Thursday, June 28, 2018

Turtle Therapy

My expectation of a smooth transition from life in "the world" to the slower life here in Grenada was based largely upon my first event after arrival.  My first full day back was filled with getting my house back in order.  No, not my HOUSE house, but my sailboat house!  The nap I had hoped to get before a night-time excursion did not happen, but excitement kept me buoyed up through most of this magical trip to the other side of the island... to see the nesting Leatherback Turtles!

Island Style take-out!
Shademan picked us up at 5:30 pm and we set off on the familiar roads across the middle of the island and down to the southeast coast on the other side.  We stopped to pick up some takeout on the way.

Thanks Rowena for the snapshot! Patiently waiting for my dinner!
These little stops are a hoot and we never know what we're going to get.  This one had some good-n-greasy fish/chicken & chips!

With hardly enough time to finish our dinner, we arrived at Bathway Visitor's Center where turtle watching tours (see their Facebook Page) are conducted during the nesting season.

Things in the islands are much more relaxed and laid back than they are in the 'States, and this tour was no exception.  A group of researchers (see their Facebook Page) spend their nights walking this beach during nesting season in an effort to increase our knowledge and help return these turtles to thriving numbers.

We listened to a short introductory and then caravanned to the beach where we would wait for the mother turtles to arrive!

Tours are conducted by knowledgeable guides who are more than happy to answer any questions we had, and there were many.  There was no caution tape, no line to stay behind.  We were able to walk along this wild and beautiful beach where the turtles were nesting and see them close up!

But I'm getting ahead of myself... let me back up!  We walked out onto a wild beach bathed in the glow of a full moon.  The light threw shadows like noon, but cloaked with a certain mystique as the moon turned night into day.

Fishermen leave their boats safe on the beach
We all settled with our thoughts as we waited for the turtles to arrive.  While the research team ran down the beach to see if there was any action, I turned my face to the balmy breeze and was sure I could actually feel the light  touch my skin.  The mental chaos of my time in the US receded and the clamp on my soul began to loosen, relaxing my muscles and allowing me to accept the full gravity of just how lucky I am to be here.  In this moment, we are worlds away from the craziness that is happening in the US.  We are here.  We are still.  We can feel nature seeping into us in waves as the clouds cover the moon briefly and then suddenly  dazzle us in brilliant silver light.  I am passing back into island life here on this beach.... and it feels right.

Ghostly red "eyes" came to show us the way.
Just as we began to drowse to the sounds of crashing waves, a trio of red lights caught my attention.  They were bouncing toward us from down the beach and I knew they must be the researchers returning with news.  Stopping just short of our position on the beach, we were quietly beckoned to approach.  A nest was found.
Our first babies!
At this time of year, we are already deep into nesting season and it wasn't certain that we would see turtles at all.  That's a chance we took by coming so late.  But we were rewarded for our patience by being one of the first groups this year to see the hatchlings surface and make their desperate dash to the sea!

The researchers were proficient at spotting the nests in the dark.  Eggs are safe under the sand and our walking over them would not harm them.  But if we were to step on the babies as they struggled to take their first unfiltered breath, we would kill them.  This first nest was just steps from where we waited and we couldn't help but ooh and ahhh as these tiny little guys dug their way into our world.

The nests were nearly invisible - their location given away only by the tiny trails of the turtles already on their way.  A thick carpet of Sargassum seaweed hindered their progress and we used red lights to find them and help them on their way to the surf.  The sight was surreal.

Ghostly parade
After the initial wave of excitement subsided, we followed our guide single file down the beach.  A momma turtle had been spotted all the way down and we hurried through the thick white sand at breakneck speed.  Walking single file lessened our chances that we would accidentally step on a baby.  I struggled to keep the pace as I was continuously distracted by some shadow thrown by wind and moonlight - was that a new baby reaching the surface?  No, just a bit of seaweed.  Carry on!

My pictures are not good, but somehow the other-worldly vision captured here supports the feel of the night.  We could not use flash, so this is what we have.  I think it more accurately portrays the sights before us.  All you're missing is the sound of waves and the warm caress of the breeze.

