O Captain!

Coaster IIIt’s no secret that the sea transfixes me. When I decided to incorporate a new segment into my blog where I interview people with jobs that embody adventure, I knew landing an interview with a ship captain* named Niko Economides naturally had to be my first post. *(Niko insisted he shouldn’t be called a ship captain, just a captain, as those who were captains of ships were equivalent to surgeons in their training, but as far as I could tell, he was as much of a ship captain as I’d ever seen).

The Ship Captain

Niko invited me out onto his fine vessel for the interview. I am not even going to pretend I was cool and collected about it. I was basically salivating as I sat on a ledge in the harbor waiting for Niko to get back from a sail and once he did and spotted me, he hollered for me to climb aboard. I scrambled to get on his ship that looked like it deserved a role in a real-life Peter Pan movie.

Niko was still busy talking to those who just went out on the sail with him, as his boat is used for that exact reason: ventures near and far into Superior. Niko paused to tell me to have a look around the boat. Immediately I pulled out my camera and began investigating every knot, rope and clasp in breathless awe. I don’t know where this complete adherence to all things that touch the sea came from, but it’s been with me as long as I can recall. I cannot help but quip that I must’ve been a mermaid in another life for I yearn for the sea as if it were mine to begin with. As if I’ve merely been plucked from it so am therefore always working my way back somehow. Back to the sea, back from whence I came.

After touring the boat while my heart thrummed with its devotion to being on this ship—the Coaster II—I sat down near the wooden steering wheel and compass, to wait for Niko. When he made his way over, he summoned the two young chaps that were his crew to come have a look at my ship tattoo. This must’ve convinced everyone aboard that perhaps I belonged there. Then Niko told me we were going to go on a quick sail to do a pump out. I had no idea what this entailed, but the mere mention of moving out into open waters had me so twitterpated that I forgot to ask what exactly a pump out was.

I held my legs down to stop them from jumping and running around in unrestrained delight. My ship tattoo may have convinced these men that I was legit, but running around squealing over the prospect of setting sail would have been most uncouth.

When we set sail, Niko looked over and said I could start asking questions. I pulled out my notebook and began. Niko told me about how he’d been sailing for a long, long time; about how he did wilderness guiding, backpacking trips and built boats for a living before his sons (one of which was among us on the crew—21-year old Thanos who looked like he’d been born at sea) had expressed interest in a family business involving a large boat such as the one we were on. So Niko and his family began to look into purchasing such a ship.

Niko maintained that they needed a fixer upper and after finding the Coaster II, he and his son sailed it back from Maine where the Economides family then spent two years restoring the ship.

While Niko sailed and spoke, I noted that he, like his son, looked as if he were born at sea too. His full beard, sheath at his hip and natural ease while steering the ship bespoke of someone with the confident air of a true sailor.

When I asked Niko about different trips people could take aboard his ship, he rattled off a list of islands in Lake Superior and various day trips ranging from 2-8 hour sails. When he mentioned Granite Island and I asked where that was, he responded,

“About 14 miles due North.”

I asked what exactly due North meant, but loved hearing it intensely as it was clearly sea speak.

“Like to Canada,” he responded.

Once on the subject of direction, Niko began talk of navigation and ancient sea kings telling me that riddles were used for sailors to remember where the stars would rise if they were at different places in the world at different times.

“The sun’s important,” he noted, “but the stars will tell you more.”

He asked me my astrological sign and I told him Gemini. Niko informed me that Gemini was the sign of the navigator and I sat rapt, thinking, it all makes sense now. I am a navigator. It’s in the stars. Then he told me it really is in the stars, telling me about the twins, which represent Gemini.

According to mythencyclopedia.com in Greek and Roman Mythology Castor and Pollux were twin brothers. When Castor died, Pollux asked Zeus to let him share his own immortality with his twin to keep them together and they were transformed into the constellation Gemini. The pair were regarded as the patrons of sailors and were also associated with horsemanship (fancy that—horses—only my other favorite thing in life). Earthsky.org said that “in China they were associated with Yin and Yang, the contrasts and complements of life.”

Niko told me that Marquette was built upon its shipping history: schooners, sailing vessels, birchbark canoes.

“There was more happening here before there were any roads,” he said. “I’m not a big fan of roads.”

When I asked Thanos who moved gracefully and fluidly about the ship to tell me about his greatest adventure to date involving the ship, he spoke reverently about his time sailing back from Maine where the ship was purchased: traveling 26 hours down from Portland, sailing down the East Coast, cruising up the East River, then the Hudson, followed by the Eerie Canal. Once in Detroit, the rest of the Economides clan joined the boys and they sailed the Great Lakes home.

Thanos

He told me that his family buying this boat was life changing.

“I was either going to be a rock star or a cook,” he told me before settling in at 14 years old that a life aboard a ship would be much more meaningful.

“Right after we left New York I awakened and became more alive… [I] embraced this future,” Thanos said.

As we sailed back into the harbor, I noted that the air smelled exactly like the sea, fishy and crisp. And while the day had been bordering on scorching until now, suddenly I felt the wind change, cooling off my cheeks that were warm from excitement.

