Tension

calm

The computer screen flashed white and then slowly unrolled the search results over Glee’s tardy 4G connection.

Urushiol! Not a word I recognised as I scrolled down the screen but I recognised the trademark poison ivy blisters from working in East Texas back in the eighties. Of course, back then, information was harder to come by in those pre internet days.

Urushiol (Yoo-Roo-shi-ol) from poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac. Wash it off within a few hours of contact and you won’t have a problem. The trouble was I had been marinating in it over night. It was after dark by the time I got back to Glee. Too late for a plunge in the sea and a rinse with the camping shower after the trek to St Peter’s and I went straight to bed: sweat, dust and urushiol.  By the time you see blisters forming, it’s too late. There follows two to three weeks of contact dermatitis until the weeping serum dries up and the skin grows back underneath.

To be fair, it could have been worse. My legs were fine and I only had blisters on my right wrist, elbow and between the fingers.

‘Leaf-lets three, leave it be,’ the web page poetically informs on poison ivy plant recognition.  No, I didn’t remember seeing anything like this on the trail. I was focussed on getting home before dark… and I couldn’t see the wood for the trees.

It’s the end of the season here in St Maarten and the cruisers are evacuating north east and south for the hurricane season. I should be on the crossing on Cattitude any day now and I was busy taking down the sails and preparing Glee for the Summer secured in the lagoon. Taking down the mainsail would mean it would be in the way while I was living aboard so I dropped the skipper an email to get a date of departure…

The plans had changed. I was dropped from the crew at the last minute, along with another crew member. Disappointing, since we both had opportunities on other craft that we declined due to our commitment to this one. There would be no crossing for me this summer. However, now I’m not doing that, time is freed up for doing something else…

My return portion of my original flight between London and Houston is for 12th July, so now I’ll be flying to Houston on the 5th July and spend some time with my dad and catch up with old friends. There is some ‘tension’ within the family which means I am unable to stay at my dad’s apartment.

Meanwhile, there have been no more hikes or adventures while the poison ivy rashes have been healing. Instead, I’ve been working on a few online projects with mixed results. Earning an income online is harder than  these internet marketing guys lead you to believe. Not in the tasks involved but maintaining the interest in keeping it going.

Additionally, finding something enjoyable that pays is near impossible so I’ve settled on something that doesn’t pay in money but pays in personal satisfaction: blogging. At least the only investment is in time itself and keeps me inspired, mostly. All I need to do is do a little bit every day for a long enough time and the path will reveal itself. Instant gratification has always intervened to sabotage that plan but this time the primary focus is not on income, it’s on feeling good – a far better fuel for long term engagement.

One of the best things that has ever happened to me is getting out of employment and getting used to not knowing where the money is coming from and to relish the feelings of uncertainty. Adventures automatically present themselves and life becomes a game instead of a treadmill.

There is only one rule to this game and that is ‘to feel good.’ This has been the most unexpected revelation over recent years; from moving out of my flat to living in a van, living on the canals and finally aboard Glee. I have felt better in all those situations than in any of those ‘secure’ times that a regular income and mortgage allegedly provided.

Who knows what will happen in Houston? I may well end up living in a hire car for the week but whatever happens I will feel good because my thoughts are no longer ruled by circumstance, they are actively chosen – and wherever there is uncertainty, adventure calls.

Ups and Downs

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The ridge along to Sentry Hill was no less beautiful for treading the trail for a second time. The intention was to set off early but it was now 2pm: a result of being easily distracted doing ‘stuff’ on Glee. The breeze was refreshing and the scudding cumulus tamed the suns radiant heat.

St Peter’s Hill is due east of Glee and a mile away by line of sight but I opted for picking up the Sentry Hill trail two miles south east. Sentry Hill peak is an ideal rest point with plenty of tree shaded rocks to recline upon. The walking stick I picked up at the start of the trail made a great time and energy saver up and down the rocky slopes and I was soon at the Summit of Sentry Hill.

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I peeled off my t shirt and hung it on the branch of a tree for casting my perspiration out of the fabric and into the wind and as a symbolic flag of victory for a successful ascent. From this point forward, it would be uncharted territory for me.

From northward to St Peter’s, I could hear voices and see plumes of smoke from somewhere below me. Other people were on the trail but they didn’t appear to be either advancing or retreating. Even though we couldn’t see each other, my feeling of peace and solitude had been tainted.

