The Summer of… Purple Martins

The Summer of… Purple Martins

It seems that each summer, one creature or another comes to us in a way that defines the sailing season. That the wind and weather, the landscapes and seascapes, and their inhabitants distinguish one day from another aboard delights me. I remember—2007 was the summer of mama Mergansers with their myriad ducklings, Pacific white-sided dolphins claimed 2011 in a most amazing way, and in 2019 it was the season for seeing Humpback whales. Other years our totems were Bald eagles, Harbor seals, Marbled murrelets, Orca, Great Blue herons, Harbor porpoises, and Rhinoceros auklets. From the small to the mighty, they fill my mind with wonder and my heart with joy. This summer has been the season of Purple martins in all their iridescent splendor.

The first morning aboard Kagán, I woke to their melodies. Seems they nest atop the pilings in our new home port of Friday Harbor. Each day of recommissioning the boat began with their serenades. I admit to grumbling at some of those early wake-up calls—at this latitude, the days dawn well before five as the summer solstice nears. And there’s no snooze button when your alarm clock is singing the day in from the rigging. But, oh the stunning sunrises I would’ve slept through without them.

And each time back and forth—as I went to the shower room or laundry or a coffee shop for a latte or just to take a walk—they scolded me for passing beneath their territory. Maybe it was my imagination, but as the days went by, their chattering lessened as they got used to my comings and goings. I became a neighbor, rather than an intruder.

Though in past years, I had seen the occasional Purple martin, throughout this season they crossed our paths. I’d catch the trilling—so familiar to me from Friday Harbor—sometimes at distant docks, sometimes at anchor, often to start the day at dawn or to end it as the sun sank. While on the hook in Gig Harbor, a flock of them fluttered in and out of Kagán’s rigging—clinging to the shrouds, perched upon the radar dome, and even settling onto the boom just feet above our heads while we watched and listened from the cockpit.

So, for me, this is the summer of Purple martins, and their songs will bring memories to my mind of this particular sailing season. I feel so grateful that nature, and my neighbors in it, define my days.

What has defined this summer for you?

Behind the Scenes

Behind the Scenes

I love when a fellow sailor pauses on the dock to tell me what a beautiful boat we have. Kagán, however, is not only beautiful, she is also a great sailing, and liveaboard, vessel. But that doesn’t happen without a lot of work behind the scenes. The last few weeks have been filled with those tasks.

We’re at the end of a long haul-out in which we’ve done some work ourselves (like polishing and waxing the hull and oiling the interior woodwork) and hired experts for even more (like stripping and refinishing the brightwork, and complex work on the engine and marine drive system). Kagán is 22 years old now, and it was time for some deep diving into her engine for more than routine maintenance. This investment will pay off, I hope, with many sailing seasons aboard a safe and well-functioning vessel. And, of course, a beautiful one. But it has, at times, felt like barely managed chaos.

As I contemplated riding those waves of chaos with some semblance of calm, it occurred to me that this is not unlike writing for me. There is so much that goes on behind the, literal, scenes of a novel. All of which has to happen (and happen and happen, in the case of writing multiple drafts) for the final story to sail along.

Doing the work behind the scenes, sometimes for weeks and sometimes years, is what makes a boat, or a book, work. It’s what makes them beautiful.

What do you do behind the scenes?

Going with the Flow–Literally

Going with the Flow–Literally

Visiting with a New Mexico friend before leaving the Land of Enchantment for parts north, and the sailing season on Kagán, she asked me how we decide where to go. The answer is that sometimes there are places we need to be on particular dates, and sometimes we have a general idea of a new place we’ve heard about or an old favorite we’d like to get back to, and then there are times we don’t have any agenda, except to go with the flow. Literally.

This summer, there were a few dates when we needed to be one place or another—like in Poulsbo for a friend’s daughter’s wedding or Bell Harbor in downtown Seattle to pick up other friends for a short cruise, and now, Port Townsend for a much needed haulout. But the rest of the season so far, we went with the flow. By checking tides and currents ahead of time, and planning for shorter trips, we could hoist our sails and ride the wind (and current), even if there was just a light breeze (which is often the case during the Salish Sea summers). Having a loose plan at bedtime, we might alter it over morning coffee if conditions differed from those forecast. Or we might be up at dawn to catch a favorable tide, and be rewarded with a stunning sunrise before casting off.

Sometimes going with the flow means going slow, like really slow—2 knots of speed through the water (which is sometimes what we get) translates to going 2.3 miles per hour. If we were to have a knot of current going in the same direction, at that water speed, we’d be moving at a whopping 3.5 miles per hour. Hence the planning for short distance days. But believe it or not, it’s fun! And relaxing. Wildlife, like the normally shy Harbor porpoises, come closer to Kagán since we’re gliding through the water so quietly. My first mate can take an afternoon nap in that same serene quiet, his snores from below louder than the sounds of sailing.

Other days, with more wind, we’ll get a brisker ride. Less relaxing, and more exciting. But no matter what, when the engine goes off, the magic begins. I have delighted in the magic of those days throughout this summer. Going with the wind and water, riding along with what nature provides rather than bucking it, is teaching me to live with less of an agenda and more patience.