All my life I had been yearning to sail, especially on a boat such as this, one that bespoke of history and resilience, magnitude and adventure. And alas, the stars had aligned in my favor when Niko walked into my work one day (who I was then introduced to by a coworker who I’d confided in that I was looking to interview men of the sea).

But hey, I am not the only one who could experience such a thing. The Coaster II is available for sails nearly every day of the week. And Captain Niko surely will not disappoint as even going on a brief stint around the harbor while he regaled me with his knowledge both of boats and seafarers alike was a trip worth taking.

If you’re anything like me, you will take to the sea and understand there’s something worth fulfilling in your soul out there.

“The sea pronounces something, over and over in a hoarse whisper; I cannot make it out. But God knows I’ve tried.”
-Annie Dillard

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I Get By With a Little Help…

Today was perfect. I got up for work at seven. Okay. Correction. My sister woke me up at seven because I am without a phone, therefore without an alarm clock and at the mercy of others (because I keep neglecting to just travel back to 1999 and buy an alarm clock) and waking up at seven was less than perfection but no matter. I laid in bed not fully letting myself fall back asleep but instead fantasizing about the sleep that I could no longer partake in for fifteen minutes. Then I proceeded to the couch where I sat for another fifteen minutes not accepting that I had to go to work. Then I remembered that there is really fresh and delicious coffee where I work and I perked up, got cute and hopped on my bicycle.

Where I got coffee and got to work.

I left around two and immediately was called to nature. I got ahold of my hiking buddy, Dana who I can always, always count on to do just about anything outdoors and active with me. I put on my bathing suit under my hiking clothes as I had been broiling since my bike ride into work this morning. We went out to my favorite secluded beach and started weaving down the trails that ran parallel to my beloved Superior. Today the lake was glassy, with green undertones in the shallow waters and royal blue reflections out deep, with some fog dolloped on top for added mystique.

As we walked through the forest I couldn’t help but continue to inhale deeply. I’ve come to realize the smell of the forest, like the smell of the sea brings me more joy than I can hardly stand. I became so intoxicated with it, that I pointed out to my friend that they should bottle up the smell of the forest—the pine needles on cushy ground, the dense growth, the timber—and make all men wear it. But then I’d be in for a world of trouble, because it’s bad enough the flannel wearing, beard sporting men in this town, if they all smelled of the forest too, I don’t rightly know that I’d have a hold on myself. All bets would surely be off and I might become a wild thing.

As we walked along, though worries wanted to nag at me—I have a whole list of worries I can pick from on any given day: how will I pay all my bills, when can I see the whole wide world, why did my relationship end, how much weight do I need to lose, etc.—but today I forcibly reminded myself to be present. There was no use re-hashing what had been or wondering about what would be. All of that nonsense would detract from my walk with my friend, my walk with my forest, my walk with God.

After the hour-long hike, both uphill and down I was of course sweating where my body produces sweat, which is everywhere. I de-robed and slowly waded out into Superior, feeling her out, wondering if I would lose all feeling in my ankles and calves before forcing myself to submerge fully like I always do. No matter how frigid Lake Superior may be, if I go in past my ankles, I must dunk. It may be a Finnish thing, or perhaps it’s a crazy thing. Either way I stand by it.

I waded out to my chest. It was cold, sure. Numbing in a way, but not its usual electric shock of frigidity. The numbing chill felt welcome and therapeutic, like ice on achy muscles. I took a breath, plugged my nose and tipped back. I popped back up, smiled and dunked once more and just like that I was used to it.

I yelled to Dana that it felt amazing. She stuck a toe in and told me I was crazy and that it was freezing. So I frolicked around in it a bit and then met her at shore where I searched out unique rocks and eventually sat down on one in the lake, my toes still submerged to chat while I let the air dry me.

I found what looked to be a floating piece of newspaper and I plucked it out of the water inspecting it. Amused, Dana asked if I’d found a love letter while I read it over hoping that’s exactly what I’d found. It was just movie times that seemed burned around the edges, left over from a fire. I put it on the sand and told her I still held fast to hope that one day I’d find a love letter at sea. Or by my coffee maker. Or in my mailbox. I never lost hope it seemed. Though I knew at 28 the chances of finding anything other than bills or an Ulta catalog in my mailbox were slim to none, I always checked the mail with hopefulness that one day, one day maybe someone would have something soul-stirring to say to me.

We left the beach to go make our dinner which we agreed would be hearty steak and a slew of vegetables. Something about being out in nature pumping my legs just makes me want to eat like a man. And now that I knew how to cook a steak, I wasn’t holding back anymore. The entirety of my relationship with DC I would mention my cravings for steak (it’s been my favorite food since about five) and anytime I wanted him to make it for me for dinner, he would say we needed a grill and it was no good on the stove. I would acquiesce, disappointed and hold on until summer or he took me out for steak. But never would I simply attempt to just cook the damn steak on my own; I thought it was a mans job.

Malarky. It is now my job to cook a mean steak if I want to eat like a man, which admittedly sometimes I do. Back at Dana’s I cut up onions in thick chunks, sliced wedges of carrots and drizzled asparagus with olive oil topped with parmesan cheese. I sauteed mushrooms with fresh garlic. And I grilled up two steaks, seasoned to perfection and rare enough to moo (at least mine that is). As I put bites of steak topped with mushroom and onion in my mouth, then quickly scrambled for a bite of carrot and asparagus, only to wash it down with a pomegranate beer, I realized that food had never tasted so fine.

And I’d made it myself. After hiking the forest. After swimming in Superior. After getting up at seven to make ends meet. On my own. By myself. As God intended. For me to understand that I can and should be reliant on myself—with a whole lot of help in the way of forests and trees and steaks and girl friends thrown in from the Big Guy—but other than that, just me, learning how to forge ahead making my own way and my own steak.

Independence Day, Literally

I have had a blissful two or was it three DC-free days—well that’s not entirely true as he was whispering at my subconscious the whole time, but not enough to take me down—but when I woke up today I could see the short reprieve was ending. Whether it was because my willpower had withered, or a day I was dreading was finally here, or the fact that I had just been experiencing high adventure with my mom and sisters was coming to an end and my adventure hangover was starting—as DC dubbed the bleak feeling that would come over me when one of my adventures was through—it was clear I hadn’t bested the post-break-up sadness like I had hoped I had.

All of a sudden I found myself missing DC as a whole and missing all his individual parts. A torrent of memories came down on me this morning, one after another and feeling semi-secure surrounded by my sisters in a hotel room, I let it all wash over me. I lay there in the dark room with ships on the walls and a white down comforter while I missed DC.

First I missed his arms. Then I missed being in them. Then I missed his chuckle. I missed his beard, of course. And his long eyelashes that I always envied. His forehead where I would kiss, especially if he wasn’t feeling so well. I missed his smell and I missed his voice. Which reminded me of the phrases I missed. They had been popping into my head for days, weeks, just random phrases in his voice.

DC loved to quote the TV show The Office as it was his favorite and for some reason this quote from the show that DC often re-quoted kept popping into my head.

“What you really want is more of a Savannah accent, which is more like molasses just sort of spilling out of your mouth.”

Except in DC’s voice, imitating Andy’s voice from The Office.

Molasses.
Molasses.
Molasses.

My mind would repeat in his voice until my heart begged me to stop. And then I would try and forget that I ever knew the word molasses. Molasses be gone.

The other day it was the phrase, “my Finnish princess.” This one wasn’t from The Office. This one was for me. I’d all but forgotten it had ever been uttered, but my traitorous brain dislodged it from my memory bank and kept re-playing it back to me. Every time he’d said this to me which had only been a handful, my body was flooded with giddy rushes of pleasure and for a few days after he’d said it I’d have to get it out of him once more, for the joy it brought me. So I would kindly remind him that I was his Finnish princess and he’d matter-of-factly nod and re-state it, “You are my Finnish princess.”

Finnish princess.
Finnish princess.
Finnish princess.

Again, the agony. The desire to stop the phrases from finding me. To forget those words. But how could I ever forget that I was once someone’s Finnish princess? Or even if I separated the words, I knew I could never forget Finnish because that is who I am, having been born with a love of my Scandinavian roots. I could sooner forget my name than I could forget my heritage.

With phrases and longing filling my brain I wore myself out and fell back asleep only to dream of DC. First I was with him and his family and then I was only with his sister, while she discussed with me that he was dating someone new. The dream ended with me and the someone knew in a gun-fight over DC.

I woke up feeling worse than before, but dismissed it. It was supposed to be one of my favorite holidays, so I tried to focus on that instead.

Red.
White.
Blue.

America.
America.
America.

It got me back to Marquette and then I found that all the red, white and blue, all the joy I had for being an American, for fireworks, couldn’t possibly wipe out the pain of missing someone I loved and shared a life with. I was trying to hold my chin up. I have been trying every moment of every day to do just that and mostly I am a smashing success. But today I felt the mixture of adventure hangover blues, a holiday minus DC, and heartbreak weren’t the best recipe for me.

And so I came home and cried for him. For his arms and his smell and his beard and his chuckle and his eyelashes and his kissable forehead and the way he said molasses and called me his Finnish princess. And a whole bunch of other things in between. And because I needed to know that this pain wouldn’t somehow destroy me. Wouldn’t destroy the Fourth of July. Wouldn’t destroy my ability to love again, I typed into Google: how to survive the sadness of a break-up and found this:

Incredible letter which made me feel comforted in the sincerest way you can find comfort from a complete stranger.

And then when I felt bad that I wasn’t writing about my adventure at Dark Sky Park, or learning to sail from a ship captain (yet) it was because writing to me is healing and sometimes it is all I can do to bear this visceral of all losses: to write my way back to myself.

Ernest Hemingway gets it. He said to “write hard and clear about what hurts.”

So I am writing hard and clear about what hurts. At least until it doesn’t hurt anymore.