I decided to change up my commute this morning. I left the house before first light, listening to that small, still voice that is easily drowned out by the roar of daily life. I stepped directly onto the bus, and got a quiet car on the BART. I got a good long look at the red streaks of dawn through the window just before the train dove under the Bay.
This gave me time to walk to work from the station. I’ve been walking the other way, after work, in an effort to preserve some of the peace and clarity of my recent trip to Albion. If the afternoon walk was good, the morning is even better. I got to walk through the coolness and quiet of North Beach before the cafes are open and the sidewalks full of tables and people intent on their phone screens. I’m here at work before most people get in and am able to sit and write for a bit after spending some time alone with My Ladies, the ships who form our collection and carry their cargo of memory into the future. I am able to spend a moment or two reconciling my Druidry and my current livelihood in a way that allows me to build some more of that deep connection into the life I am living, the shape of this moment in time.
We are all, to some degree, caught in a web that we don’t like, and it is often difficult to see our part in the weaving of it. We make choices and often are forced to do so without all the facts to hand, or in spite of the facts. I chose to be where I am now. I came here to serve these vessels and in the cool of morning, before I’m trapped in matters that have little to do with these Ladies and in fact have no part whatsoever in their survival, I can remember why I’m here and make as much time for my true work as possible.
I picked up a sprig of fresh rosemary from the sidewalk this morning. I inhale its fresh scent and block out the tribal babblings in the next room. This moment is still mine. The darkened light of Autumn shines through the window and picks out the rich colors of the signal flags fluttering from every mast. I made every one of those hoists, party clothes for My Ladies. They don’t wear them often, but when they do they are resplendent indeed. This is the last time those flags will be flown before winter and I wonder if a century from now someone like me will be looking at another set of them in the same way.
The space of a century is how I spend my early mornings in this place. I walk through the ferryboat, the only sounds the slap of the water and the creak of mooring line and gangway. I see all the ships of this collection in that time, a time when I and all of the people that inhabit this slice of time with me are dead. We are gone, but the vessels remain. Like the forest, the individuals that make up the whole live their lives, do their tasks and pass on, but the crew remains. Without the forest, the very air we breathe does not exist. Without a crew, the vessel is dead.
We talk a lot on taking the long view. Thinking of our responsibility to our descendants, to our effects, with our actions today, on the seventh generation. I think that we only pay lip service to this for many reasons–among them short term gain, and the personal consequences of acting from this knowledge, which often puts us at a disadvantage when it comes to our actions in the present day. Taking the long view is hard when everyone else thinks in terms of next quarter or next year. There are rewards, however. The feeling of expansiveness I get when I think of that person a century hence standing on this deck where I am standing right now, feeling that same sense of oneness with the ship, is to align myself with the ages.
I remember one specific job I helped with when I was still a volunteer. We were restoring a bilge pump, original to one of the vessels, and it wouldn’t come apart. It took us weeks to coax it to break loose. We tried everything, penetrating oil, torches and hammers, railroad jacks and Johnson bars–we permanently bent an iron bar an inch thick in our efforts. Eventually we persuaded the rust that sealed the top shut to yield. The pump slid smoothly apart as the corrosion that held it fractured. The inside was almost bright. The leather washer was rotten, covered with something silver and flexible. It was dried out grease, which had served to protect the metal even after fifty-odd years. We didn’t know that sailor’s name, but the evidence of his skill and pride in the vessel was there before our eyes. The job had been let go for many years longer than it should have been, but the pump was still repairable. Without that thick layer of grease–much more than had been needed to do the job, we might well have been looking at a solid block of rust.
I resolved that day to be that sailor. Whenever possible, I added extra coats of paint, varnish or tar to any part of the ships I could. I mummified the engines of a certain ship in the same sort of lanolin-based grease we use to coat the bilges of another, grease that was so good that the company that made it went out of business because it lasted too long to allow them to survive. I remember scraping the last of it out of 55 gallon drums in the warehouse, alone, filthy, and having the time of my life. I miss those days more than I can say, when I was directly involved in the preservation of the ships. Maybe, if I’m very lucky, someday someone will take apart one of the many jobs I’ve done and thank that unknown sailor who went the extra mile. Maybe they’ll learn, as I did, that that kind of love is what keeps ships alive, that we are all links in the chain, passing hand to hand the knowledge and skill that gets us to the future.
This is one of the many reasons I am a Druid. We are all keepers of the future, but my spiritual practice specifically calls me to preserve and protect the past, in the present, so that our collective memory makes it to the future. We are keepers of memory, because without a knowledge of where we came from we can’t make good decisions, even for the next quarter or the next year. We are living in a world where that kind of short term thinking, fueled by the gifts and tools that the accumulation of memory have given us is bringing us to the brink of disaster. We know what we need to do to help our world back into balance, though too many of us fight like demons to keep from taking up those tasks. My job, my spirituality and my life are at the moment all reflections of that same understanding, here at dawn, with the winds of Albion still caught in my hair, the lessons I have learned still fresh in my mind.