As with so much of life aboard, there is a lesson about life in general, if I’m paying attention. If I could integrate more less-agenda/more-patience moments into my life, I might find another kind of magic—like savoring the satisfaction of a day well lived, even a mellow day. I tend to feel guilty about those—not embracing the value of restoring myself nearly as much as pushing myself to cross just one more thing off my overloaded ‘to do’ list.

I can imagine balancing life, like I’ve learned to balance Kagán with sail trim. Nancy Erley, my sailing mentor, taught me certain principles, then also encouraged me to experiment—pull a sail in or let it out a bit, to see what it gets Kagán in terms of speed or comfort. Sometimes both. It’s time for this sailor to experiment with going with the flow, both aboard and ashore. With that in mind—fair winds and following seas!

Writing—and Authoring

Writing—and Authoring

I have been writing for decades, but I have only been authoring (which I admit may not be a word, but let’s just say it is) a brief time. I am contemplating the contrast between writing and authoring this morning.

Writing is a process I felt a pull toward, like it was calling me. That call came years before I heeded it. And when I finally responded, it set me off on a journey that challenged me in ways I never would have imagined. I am a writer, just as I am a geologist—those are lenses through which I view the world, as well as how I view myself in it.

After walking the writing path for some time, I began to think about authoring and what that might mean. For me, it means my stories might touch another’s mind or heart. From exploring alone in my library, I stepped out, sending words forth for others to read, and hopefully to connect with. Along the way, they did—with readers. And later, a literary agent. Then later still, a publisher. And on April 9, 2024, I will be the author of the novel, No More Empty Spaces.

What I am learning now is that the skillsets—of writer and author—are quite different. As are the interiority versus exteriority of each. I plan to savor being an author as much as being a writer, without forgetting that writer comes first. In the coming months, I will be marching forward into the world, and out of my comfort zone, as an author. But before I do, I feel the need to retreat a bit, to reconnect with myself as a writer. So I’ll be going inside to find the words, then I’ll see you out there again in a month or two.

A Fault Ruptures and Hearts  Break

A Fault Ruptures and Hearts Break

A natural event can become a disaster when humans are in its way—like the earthquakes in southeastern Turkey beginning during the early morning hours of February 6, when thousands upon thousands were asleep in buildings that could not withstand the shaking they were subjected to.

I see the images and hear the broadcasts. I send money to provide tents, food, and support to mobilize rescue workers and medical teams from around the globe. But it feels like so little in the face of such suffering .

Earth processes affect us every day. Geologists know this, but most people are not aware of it, until something happens—like a flood, a landslide, or an earthquake. Though it is difficult to find words in this moment, I feel compelled to try. Geologists, like me, study the earth, its structure, and the processes that shape it. And writers, like me, tell the stories of human hearts and the processes that shape them. How could I not try to put words to paper about what is unfolding half a world away? Understanding the science, and relating it to our very human stories, is what led me to the work I am doing.

I am fortunate to have traveled extensively in this part of Turkey, and have such vivid memories.

  • Exploring Gaziantep’s Castle, and looking over the city spread out below from its walls.
  • Strolling through, and shopping for scarves and sweets, in Şanliurfa’s market.
  • Seeing acres of apricots drying in the sun near Malatya on a hot summer day.
  • Savoring the ice cream particular only to Kahraman Maraș or the baklava in Gaziantep.
  • Sleeping in a caravansary-turned-hotel in Diyarbakır.
  • Marveling at the tumulus and statuary atop Nemrut Daǧı, some toppled in previous earthquakes.

Now, in newsreel after newsreel from these cities and beyond, I watch buildings collapse. I read of World Heritage sites damaged or destroyed in the intense shaking. I hold my breath watching miraculous rescues. And I dread to hear of the many who will only be recovered in the coming days, weeks, and months. I fear for the people, like the friendly çayji in Gaziantep who chuckled at my very broken Turkish as I stirred a sugar cube into my tea and we chatted. Is he hurt? Is he even alive as I write these words?

I have written a novel that takes place so near this earthquake’s epicenter that my characters would have been woken, perhaps even thrown from their beds, by the force of the temblor. Many of the characters in the story are geologists and engineers working to construct a fictional dam on the Euphrates River. But there are three very real dams—Atatürk, Karakaya, and Keban—on the Euphrates which almost certainly experienced moderate to severe shaking in these events (though I do not have specific data, I say this based on my understanding of the geology of the region and these structures’ proximity to the East Anatolian Fault Zone). I wonder how those structures have fared, because it is not earthquakes per se that kill people, but structures failing that do. The pictures we are seeing in the news show that all too well. If any of those dams were to fail, the level of human suffering, already almost too much to comprehend, would intensify.

I can only hope that the immense suffering will diminish soon, though for those who have lost loved ones or their homes or their livelihoods or have been injured, I know it will be a long, long road. I can also hope that scientists and engineers learn all they can from these earthquakes, and know that groups like the Geotechnical Extreme Events Reconnaissance (GEER) sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI) will do their utmost to do so. I can hope that politicians will listen to the scientists and engineers and fund needed programs, so when rebuilding does occur, structures will be stronger and safer.

Because we will always be affected by the ground beneath us, we must learn to live upon it, admiring its splendor while also respecting its power. My heart is with the people of this beautiful region in these devastating days.

If you want to support relief efforts in Turkey and Syria, here are links to articles in the Washington Post and New York Times that may help you choose how: