The great thing about being married to someone very competent is that you get to be in love in a swoony, “My husband will take care of it,” kind of way.
The not-so-great thing is that you can let him take care of a few too many things, and become less and less competent, yourself.
I’ve always been a cerebral person, and I never managed to learn certain basic skills – not because I couldn’t but because there were other things I’d rather do. The result is that at fifty-two, I can barely swim or ride a bike. I never learned to steer anything bigger than a shopping cart. Now I feel the window on learning to drive rapidly closing. And no matter how hard I fight it, this tendency to live in my head is getting stronger and stronger as I get older.
It’s words, words and more words these days. Which I seem to love more, the more I work with them; still, they won’t keep me alive in the woods. These days, I feel just a little too tentative and fearful in the face of physical challenges.
So in the spirit of balance, I went out sailing with Rolf last Sunday.
After getting his bronze designation last year, he felt comfortable taking a newbie out on the water. He’s suited to it: flexible and strong, with a clear eye and quick reflexes. He also loves it. Trussed up in a lifejacket with him at the helm I felt pretty safe, though I did wonder how I would free myself of the profusion of ropes at the bottom of the boat if it capsized.
(This reminds me of my problem with cycling. Even as I ride the bike I keep thinking of what could go wrong, and by that time it has …)
The minute we got out into the wind I understood the appeal. For one thing, the incessant flapping stops when the wind fills the sails, and you’re quietly skimming across the water. Also, it’s simple, in the way ancient things are. It has the elegant quality of the most time-tested technology. People have been doing more or less this activity, using more or less the same materials, for centuries.
The basics are pretty simple to learn. Beyond that, it’s all a matter of practice. Each day has its own particular combination of wind and water conditions. It’s a matter of dancing with the elements.
When not swooning as I watched my competent husband doing something he loves and is so very good at, (and who, I noticed, kept the whole ride smooth and pleasant, never barking sudden orders to me as “crew”) I thought of, what else, words.
I felt the way I had visiting London, the way every second street and building is commemorated in a song. I was struck by how infused our language is with nautical expressions: clear sailing, being on an even keel, keeling over, being in irons or being dead in the water are just a few that spring to mind.
English has, I suppose a seafaring history, but is that the only reason for the pervasiveness of nautical images in our language? Is there something metaphorical about the act itself, this dance with the elements?
Yet another of the things you don’t have time to think about when you’re at the helm of a boat!