Oh, hi there. I didn't see you come in, why don't you come and sit down next to me and I will tell you some things I have been pondering. I woke up this morning and I realized I was on a ship that was anchored off of the coast of Hawaii and I realized that even though I was floating on the water, I was warm and dry in a nice cozy bunk, and that I had taken a shower just the night before, and that there is a computer lab and a working oceanographic lab on board, as well as many lovely people.
As you may have grasped from the above title, this blog post is loosely inspired by "Alice in Wonderland" and how she and the Mad Hatter are able to think up 7 impossible things before the day even begins. This will be a collection of my thoughts on the fantastic, lovely and improbable aspects of living on the Robert C. Seamans and taking part in this program. Several weeks ago, I saw birds flying above us and we were in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and I was struck by that fact. We were thousands of miles from land and yet there were healthy birds dwelling out in the middle of the ocean, subsisting on fish to feed them and waves to house them (and occasionally our masts if they got the chance). They are pelagic which means they live in the open ocean. And even though the view from the quarter deck looks empty of life, there are phytoplankton, zooplankton, fish, cephalopods, and many other creatures that live in this seeming emptiness. All of which combine in a web that supports these birds that live so far out to sea. The presence of these creatures is evidenced by the glowing water at night--the bioluminescence that illuminates the water as it is disturbed by the hull of the ship. The presence of these creatures is also shown by the contents of the nets that we tow beside the boat as scientific deployments. I am reading "Two Years before the Mast," which for those unfamiliar with the title is a book that tells the true story of a lawyer in the 1800s who took to sea for two years as a common sailor. He lives in the front of the ship known as the forecastle, or the fo'c'sle, and he writes about his experiences living before the mast. Anyhow, I too live in the fo'c'sle and the fact that I am able to read this historic book in the location in which it was inspired is quite a treat. A thought that pops into my mind from time to time is that even though we are far out to sea we still eat scrumptious meals three times a day that are prepared by two lovely people for 31 people in a galley that is most likely smaller than your kitchen. I got the chance to read passages from a book called "Pathway of the Birds" to the ships company during class from time to time. This book recounts some of the history of the traditional wayfinding practices of people from this region of the world. The cruise track that we just followed is full of history - not only did people thousands of years ago cross that seemingly endless stretch of ocean in double-hulled sailing canoes, they did it navigating by the stars, and the wind and sea, and the smell of land, and the patterns of birds above them. Being able to sail beneath those same stars and navigate by them is a privilege that I will not soon forget. On the ship a skill that is highly valued is situational awareness, and although I strive to be competent in this realm I have room to grow, as evidenced by noticing just a few days ago that there is a placard in the chart house that is dedicated to the ship Hokule'a which is a Hawaiian navigational canoe which was built during the Hawaiian renaissance. The placard contains a piece of wood from the Hokule'a. If my situational awareness was top notch I would have noticed that dedication a few months ago but hey, at least I noticed it eventually. The connection that this ship has with that historic ship is something that I did not realize and that I find really quite special. I went to take a shower a night or so ago and as I was walking to the shower, I was struck by the impossibility that I am about to take a warm shower in a nicely lit room while in 6 foot seas with a force six wind blowing. That is something. As we were crossing the equator a few of us were sitting all the way aft (at the back) of the deck and we were playing music and singing and looking at the stars. As we came close to approaching the equator a countdown was begun and when we crossed that imaginary line, we cheered. And there we were, sitting on a ship in relatively calm seas, with a warm wind blowing, beneath the stars at the halfway point of the world. Another delight (although I don't know if I would call it an impossibility) that I bet you guessed I would touch upon at some point, is the community on board. Living on a ship that is 136 feet long with 31 people for a matter of weeks facilitates strong bonding and opportunities to create friendships. And the community that has been created in the past several weeks is unusual in its welcoming nature and cohesiveness. I was struck by this phenomenon by something that happened a week and a half ago. I was standing beside the helm (the wheel) and steering a course (mostly accurately) and I could hear a shipmate behind me playing music. As they played guitar and sang, I softly hummed along with them. Then I was startled by a voice from behind me. I looked over my shoulder and saw my shipmate materialized directly behind me offering to play a song and asking if I would not be too distracted at helm by singing along. I was touched by this, and by the others sitting about the deck, and by the pink hue of the clouds caused by the setting sun. They played the song "Edelweiss" as I sang along. One last thought before I let you go on your way. Today we motored into the harbor in which we are now docked, and we passed massive cargo ships filled with dozens of large cargo shipping crates and even though that is an unfamiliar sight to me and to most of us, the items within those crates are not unfamiliar; in fact we rely upon those items that are stored in those crates and shipped in those ships for the way of life to which we have grown accustomed. And even though the sea and large container ships seem like a fascinating and far away topic they actually are not that far away after all. It helps me to remember that even though my life on land may seem hum drum and run of the mill at times, nearly all of the seemingly everyday things that I take for granted were brought into my world by those fascinating ships. My interpretation of the seven impossible things idea that is included in "Alice in Wonderland" is as follows: wherever you are you can find beauty in the mundane and the everyday. Being at sea is in some ways a microcosm for life in general. Both life, and living on a ship, can be very difficult at times, but there are bright spots that brighten up the duller times. And it is a pleasure to have practice at spotting those spots on a smaller scale (while living at sea) so that I may spot those spots on a broader scale (my life) when I am not aboard a boat. I have been going on for quite some time haven't I? Well, thank you for sitting with me for so long and listening to what I had to say. Off you go now. Until next time, -Maggie [Maggie Grant, A Watch, Deckhand, Colby-Sawyer College]