A researcher watches the huge Leatherback enter the waves!
Despite our haste, we were almost too late.  This momma came ashore and started her dig, only to decide that tonight was not the night.  We arrived to see her huge body heft itself to the sea and disappear in a salty splash.

There she goes!
We stood in awe as this huge creature moved her bulky body toward the waves.  One... two... three big pushes with powerful flippers and the sea came to help her along.  She disappeared with a huge crashing wave leaving us to wonder where she will go and if she will return to try again when the time is right.  Will that be tonight?

We gathered 'round another nest of babies and participated in the release of one more small batch of living miracles.  In the coming years these little guys and gals will grow from this palm-size, to rival that behemoth we just witnessed... if they are lucky.

It was getting late, but we were all game for giving it another half hour - just to see if our mamma returned a bit further up the beach.  Bruce sat in the sand while I had an out-of-body experience.

Standing on that wild beach, I imagined myself alone.  I stared out to the crashing waves and could feel the presence of so many unseen turtle mammas.  They were out there.  Waiting.  And my presence was now imprinted on some of the babies hatching tonight.  Maybe they would take some little part of me with them on their lifelong journey to who-know-where.  And it felt good.  Good to be back.  Good to be where I belong again in this slower, gentler place.  This is why the lucky few make the break and leave all that is familiar behind.  This is my new familiar.  It's my new home.  This moment has done much to ease the pain of leaving all of my treasures back in Texas.  I still feel The Big Cry coming.  But tonight it holds off.  With a little more Turtle Therapy... maybe I won't need that cry after all...

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

A Month Of My Life

I don't wanna go... don't make me GO!!!

Leaving the islands
In many ways, Cruising is like "checking out".  One day we just took off on the boat.  It was like so many other days, motoring east on the ICW out of Port Aransas with dolphin jumping at our bow as if they approved, only that particular day we never returned.  We just kept going.  And from that day forward, our lives were changed.

Flying over the east coast!  Officially back in the US!
We are among the lucky few who somehow get away.  At first it's all new and exciting, and then eventually it becomes our new normal.  We grow accustomed to not having to do the things we used to do.  Don't get me wrong, we still have to take care of ourselves.  Laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning "house", paying bills, and the relentless parade of boat repairs, all take the place of the things we used to do.  Things like driving to work, working, and worrying about work.

We still work.  We just do it differently.  And most of the time it's good.  As you know, we've been through the ringer these last few months with boat repairs and maintenance that have been almost overwhelming.  But throughout all of this, we've still been in control of our destiny.  Well, as much as anyone ever really is anyway.  We've been making our decisions based upon OUR plans.  And considerable worry, preparation, and expense has gone into the making of those plans.

What IS this plan of which I speak?  Long-story-short - we were going west.  We joined a sailboat rally - the Suzie TOO Ocean Cruising Club Rally from Curaçao to Belize - and it starts this coming November and ends in April.  We paid the club dues, we bought the cruising guides and we began to get our boat in shape for making the six month trek to new cruising grounds.

Crossing the Harbor Bridge was surreal.  How did I get here again???
And then the wheels fell off!  The worst thing about being in charge of your own destiny, is when suddenly you are NOT.  And then it is a horrible shock to the system!  The mind gets used to the new life and when something disrupts that, it's doubly hard to take!  And that is what happened.

When we began cruising back in 2013, my daughter was living in our townhouse while finishing college.  After graduation she moved to California and married a Navy man, leaving my mother living in our townhouse.

It was a good deal for all.  The place was paid off so expenses were low.  It was close to my brother's house so my mom could be a bigger part of his young children's lives, and it was in a very safe community.  Having her there gave us the option of keeping the place until we were SURE we liked cruising!  It allowed us to put off disposing of all our worldly goods while giving the housing market time to improve.  For a while, everything was great.  Until it wasn't.

Always looking to be out in nature.  The lake near my daughter's home!
Let's just say that a daughter does not throw her mother out onto the street without a valid reason, and leave it at that.  Suddenly, the plans that Bruce and I had sunk so much time and effort into bringing to fruition, were thrown out.  Days of soul-searching brought to light two hard facts.  First - that Bruce did not want to go to Panama.  And second - that it was time to sell the townhouse.

