I grew up here on the ocean and I miss it when I’m away. There’s something about the rhythm of the waves that soothes me. I guess it’s probably as simple as the fact that I never feel as much me as I do when when I’m near the ocean. I lived in Toronto for ten years and people used to say to me when I said I missed the ocean – “But, look, there’s Lake Ontario. You can’t see the other side, it might as well be an ocean.” And I sort of believed that, not realizing exactly what was wrong with me until I spent a few days in Miami sitting on a pier, watching the ocean. Then I realized what I’d been missing. No matter how big, how stormy, how whatever, a lake is not an ocean.
This is all to say that I’m a water baby. My mom and my dad were both water babies. My dad spent his teenage years as a fishing guide in Campbell River, one of the world’s most sought out salmon fishing spots. My mom spent her teenage years living in a cottage a stone’s throw from Burrard Inlet – orcas and salmon and seals and boats. I guess I inherited it from both parents.
This weekend I spent some time at the Maritime Museum – it’s about a twenty minute walk away, across my favorite bridge. The Burrard Street Bridge was completed in 1930 and it’s a gorgeous Art Deco design. I love walking across it. On the other side, the museum sits on the water like an extra large boat dock. And, in fact, a big piece of its charm are the docks outside. They always house antique boats – including an exact replica of a Viking ship.
This weekend – thanks to this year being Vancouver’s 125th birthday – there were extra treats. Two beautiful tall ships – both replicas of ships from the 1790s – and as they sailed back into harbor with Vancouver’s West End as a backdrop I wondered how the ghosts of the original sailors would feel seeing the buildings and roads and cars and around them? Seeing jets flying overhead? They would probably feel as I did. Just a little bit askew, as if the world had tilted just enough to have two worlds in it instead of one. The world of pirates and discovery and long, frightening journeys by coach or by boat. Never knowing whether the journey – perhaps months long – would get you to where you were going or kill you in the doing of it. One of the exhibits in the museum really brought home to me the complications and discomforts of spending ssuch a long time on one of these ships. You can walk through a part of one of the decks – and even me, who is short, had to duck to get under the beams. And it’s dark inside, very dark. Imagine keeping your head bent for months. Imagine living in the dark for months. What could possibly be worth that?
In some ways, our lives these days are so simple compared to theirs, so safe and long-lived. I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t want to take a month in Europe if to get there I had to get onto a sailing ship. Just the thought of it gives me the heebie-jeebies. But our ability to rush from one place to another doesn’t always mean we enjoy our lives more than people who lived them more leisurely. Jet or sailing ship? A week in New York or a year’s finishing trip around Europe? Rising and sleeping with the sunlight? Or extending our days far far into the dark?
I don’t have any answers. Perhaps every world – every time period – lives it own life and has trouble truly imagining another. My thoughts on 1792 are superficial. I can only imagine what a 21st century inhabitant of a big city can imagine what it would be like to sail across the Atlantic Ocean or to spend five or ten years on a sailing ship exploring the world you weren’t even sure was there.
Imagine being frightened every minute of every day.