Our quiet Christmas at home was filled with good food, good books and some time for reflection. In the days before and after Christmas, I received emails, text messages and calls from family and friends updating me on snowfalls and ice-overs from Seattle to Grants Pass. With all of us warm, dry and safe in our respective homes, I was thankful no one in my family was on the road.
Whoever built our home on Freeman Street, or I should say, whoever added the second story, understood our local winter storms. The master bedroom is buffered from the wind and rain by the adjacent family room. With its three walls of windows, the family room is a cheerful, bright, solar-heated space on sunny days and the perfect vantage point for storm watching when foul weather rolls in.
I spent a stormy day with a wonderful little book entitled “Atachafalaya Houseboat.” With the pellet stove blowing heat and the incessant rain pounding on the west-facing windows, I read about a young couple in the ’70s who lived on a houseboat in a south-central Louisiana swamp. Every now and then I’d put the book down to watch the next squall blow in. It wasn’t difficult to imagine living on the water.
The young couple’s experiences were captured by a National Geographic photographer who made the Atchafalaya River Basin and the couple rather famous. I enjoyed reading about Calvin and Gwen in her own words from a series of articles she wrote while living on the houseboat. I admire their accomplishments living off the land and water: a prolific garden, floating laying hens, catfish cooked a dozen ways and homemade elderberry wine just to mention a few. They thrived for nearly 10 years on the houseboat they built themselves without a single power tool.
In my mind I meandered back to the time when Rick and I owned a houseboat and spent every free minute of nearly two years there. Like the Atchafalaya houseboat, ours was moored and didn’t move, except with the ebb and flow of the tide. It sat in the Port of Brookings among the sea lions, seagulls and pelicans.
Our houseboat was 12-by-40 feet with fir floors and quaint doors repurposed from a teardown house in Medford. It boasted amenities including a built-in captain’s bed, a bathroom with shower and a galley kitchen that opened onto a dining and living area. Beyond the French doors was a large deck where I grew herbs and flowers in pots and had a table for dining al fresco.
In the summer we were besieged by curious tourists who inevitably had to know, “Do you live here?” and then, “Do you like it?” Like it? I’ve never enjoyed a place more!
It took about 20 minutes to clean the place, leaving hours to relax, watch the pelicans dive or the sea lions swim under our home and roll over onto their backs and smile. We entertained the regulars who maintained their boats on B Dock. When the baitfish came in we’d catch them, fry them up and serve them to our sailor friends.
Winter on the water was quiet and cozy. During the most inclement weather the marine woodstove kept us warm and the windows and skylights provided plenty of light. Those were days for reading, listening to music and daydreaming.
Our last winter in Brookings we spent New Year’s Eve aboard our houseboat. The rain was pelting us from all sides. We looked up at the skylight over the bed and saw raindrops the size of fists aimed right at us. We were rocked to sleep by the rhythm of the rain and the sounds from the old dock straining in the wind against the ropes that held us securely to it.
On this eve of yet another new year, we celebrate the good memories of years past. The houseboat years are yet another chapter in my life that’s been closed and left behind with a twinge of regret.
“Fair winds and following seas” is a nautical blessing repeated by sailors. It means, “may the wind fill your sails favorably for the duration of your voyage and may the seas be calm.”
My new year’s wish is that your days ahead be warm and safe wherever you are, and that gentle winds will help us ride out whatever challenges lie ahead. In 2009, let’s sail full speed ahead at peace with nature and each other.
Happy New Year.