Thirty years ago… I was a teenager in middle America who’d never been anywhere more exotic than the family vacations to Florida (Sorry Toronto, you were lovely, but much like home. Oh wait, there was that time in Hawaii, but I was only five and didn’t sufficiently appreciate it.) A biology teacher with an incurable travel bug at my high school ran Student Trips, sailing in the summer and skiing in the winter. He was young ~younger than I am or have been for a while now~ and energetic enough to keep teenagers safe, if not entirely out of trouble, teach us valuable lessons for loving the lives we’d live, and still have a good time himself.
One of the first lessons of travel, “Hurry up and wait,” was better preparation for living in Italy than you can possibly imagine unless you’ve done so. But “Get it while you can” is the one that still echoes around my skull and shoots through my spirit when it matters most. I know for a fact that monumental turning points in my life hinged on the moment I changed my mind from what I had planned to the thing that was suddenly on offer. This doesn’t come naturally to me. I don’t like surprises and I loathe sudden change. But I am forever grateful for having been taught to embrace it.
One… or maybe four of those trips I did were to the Bahamas. We sailed with a shoestring educational operation called International Field Studies. That first summer… the first day… we got to our 41’ Morgans and my Laura ~who’d done this before~ dove straight over the side into water that couldn’t have been more than two feet deep. I could practically count the grains of sand on the bottom. She saw my gaping face and told me to check the depth gauge; I threw myself over the life-line into that phenomenally clear water. Something in me burst open, like a tiny seed sprouts leaves and roots when the conditions are finally right. This place, these tropics, were home to a part of my soul I’d never known was there. The bath-warm turquoise water, the relentless sun beating down, the vivid colors assaulting the eyes, the musty boat smells, I loved it all from the first. We learned about tropical flora & fauna and navigation and wind ~and no wind~ and teamwork and a little partying and finally, leaving. That was the hardest. Last times are the kickers because they seldom announce themselves, “Hey, this is it. Soak it all up. We’re done here.” So, when I promised myself I’d be back, as I always did, one time it was thirty years before I kept that promise. But this year, I did.
We have friends who ‘boat.’ Boats boats boats! (Hi, Zed) They used to charter power boats until they realized they needed one of their own. Which they had until they realized they needed to sell it… in order to boat in more distant seas than where the Two Queens … er …Silver Satin (are you reading, Uncle T?) stayed. I’ve been pestering them to sail, for real with a mast and canvas and lines, in the Bahamas for years. Two months ago, I stepped aboard a craft almost entirely unlike those humble old Morgans. Bring Back the Magic (yes, that was her name; how perfect) was a 48’ catamaran with huge fresh water tanks, four heads, galley up and bigger than a closet, and … air conditioning. What? Really?! No! who would want that? Apparently, grown-ups do. But whenever the weather and the swamp angels would permit, I slept above as I used to, under the stars. But grown-ups like towns and restaurants and marinas more than do chaperones of teenagers, so the blood suckers could find us more often. Still, I was back in the islands. The water was all those shades of blue. We were visited by sea turtles, flying fish, and dolphins ~ oh the dolphins! A pod of ten cruised along with us just under and around the bows for an hour one day. I hope that made the rough crossings to and from Spanish Wells worth it to those who did not enjoy riding the high seas as much as I did. And I came home with the effortless tan provided by the exquisite reflectivity of white fiberglass. Tan feet without strap marks walk in my happy place. The magic, yes, not exactly the same, but magic never is.
In the Bahamas, on Andros Island, a particular kind of batik fabric is made. They call it Androsia. I had a shirt and some shorts for many years, but eventually they wore to threads. But it’s a sentimental thing. The marina where we spent the night before taking possession of the boat had custom-made Androsia curtains. I was so tickled to see it again. Days later, I found bolts of it for sale in a little shop. But what would I do with it? I stewed over it through the morning, then went back and bought a half yard with turtles on in the most Caribbean blue. That would be enough, just a memory. Looking at the pattern, there were clusters of turtles and a few Androsias, hand written. I’ve been doing silk painting, “framing” the pieces in an embroidery hoop ~easy to do, easy to hang, inexpensive. It would be a quick job to frame a nice bit to hang where I can see it. And there would be enough to make one for my Laura, too, because she showed me the magical place that opened a door in my soul all those years ago.