The Mirror Between Two Worlds




CLiving aboard a small boat, you live on a mirror, and it is constantly moving. It is also the interface between two worlds - the dominant one on our planet and below our hull, is within the sea. The other one, where we dwell, is within the air. So, let's reflect.


C We are at home, anchored on the mirror, in a small cove in Washington's San Juan Islands. A Peregrine Falcon just soared off the cliff towering above us.

C A mother Turkey Vulture, with her two 'teenage' kids, is fending off her begging duo while all three explore the tide line.

C A Fish Crow is watching us, with the hope that we are fishing and will soon clean a fish, leaving the innards for his breakfast.

C A Bald Eagle keeps an eye on the scene from a perch atop a snag below the cliff.


C The only sounds are the twitter of the Eagle, the mewing of gulls, and the abrupt splash of small fish jumping to evade the marauding salmon or seal. We study the reflections shining from the mirror under us, and reflect about the 'other' world - the world where you, most probably, live.

C "Who was your best friend, when you were a kid?" El asked with a twinkle in her eye. She was baiting me, and we both knew it.

C "A guy who lived in another state and had been dead a hundred years. Henry David Thoreau," I answered watching the ripples, made when a fish nudged the mirror surface, moving in a circle toward shore. "Oh, and maybe a few others, most lived in England and had lived even earlier than Thoreau. Chaps like Emerson, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, and Keats. " A Kingfisher rattled his cheery greeting as he flew past us on the boat. "I knew them well - better than any of my school chums."

C "You were a weird kid, weren't you?" El said with the twinkle now a broad and shining smile.

C "Yes - I was, and I learned that very young. The other kids were into sports teams, swapping baseball cards, watching TV, fast cars, fancy clothes, impressing each other. None of that interested me in the slightest. I spent my homework-free afternoons in the woods, watching the wild ones. I knew where the fox trails crossed the old stone walls, when the Barred Owl had her young, the haunts of the Peregrine. None of my school friends had any interest in such things, so I was alone much of the time after school. But, in the evenings, if I wasn't involved with Boy Scouts, I loved to read. My bedroom (the "Penthouse") was the only room on the third floor of our house - sandwiched between two attics. A great place to keep my pets - a few snakes, an injured bird, some frogs. None of them stayed with me long - I caught them, kept them a few days until I knew them, and then let them go."

C "I'll bet your sister loved to visit you in your room?" El added with a grin.

C "Never, and the folks didn't go there either. In evenings, after dinner, I would curl up with Thoreau (almost wore out Walden with all the underlining) or those English poets. Although I had little in common with my schoolmates, I had good friends with me in the evenings in my room. Those long-dead fellows taught me most everything on how to live a life, since they were interested in exactly those things that fascinated me."

C "An example, please?" El had heard this discourse before, but this meandering thread of conversation fit the quiet morning and often lead to interesting and lengthy discussions.

C "OK." I found my moth-eaten copy of Wordsworth. "Here's one:"


"The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.--Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn."

C"Now, for discussion, let's compare our morning with that of Mr. and Mrs. Average American. Our 'study' for the morning - the tides and the predicted currents in the Straits of Juan de Fuca; the route to follow among the rocks along the south coast of Lopez Island in search of the Orca pod; the predicted winds for this evening and the most scenic cove to shelter us for another night on anchor. Mr. and Mrs. AA?"

C "Yes, their lives are far more complicated than ours. "

C "That's the right word - complicated," I continued. "Ours are simple. We have no television or any videos - we tied off in a small harbor a few days ago to walk into the town theater to see Julie/Julia and that's the first movie we have seen for months. We receive no newspaper, and precious few bills. We see virtually no sporting events. We don't twitter or watch You-Tube. As our grandkids like to say, "You guys are out of it!" And we are.

C Our little boat generates our electricity, supplemented by a solar panel, water comes from the marina when we refuel (we burn far less gas with our little boat than most use to commute to the market), we have no microwave and our shower is solar.

