On a still night, with ambient light nothing more than flames rising from ash and maple into thin smoke that wafts upward in a loose spiral, coaxed ever higher by glowing embers that lie in the pockets between those slowly settling logs, we sit in a circle, feeling the warmth seep into us as it pushes against the chill pressing into our backs.
Talk of the day’s events behind us, we gaze into the sky in awed silence, a wordless communion blessed by a blanket of stars, those flames now as if nothing. Even as the fire is reduced to embers, the night’s chill has no effect, for what could rival a brilliance that inspires the imagination, kindling wonder that knows no bounds as it blazes across the sky?
There is dignity, even in hauling coal, when masts stand tall with sails unfurled as they hold the wind as their own.
But treacherous waters care not for dignity when the wind howls and waves rise to meet a bowsprit. You drew the short straw in that lottery, your life cut short after eighteen years, your graceful lines no match for the rocky shore that met them.
Within the shallows of that narrow bay where you’ve lain for a century, you know no wind, yet you have a view of the sky that holds it, so blue during days of calm, or darkened gray when those winds swirl. The water around you, cool in any season, steals from you that rippled view in winter, yet offers a cool blue light, nearly electric, filtered through its icy ceiling.
And though we may walk above you in your winter obscurity, we can still imagine you as we might on ice-free days, when, though your masts are gone, you are still known as Sweepstakes, your lines still graceful before the winds you held so dear.
I started scuba diving in 1981, and during the 1980s I made several trips to Tobermory, Ontario, and the Fathom Five National Marine Park. Twenty-two shipwrecks (and likely more) can be found in this underwater preserve where scattered islands create a hazardous passage into the Georgian Bay of Lake Huron. The two-masted schooner Sweepstakes, built in 1867, struck Cove Island in 1885 and was towed to Big Tub Harbor at Tobermory, where it sank in twenty feet of water. The shallow dive was always enjoyable, and I even made a trip to Canada to dive on it as a part of my Ice Diving certification.
Image source: screenshot from YouTube (Sweepstakes in the winter) ~~ click for larger view Map source: Wikimedia Commons
Let me go. Mad as I am, with no two days the same in a mind aswirl, the world making no sense. It’s senseless to seek any solace here. We’re at a loss. You, to puzzle through my state, and I, to find any comfort in my madness.