29 May 2012

Ballet afloat

Tal and I are watching Lake Erie from the open fantail of the Grande Mariner as we make our way to Cleveland.  There's a honeybee out here with us.  It lights on the back of a chair, flies up level with the upper deck or to one side of the ship or the other only to retreat, returning to the unbuffeted safely of the chair.  Again and again.  In much the same patterned route.

We left Buffalo's boat basin before supper yesterday, some 13 hours ago, and I am assuming that our pollen-laden visitor has been with us since, trapped in this boat-wide block of still air.  I wonder if it will be surprised when it emerges in Cleveland.  Will it know it's in new territory?  Where will it deposit the bright yellow pollen?

The two of us are not exactly bewildered as to our location from day to day -- there's a schedule posted on the bulletin board outside the lounge after all.  But, where we find ourselves is something of a marvel when reality casts a beam on us, a wonderfully frequent occurrence since we moved into 57B last Monday.  Sailing Lake Erie at dawn on a Tuesday in late May?  Really?  I guess we are not entirely unlike the bee who continues checking out the edges here at the back of the boat.

Unlike the bee, however, we have settled into a calm and leisurely routine.  Our cabin is small and terribly efficient, if we're careful.  While getting up, showered, dressed in the morning requires very few steps, having put everything away is essential, as is only one person going through the process at a time.  That keeps frustration and jostling to a minimum.  The routine we have developed includes my rising first and arriving in the lounge for early bird coffee just about the time the gurgling stops and the light on the urn flicks to red.  On the upper deck at dawn that hot coffee searing my throat I am guaranteed a period of solitude.  Once I get that bit of time, on board togetherness doesn't cost me over much psychic energy.

Making all this possible is the Grande Mariner's crew and staff.  Meals produced in a snug galley by two chefs and served by four stewardesses are as good as I have ever eaten.  The entire crew sees and attends to our needs almost before any of us realize we have a need at all.  And, watching the captain maneuver the vessel in tight places inspires awe even in the seasoned sailors among us.  In the background of all our leisure is washing and cleaning, scraping and painting, fueling and waste removal, the arrival of coaches for shore excursions and of performers and lecturers coming aboard to entertain or to instruct.

One way to describe what I am observing is a delicate balance among us as our little ship moves river to canal to lake.  The balance is not precarious.  It is not overly promoted.  But, it is careful, a deliberate set of steps, a dance that -- along with two 750 horsepower Caterpillar engines -- allows and defines our progress toward Chicago.

As I watch the honey bee take another breather before resuming its patrol of this air space, I have to wonder what getting to Chicago is going to be like.  Pondering that is likely a more worthwhile focus for me than wondering about a bewildered bee's arrival in Cleveland.  Harder work, too, I daresay.  Am I going to be the same person I was in Warren the first time a walked up the gang way?  After participating in this graceful dance along these historic waterways, I feel certain I'll recognize Chicago, but will I recognize myself?    

26 May 2012

Celebrating a return

I am sitting on the upper deck of the M/V Grande Mariner in the Oswego Harbor looking out at Lake Ontario.  My perch is one of two spaces that jut out slightly behind the pilothouse on either side of the ship.  This morning I have chosen the port side (think left; both words having four letter is how I came to remember it) since the lighthouse, a small double structure of dwelling and light, both white and roofed in red, is on this side.  It sits on a long breakwater which curves into the mouth of the Oswego River from the west.  Its right side will be illuminated soon as dawn gives way to daylight and the sun rises.  It is 5:30; we are departing at 6:00.  Our destination today is Rochester.

Since we left home last Sunday, I have been keeping the journal as usual and camera use has been high.  No surprise there.  Computer time has been another thing all together.  The choice made itself.  The rivers we have sailed – the East, the Hudson, the Mohawk and the Oswego—and the canals we have navigated – the Erie and the Oswego – have claimed my near complete attention.  The weather over these days has been variable: wet to dry, cold to hot, overcast to sunny.  With foul weather gear I have been able to be out in most of it, drinking in the landscape along the rivers and marveling at the rise and fall of the ship in the locks.  There simply hasn't been time for computers.

In both sets of locks we have been something of a spectacle, being the first cruise ship to use the New York State Canal System this season.  At almost every lock there were a few locals ready to watch us lock through.  But, no place along the system could top the greeting our ship received in Waterford where the Mohawk joins the Hudson. 

We were escorted from the Federal Lock just north of Troy to Waterford, the canal's official beginning, by a large tug boat where a cluster of state and local dignitaries, the president of Blount Small Ship Adventures, a knot of television crews and reporters and onlookers of all ages awaited us.  Waterford’s fire truck pumped a long arc of water into our path.  The return of the Grande Mariner to the canal system was an event of special note.

Last year this time Tal and I were on her first Warren RI to Chicago IL run of the season.  Because of heavy springtime flooding in the northeast the Erie Canal opened late.  We entered it on its opening day.  But the water on the Oswego Canal was still too high for the ship to use and our itinerary was adjusted rather severely.  (A tour of historic waterways by bus was an interesting turn of events.  More about that in Meanderings from 17 May to  2 June.) 

Then, on Blount’s last runs of the 2011 season two of their three ships encountered Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee while in the canal system.  The passengers required rescue, the ships ended up trapped for 70 days and the state of New York spent millions repairing the locks and canal enough to free them.  Hence, the celebratory flay waving at the advent of the 2012 cruise season.

After all that a celebration and some handshaking was in order.  I decided it was a good sign; Tal and I should sail all the way to Chicago on this try.  It was our celebration, too.

06 May 2012

Uncle Ed

Before we left home this morning bound for Chattanooga and the reunion of Tal's 3rd Army Reserve Rifle Team I checked on our cardinal nest by the screened porch and spent several minutes reveling in the first of our Asiatic lilies to bloom, large and brilliantly white.  As we were settling into our room at the Chattanooga Choo Choo some six hours later my cell phone rang and I knew who it would be and the nature of the call.

My mother's younger brother and only sibling, Edward, after a long illness had died.  It struck me that during the same hour I looked one last time at that wary, protective female cardinal with her two helpless chicks and stood speechless at the beauty of new flowers at the front of the house this dear man I've known and loved all my days was making his mighty transition from this life to whatever comes next.  It seems only fitting to offer this morning's photograph to his memory.

Edward P Johnson
07 December 1934 - 06 May 2012
May your rest this day be in peace and your dwelling place the paradise of God.