The luxury of putting off that final break from our former lives was no longer mine.  I booked my flights and got Bruce ready for a month of bachelorhood while my mind spun out of control.  So many things would have to be done.  Instead of taking our time and working out the details, I had to think of everything FAST.  I would have less than a month in the US during which I had to essentially close out our lives in Texas.

I had to move us to Florida where my firstborn lived.  Voting, taxes, banking, everything had to be shifted.  AND of course there was the STUFF!  Thankfully, I've got a daughter that's vying for sainthood - I will never know what I did to deserve such a child - but she not only agreed to accompany me from Florida to Texas, but she would take a two week sabbatical from her home, business and her life in order to help me get the townhouse ready for sale.

As it turned out... it was I who helped HER!  She was the steady one while I leaned more to wallowing and maudlin self pity.  She kept us moving forward when I got bogged down with the discovery of each one of the thousands of lovingly collected treasures that told the story of our lives.  Each piece of art or blanket made by a loved one no longer with us, each anniversary present or photo of us in a wonderful place, each piece of furniture chosen together and laden with joyful ghosts of times past - brought on new and more terrible waves of nostalgia.  She kept us going when I wanted to break down and cry.
We worked tirelessly while I quietly died a little more with each load taken to Goodwill.  I tried to hide the tears that fell as my hands let go of so many treasures while my heart did not.  I had forgotten just how much joy a house could hold, until I had to rip it all up by the roots and throw it callously out.  How I didn't dissolve into a trembling heap is a mystery.  Only my daughter's strength and determination kept me going.

My old beach at sunrise
It is all a blur.  Each morning we would get up early, have coffee and take Kira for a walk on the beach or the Bayfront.  While these walks served as a baseline that reminded me of the life I live back on the boat - and why I live there, they brought a new rush of melancholy.  I felt like a turtle that was hatched on a beach long ago, and this was the last time I would return to the beach of my birth.

Last Beach Walk
How many times have I walked these beaches there is no way to count.  But the count stops now.  It struck me that it's been a long time since I had to mark any "lasts".  It's all been "firsts" for some time now.  Lasts are hard.

Kira just having fun!
Pelicans riding the updrafts where Bruce and I used to walk the seawall. So. Many. Times.
Somehow we got through it.  Twelve days.  We cleaned.  We sorted. We gathered. We loaded. It took us three days to clean the kitchen and bathrooms.  Then we started upstairs.  We moved everything downstairs, including an attic FULL of stuff!  The townhouse has closets and cabinets to hold a lifetime and all of it had to be sorted into piles - some was garbage, some was to donate and the precious few things that I kept were pared down twice over into an ever-smaller pile.

The rented vehicle we were driving had only so much room.  And much of it would be taken up by the three dacron sails that Bruce and I wanted to make sure got to the fishermen in Haiti.  Ever since our visit there, we've wanted to get those sails to the Haitian people.  They need so much and have so little, but with our donated sails, they can go out and fish to support their families and community.  In the end, that was worth more to us than stacking another box of keepsakes at my daughter's house.  And it helped my heart gain a little bit of ground - putting into perspective the true value of so many things we have, while others have so little.

This is where I got the strength...
We worked from sunup to long after cruiser's midnight.  Our bodies sore from unaccustomed work and our minds spent from the enormity of it all, we slept each night like the dead.  Each morning we got up and did it all over again.  There were so many things I wanted to do while we were there.  So many people I wanted to see... places I wanted to visit for maybe the last time.  I needed closure but the agenda came first.

Lucky for me, we had to EAT!  Meals were the one time we could legitimately take a break, and if it included visiting with friends - all the better.  We went out to our old Yacht Club's new place - a boat! There were lots of new faces but plenty of old ones and everyone made us feel so welcome.

The Bayfront where we used to sail
We went to my old office and I got to see how they've changed the place up.  I chatted with my former co-workers and bosses and it was bittersweet.  I don't miss the work, but I do miss the people. My Lydia brought her baby boy over to see us and we sat around watching baby Luke feed Cheetos to Kira!  It was wonderful seeing Lydia and getting to meet her little miracle.