C "Folks ask if we are aware of the nation's news. What do you answer?"

C "We read one news magazine (a British one) and catch headlines on the internet. We send an e-mail to a senator or representative on average of twice a week (probably more than Mr. and Mrs. AA). "

C "'What about family and friends?,'" they ask," El said, teasingly since she knows the reply. "OK, we contact our kids often by cell phone (they, and their kids, have all joined us on the boat this summer). And we have good contact with friends through the phone or internet. Our lives are not focused or obsessed with political news. We are not absorbed with 'getting and spending.' We live a different reality - farther from the buzz of the 'human world' and closer to the natural. Like Wordsworth, we watch 'the sea that bares her bosom to the moon' - we up-gather our experiences with the natural world 'now like sleeping flowers' and have time to share with each other, or reading together, or writing or visiting."

C I grinned a response, and watched us slowly swing on the anchor as the breeze gently pushed on our side. A new view, the cliff face, swung slowly across our stern.

C We have not been materialists, even when living ashore. Consequently, the change to living on the water in a small boat was not as difficult a transition as it might be for many Americans, deeply imbued in our culture. Backpacking, rafting, canoeing - we have spent countless hours together outdoors surrounded by the rejuvenating power of nature. We have not dedicated our brief lives to acquiring things (we don't need), and then repairing those things. We have stayed 'with it' - away from the stagnation and futility of materialism, of existential amnesia- revitalized by surrounding ourselves (and trying to maintain a harmony with the reality that has existed through all time) - with the natural world.

C Wordsworth's words ring true in our lives:

"So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn"

C "Exactly how we feel this morning, swinging on the anchor in this marvelous, lonely cove. Forlorn is an interesting word", El commented. "Mind looking up the etymology on the internet?"

C "It is the past participle of the word 'forleosan - to lose completely'," I read. "So the literal meaning of 'forlorn' means being completely lost, a good description of recent world history. Sure nice to out here away from the newsmedia one liners."

C "Strange, isn't it?," El said watching a seal pop up and glance at us in the cockpit. "The most important aspects of life are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity. You can't buy those things with all the money in the world. If one lives simply, the unnecessary things disappear and the necessaries glimmer in clear focus."

C "'Our life is frittered away by detail ... Simplify, simplify, simplify!' "Thoreau said it with so few words. "We are happy in proportion to the things we can do without."

C C Twice on our latest cruise in the San Juans and Gulf Islands we were tied to a dock to allow us to walk the quiet trails of state or provincial parks and thus chatted with other boaters. Two remain in our memory. Both were highly successful in business (one owned seven different corporations). Both were uptight and couldn't relax, even sitting on the dock with sunset. One of their boats, a fifty-three footer, towered over our little Halcyon. After asking about our lives, both said the exact same words "Wish we could do what you are doing. We'd swap in an instant."

C They had everything our culture says we should aspire to - money, big houses (one had three large homes), big boats, ... and they want to swap with us? With our twenty-two foot boat, a rental condo, and investments wheezing along ..."What prevents you from simplifying", we asked them. Well, you know all the reasons. The same reasons that explained why all those folks we met at park overlooks, while we were hiking the Appalachian Trail, used to answer their comment, "Always wanted to do what you guys are doing. Wish I could."

C Living on a small boat changes perspective and values ... or is it a different perspective that allows us the freedom to live on a small boat? We have this brief moment we call our lives, and we are so glad we have chosen each other and heeded the words of my childhood 'best friend.'


Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains. - Thoreau


Excuse Me, Look Who's On The Beach Now


I have learned by some experience, by many examples, and by the writings of countless others before me, also occupied in the search, that certain environments, certain modes of life, certain rules of conduct are more conducive to inner and outer harmony than others. There are, in fact, certain roads that one may follow. Simplification of life is one of them. - Ann Morrow Lindbergh (Gift from the Sea)


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