnected from the wild, untamed aspects of our animal nature. The 80 or so remaining indigenous tribes scattered around our homogenized planet, view us as domesticated animals –as cows or sheep. On the other hand they view themselves as jaguars or eagles. They do not rely on a keeper – they fend for themselves. This sea gypsy life allows me to swim naked, howl at the rising moon, spear a fish for dinner, greet the sunrise with a blast from my conch shell and generally embrace my Inner Tarzan without worrying about neighbors on the cul-du-sac.

7) SELF-RELIANCE For most people, the joy of repairing something has become a quaint relic from by-gone times – something only seen in Norman Rockwell paintings. But for the ocean sailor, it is not just a nostalgic memento, it is a life or death requirement. Smash into a floating container that has fallen off a big ship, and you will be in a race with Captain Grim Reaper. Being able to swiftly fix that hole with a patch and some underwater epoxy is a life-affirming rush if ever there was one. Relying on one’s tool kit, spare parts and skill is a wondrous experience.

8) ELEGANT SIMPLICITY The ocean-going sailboat is probably humanity’s finest combination of form and function. At sea, AVENTURA is strong, fairly fast and she has a sea-kindly motion even in maximum miserable conditions. At anchor she is a perfect little bachelor writer’s pad. Small - but spacious enough - with a bright yet warm teak and mahogany interior accented with brass lamps and bronze portholes. All of her systems are as simple as possible. The pumps and plumbing are manual and the electrical equipment uses basic on/off toggle switches. The sun and the wind provide the power. Although I am often reclusive, I am not a monk eating grubs in a spidery cave. Mine is not an ascetic existence but a pleasant one - with a fine library, good music and even a stash of classic movies. It is the physical manifestation of one of the pillars of my personal philosophy. “Enough is good, but more than enough is BAD!”

9) PAYING FORWARD As an unrepentant hippie, I still believe in the importance of trying in some tiny way to help make the world a better place. By adopting this sea gypsy life, which is so affordable and time rich, I am able to dedicate myself to what I call The Way of Ratawi. This is my acronym for “Reading and Thinking and Writing Inspirationally.” Fully aware that my little blog will probably never influence the wider world even minutely, it still feels meaningful to me - even if it is a fool’s errand.
10) ECO-FRIENDLY As a part-time Tarzan, who loves being cocooned in Nature, it is deeply comforting to me to have such a tiny carbon footprint. My water comes from the sky to the spigot with no electricity whatsoever. Almost all other electrical power for fans or lights come through my solar panels or wind generator. I use about 2 gallons of diesel fuel per MONTH! Each night AVENTURA and I can rest comfortably knowing that we are not harming Mother Earth or Mother Ocean.

11) COLLAPSE CONSCIOUS Most deep-ocean sailors embrace this mantra: “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst!” I have also applied that motto to my carefully researched beliefs that Captain Catastrophe may be lurking just below the horizon. As I thoroughly described in the three “Sea Gypsy Tribe” essays that are easy to find here on my blog, I suspect that calamitous troubles might await us. AVENTURA continues to be a test-platform for how to survive if indeed there is a bad moon arising. I could literally sail away tomorrow and survive comfortably at sea for a few months with the food, water, supplies and tools that I have onboard as I complete this sentence.

12) FUN My hippie brothers and sisters would likely characterize most of the essays here at my blog as being “heavy.” And indeed, I do traffic in serious subjects and attempt to speak powerfully and provocatively and poetically about them. But this does not mean that my sea gypsy life is also heavy. In fact, I know very few people who are as happy as I am on a daily basis. Now that I have sailed into my Middle Years, I understand that it is important to battle the Malignant Powers; but it is also important to embrace the joy and beauty that our EarthOcean planet bequeaths us!


Silent Otto said...

At length his loneliness extended into
stony parapets and turrets of the kingdom
peering graciously into bis ball,
he stroked his grey beard,
guarded his gourd and listened
for the whispering of freedom,
one more time

And a very Merry Christmas to you , wise Mariner, even though its the middle of bloody summer here in Auatralia
Ahoy !

BonRobi said...

What a beautifully inspirational piece to share at Christmas. Keeps a bit of wind in my sails, so to speak.

My wife and I are "between boats" right now, searching for one south of the USA border but mostly just getting out of what we perceive the be the major impact zone of collapse. But, after 5 years living aboard on our last boat, I can still pass the test posited in #2: tonight is just post full moon and the cry of the osprey and gull are indeed different. Supplemented by the burro up here in our temporary high desert "anchorage".

We are temporarily near a big overcrowded latin city (Oaxaca) and the social intensity of the crowded central square and markets is often a bit unnerving for folks used to the liveaboard perk of solitude (when desired). But we also live on a farm right now, with other petro-chariot bound international travelers, and. oddly, it is much like the sailing tribe in that we share a basically low consumerist lifestyle (sans the glaring inconsistency of fuel burning) in favor of experience and ranging. We also are having a christmas potluck dinner. Some of these folks have been vagabonding for years and, as one put it, distance from the border is like a filter and the farther south you go the more open minded (and deliciously eccentric) travelers seem to be.

But this heartfelt essay really heightens the restlessness my wife and I share in not having a boat under us. We will eventually find a boat down here and be waterborne once again. It is a fine lifestyle for all these well detailed 12 reasons (and more). We can echo these points as entirely valid and very very real. Thank you for sharing this inspiring piece. Feliz Navidad!!!!

Anonymous said...

I've been following your blog and a couple books for 2 and a half years, if I remember right. I loved your writing right off the bat for its intellectual value, but after awhile I came to categorize you as the practical-mechanical-minded type and so I became a bit more critical. Then six months ago or so you surprised me by showing a more spiritual side, and since then I have seen a more varied Orlov. I meant to comment on that article but I forgot to, but thought I should thank you for featuring this beautiful piece by Ray Jason (whom I will be reading more of). You obviously approach writing as an art. I believe that pain produces the best art; thus, while modern society may be psychologically painful (especially now that it is collapsing), because of it I am able to enjoy great works by you and a few others. The best artists are ones who are able to reinvent their art over and over again, such as Trent Reznor and David Bowie, rather than doing the same old tired thing. And when I think of psychological pain producing a great culture of music, the late 80s-early 90s alternative music scene is the best example. Dozens of young artists producing not just angsty rebellion, but a furious rejection of the world and modern life—although, generally speaking, their critique was more of a gut feeling than a deep understanding of the roots of their anguish. American culture has only worsened since, so it doesn't surprise me that our music has failed as well; today's youth are too thoroughly domesticated. The system has prevailed; today's young minds are too weak to feel pissed off about what is being done to them (and all of us). But there are many types of art and I feel lucky to have discovered authors like you, Morris Berman and Chris Hedges. You're getting tired of writing about collapse? Fair enough. Maybe you will find another way to illuminate our world--you're clearly qualified to write the screenplay for Waterworld 2.