Taking a deep slug of water and donning my dried out, salty t shirt, I resumed the path down the steep rugged path. The voices were from a trio of local labourers building a concrete staircase up the north face of Sentry Hill, and I eased down the rubble slope to the side of the wet cement. This side of Sentry Hill is steep and uneven. These men were heaving bags of cement and gallons of water up the side of the hill, putting my intrepid effort to shame.

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Putting a staircase up the side of a wild hill seems a bit sacrilegious and takes away a little of my own feeling of adventure but I stumble and slide on down with my stick like a novice skier trying to remain upright and waded into the forest at the bottom as the ground levelled out.

This stretch of the trail was more rugged and less beautiful than the southern part but pretty soon I arrived at St Peter’s Radio Station. From the lagoon, the station looks like a golf ball teed up on a mound (I just poked my head through Glee’s hatch to get that description.) Close up, the station is a fairly big and ramshackle cubed building festooned with antennas and buzzing air-conditioners, topped with a dome. I wasn’t here for that, I was here for the view and the razor wire protected station with the trees around the summit conspired to obstruct it. The wire fence had a concrete base that protruded a few inches and I was able to shuffle around between the shrubbery and the fence to the western side by clinging onto the chain-link fence and stepping along the narrow concrete base.

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There’s a nettle in Sint Maarten that doesn’t let itself known instantly but the sting creeps up over a matter of twenty or thirty seconds. Walking made it difficult to identify the culprit but sitting on a rock for half an hour with a small hairy leafed plant sprouting near and brushing my ankles gave me the perfect opportunity to identify the culprit.

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The sun was now over half way down the western sky. I had a couple of hours before dusk. I had a choice, do I take the service road down to St Peter’s and get a taxi or retrace the trail to either find a shortcut or get to One Way Road before dark? I knew the trail wasn’t too bad some way south of Sentry Hill so I returned back down the path on the look out for opportunities for escape down either side of the ridge.

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There’s a peak between St Peter’s and Sentry Hill that isn’t named on the maps I’ve looked at. Just a few metres south, there was a trail going west, straight down the slope to Cole Bay, right in line with where I’d moored the dinghy. The trail was about 4 feet wide and freshly cut with disused telegraph poles and fallen lines marking the centre. About a hundred metres, the freshly cut trail turned ninety degrees to the north back to St Peter’s Hill and the telegraph trail continued west, not so fresh but easily passable. West was in line with my destination so I continued down the steepening slope causing mini avalanches with the loose rocks between telegraph poles.

As the slope got steeper, the vegetation got thicker and the sun got lower. The thorny shrubs started snagging my skin and clothes as I inched down the slope. Cole bay looked less than a third of a mile away but I was only making about ten feet a minute as I fought to untangle myself from the undergrowth. The sun was already on the horizon and it was getting dark in the woods quickly now and I stopped to think. It was too steep to go back up the hill and fight the thorny bushes at the same time. I had to continue… I started to imagine spending the night in the woods. It wouldn’t be pleasant and the night would be long. There would be nothing to do apart from continuing in the dark. I continued on muttering “inch by inch, step by step.” A few places became so thick with thorns that I had to deviate from the half buried telegraph wires and hope that I could retrace them a bit further down the hill.

As the sun dipped behind the horizon the shrubs began to thin, the thorns slowly receded, the slope began to shallow and I made better headway. I emerged into a clearing in the woods that was cultivated as a secret garden. The trail became more clear as I re-entered the woods opposite and then I was threw a hedge and out onto Archimedes Road in the twilight, happy with the certainty that I was going to be enjoying a hot meal, cold beer and soft bed for the night.

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It was jam night at Lagoonies and I quickly made my way through the din to the dinghy to find a quieter refuge for refreshment across the lagoon.

Li Far East is a combination restaurant and bar that caters for local professionals, professional drinkers, waifs, strays, sanctuary seekers and tired hikers. It’s friendly, functional, doesn’t bother too much about appearances and – best of all – cheap. Wiping the dried blood from the cuts on my arms and legs passed the time before the food arrived. Plain food never tasted so good.

Such is the effect of the feeling of adventure. Things that are taken for granted have renewed value. Appreciation emerges for the familiar things in life.

