Forgot your password?

We just sent you an email, containing instructions for how to reset your password.

Sign in

  • I can measure my life in boats. I bought my first boat when I was 12. She was a plywood and pine rowboat with slab sides and a flat bottom. She bobbed around perilously and rowed like crap but I loved the sense of freedom when I rowed around the islands. Four years later, sixteen and restless and aching to be wild, I bought a Nova Scotia dory, like the ones from Captain’s Courageous. She was heavy as hell with solid 4 inch oak rails. I could stand on the side rails and she wouldn’t flip over. She rowed with thole pins, 1 inch thick oak pegs that stood up in pairs from holes in the rails. I had 9 foot oars and could stand up to row. She carried five of us or more out fishing or ashore to buy beer.
    Later that summer, Teddy and I rowed her across 5 miles of open water to Long Island. Half way out in the channel, there was only the long grey swell sweeping in from the open sea to the south and us dipping oars and pull by pull making our way to wild and unexplored shores. We camped in a little cove far from the town clustered near the ferry wharf and in the evening we went out to haul someone else’s lobster traps for supper. We got out and saw another boat running along the shore so decided to ride the waves coming in over the ledges instead of stealing lobsters. The first big wave rose up and almost crested and as we flew down the sheer face the dory tilted and rode the wave on her rail. Our oars, pressed against the hull by the water pressure, snapped the thole pins and we blew into the cove in a rush of white water, eyes sparkling from the near roll-over. We decided hot dogs were a perfectly good choice for supper after all.
    The summer I turned 18, my grandmother who grew up in a sod house in Nebraska and ran away to New York when she was 12, stayed with us. She’d still be alive today if a car hadn’t hit her. It was the summer of 1975 and she wanted to get high. My dad wanted to try too. He was the cool college professor then and hand rolled his own cigarettes from a plastic bread bag of tobacco but he had never smoked the weed. Needing both opportunity and a secure location, we chose a deep-sea fishing trip. Plenty of open air and not much chance of anyone catching us unawares.

    One bright July day, off we went. Cod fishing, we told my mother who was prone to sea sickness. Ten miles offshore we dropped our lines and I rolled a joint and we passed it round the boat, my dad, brother, grandmother and I. We fished, two to a side. Our rods jigged up and down. The waves lifted us and let us fall. And there, under the wide glare of sunlight on achingly blue rushing water, the boat got some quiet.
    After a time we realized the fog had come in and all we could see was the one wave in front of our little outboard boat. My take charge father was temporarily unavailable and grandma had never run a boat so my brother and I ran in with the compass. The engine droned on with us all wrapped in dull, gray, clinging fog. In the fog, even without assistance, there is no horizon, there are no reference points. Time and distance blur. Just when I was sure we had managed to miss America altogether the island appeared before us and my dad woke up wondering how on earth he was going to tell my mom what had happened. Caught off guard when my mother innocently asked how the fishing had been, he made the classic mistake of telling too much when a minimum was all that was required. Fishing became a loaded term in the house and my father was quick to play down the effect of the evil weed, but I always wondered if the real issue wasn’t responsibility but that we had never thought to invite my mother.
    Years later, I owned a 30 foot lobster boat and fished the islands all around. I was married and my daughter was just a year and a half. We lived alone on a island and in the brooding early winter, I dropped Claire off in the harbor to sell her knitwear at a craft show. With the wind breezed up and shifting to the west, and the tide not up enough to cross the bar between the islands, and a baby on board I decided to run the long way out and around the island to keep the wind at my back and the seas square on the bows. It was the day after a huge storm and the waves out on the open, ocean side rose up monstrous as their feet felt the rocky bottom rise up beneath them. Even in 100 feet of water they rose up steep and sharp topped and glittering where the sun shone through. I had a cheap car seat lashed down on the deck and little Carly, all bundled in her winter coat, was strapped in tight. I watched her watch the gray green seas rising up, high above the sides of the boat, and then sliding deep below us, rocking her cradle. Her eyes were wide and shining and intently serious.
    Since then, I’ve run home across the sea calm and as improbably brilliant in the sunset as a velvet Elvis painting. I’ve rowed through phosphorescence like cold green fire on the tips of the oars and in the wake stretched out long behind us. I’ve looked out and seen the icebergs of Antarctica surreally blue below. I have looked up and smiled as we slid home, safe once more, just below the light house’s familiar beam. I have given up all hope and been lost at sea. I’ve slid across icy decks and paddled lazily on summer afternoons. I can measure my life in voyages and boats.
    • Share

    Connected stories:


Collections let you gather your favorite stories into shareable groups.

To collect stories, please become a Citizen.

    Copy and paste this embed code into your web page:

    px wide
    px tall
    Send this story to a friend:
    Would you like to send another?

      To retell stories, please .

        Sprouting stories lets you respond with a story of your own — like telling stories ’round a campfire.

        To sprout stories, please .

            Better browser, please.

            To view Cowbird, please use the latest version of Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Opera, or Internet Explorer.