My dear departed friend Mimi's husband and his sister dropped in on us one afternoon and Charlie returned the following evening.  Time stood still as we sat and talked and reminisced about her.  My heart still breaks for her and it did me good to be able to talk to Charlie about her. No-one will ever fill the hole in my heart that she left, and now I'm leaving our neighbourhood where her ghost still roams in my mind.

Friends dropped by and brought food and wine because we couldn't leave for waiting on strangers to come at all hours to take away the house full of furniture.  Melissa put each piece on Facebook Marketplace and orchestrated all the wheeler-dealing.  I couldn't have done it.  She was efficient and final.  It all had to go, no matter that it was for nothing more than the price of the rental car for the two weeks.  Yes, that's right.  All my worldly goods were given away but for the price of a rental car.

My Bayfront!
These little knocks on my heart were patched over by the kindness of friends.  We shared meals with our old buddies and I got to tell them about our adventures.  They offered us help - the loan of a vacuum cleaner - the offer of a place to sleep once the furniture was gone...  I accepted gladly because it meant I could spend more time with them.

The days dwindled and it seemed like there would be no way it would all get done.  Melissa was pushing herself hard to trim a day or two so that she could get back to her life in Florida.  It was all I could do to keep up the pace.

We met with the realtor and the paperwork was signed.  Then by some miracle, everything was suddenly done.  The painting was finished, the new carpet installed and two additional days of hard cleaning were behind us.  Then the last of the furniture disappeared.  We literally closed the front door on people loading my bedroom furniture and drove out the garage in back, never to return.  The few treasures in the back of the Explorer were all that's left of my 50+ years.  A pile of photo albums, some baby books, a few medals and some things I thought we could use on the boat.  And those sails.  That's it.  A life.

I have no pictures of the process.  I was working too hard and emotionally detached so taking photos was not happening.  I did hastily take some short video of the place just before we closed the door for the last time.  Not great, but it's all I have of the house that was once our home.

The house looked good, if somewhat lonely.  I guess it's not too late to change my mind, but really it is.  That ship sailed.

One last look back at Corpus Christi, the city of my birth.  
Eyes front!  No looking back!  The iconic Harbor Bridge was festive but my mood was somber
We drove across the bridge to Portland where Anne and Dave had grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup ready to welcome us into their care.  Their hospitality provided a neutral place to transition from the mental drama of these past two weeks.

I know I've had a lot longer to get rid of my stuff than many cruisers do.  It has been a luxury and it would have been nice to have had our leisure to go through it all and really take care in disposing of our treasures.  But I have to say that already the pain is receding (as long as I don't think about it), and as brutally abrupt as it was, I'm glad that it's done now.

Driving away from the land of my birth was hard too.  The fields, the Bay, the wide open spaces that are my Texas home will go on without me, as I will without them.  I have to turn my thoughts to the future.  The house will sell and Bruce and I will be truly free.  With our girls living in other states, we weren't going back there anyway really.

Driving into a rainbow is a good omen, right?
Back in Florida, I used my remaining week finishing up some business and spending time with my daughter and her husband.  I cried a little and continued mentally processing everything that has happened in the past month.  Boxes of boat parts stacked up in my room and I had to pack and repack to get it all home with me.

The day arrived when my daughter put me on a plane back to my home.  The month behind me was a blur, but my boat with my husband and my cat were waiting for me.  I couldn't wait to get back to where I belonged and maybe have some R&R to finish processing.

Leaving the US again - for how long?  Who knows!
But I should have known that was a ridiculous dream!  Customs was a drama, the shower fixture had quit working, and oh yes, the broken thru-hull had to be replaced so the boat wouldn't sink!  It took me a couple of days, a visit to a doctor to make sure I wasn't having a heart attack, and more than a few tears, but I'm better now.  The past month was not as we wished or planned, but now that it's over I realize... what's a month of my life compared to the adventure before me?

Oh, and the plan?  Well we aren't going west anymore.  The pressure is off.  Until a new plan rises to the surface, we're just going to enjoy the Eastern Caribbean until we're done cruising.... then, who knows!  We're FREE!