Happiness is a product of gratitude. Gratitude emerges out of adventure, Adventure lives in uncertainty. Therefore, being happy requires venturing out of comfort, taking risks and embracing uncertainty… or you could just go for a walk.

The Mighty Quinn

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Saturday afternoon slowly melted into Saturday night at Little Jerusalem as I enjoyed another few beatings at our chess gathering. There were three of us today. The start of the hurricane season drains the cruisers away and I am left outclassed by the remaining enthusiasts. However, the benefit from playing against better players means I get to improve so much faster.

My improvement is noticeable; I get to lose with more dignity and style than when I first started. The season would soon be over and I could possibly upgrade my game ready for the next one. More likely, I will forget about it and resume at a lower level next season.

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I ferried Mike back to Quinn since he had got a ride in with Gordon who was out in Marigot Bay. I accepted the invitation for a cup of tea. I had drunk too much Presidente and not eaten enough food so was feeling a bit light headed with a hint of nausea but it was pleasant sitting out on the lagoon just chatting.

“You’re not really into sailing are you?” says Mike. That came as a bit of a shock and my old reactions to criticism came to the surface and started to feel justification come up.

He had a point. I’ve been here three months and not left the mooring. It’s not something I’d thought about apart from there is no rush and that Glee needs so much work. I had a lot of defensive comments surfacing but none of them were justified. “What are you going to do?” asked Mike. I was stuck for an answer and floundered for something plausible. It was a good question but it wasn’t all about me. Mike gave accounts of his vast experience and still claims he knows “damn shit” about anything. I guess he was giving me encouragement by easing any fear I might have about single handing for the first time but I was still defensively dredging for my own excuse in order to let me off the hook in the conversation. I felt exposed and didn’t like that feeling.

Nothing had been resolved by the time I climbed back in the Dinghy to return to Glee.

I ran through our little psychotherapy session in my bunk while going to sleep. Maybe I would take Glee out before I leave for the UK was pretty much the thought I’d settled on before drifting off into a lager and tea assisted sleep.

The next morning I awoke with sailing on my mind and all the preparation that was involved. I needed a good tidy up and to remove the awning, and to resign myself that I would be without navigation instruments. That should be OK within sight of the island. Time was an issue  because I was due to join Cattitude in a few days and I needed to secure Glee for the hurricane season. I was over-thinking again…

Greg, on Providence, had told me a few weeks before that too much use of computers and the internet affect our brains: we become fragmented, distracted and we lose our focus. Thinking about it, he seems to be right. This was what was happening to me. His comment helped resume my morning meditations, a version of running a disk clean and defrag on myself. Cutting down online time would help but that will happen anyway when the Atlantic crossing commences.

After a twenty minute meditation I received a sobering revelation; something I had learned in the past couple of weeks but had forgotten. “The only purpose in life is to feel good.”

Do I feel good? Yes, at least until last night’s conversation.
Do I need to go for a sail? No, everything I want right now is right here.
What would the others think if I never took Glee out? Who cares, all the matters is that I feel good.
Will I ever sail with Glee? Dunno, probably – in my own time.

I had been beginning to get drawn into old thinking habits that maybe I would feel like failure and I wouldn’t look good if I didn’t take Glee out before I leave on Cattitude. It doesn’t matter, I feel good right now and that’s all that matters. It’s possible that I may not sail at all but I doubt it, and it doesn’t matter. I just do what keeps me feeling good: reading, hiking in the hills, being in touch with my friends. Whatever my relationship with Glee, nothing is lacking. I’m doing the same things here now as when I was best happy on the canals back in the UK but with better weather, worse beer and different scenery. The next chapter in my life does not depend on whether or not Glee leaves the mooring. It’s about, how I feel and the actions that spawn out of that.

How did I feel now? Where there had been a feeling of pressure to take down the awning and tidy up ready for sailing, there was nothing but an easy contentment and I happily set about those tasks without intending to sail but because it felt good to just do it for its own sake without any other justification.

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The next chapter in life will be written in its own time. Pushing the pen faster only increases the resistance and detracts from the flow.

Gripping the brush harder spoils the painting. Our lives are our art and we are both its creator and observer.

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Create your life for yourself, not for others; they have their own life to deal with and dealing with one life at a time is enough for anybody…