It is vain. It is frivolous. Yet in the window of a local main street art and framing shop, there is a painting which I covet. It is spectacular in its own way, a limited edition copy, well executed by someone who knows and loves the sea well and intimately. He has captured every fleck of sea foam, every glint of light perfectly. The painter Christopher Walker is a renowned Canadian illustrator and this image has my heart. It is small, 24”x 15”, which makes it more endearing and also possible to mount in a boat. It portrays a man in red storm gear rowing a clinker-built skiff a goodly distance from shore. The title of the work is ‘Devotion.’ “Ya bet yer breasthook!” I think. You’ve got no choice. Pull for your life all the while resolved to the living heaving reality all around. It is often referred to as ‘Storm Ecstasy.’
Behind him, a steep near-breaking swell rises high above but he does not look, hearing its slop and hiss tells him all he needs to know. He has to have confidence that his small craft will rise daintily over it and all the other lumps he must encounter on his way to a sanctuary somewhere near the lighthouse. He is resolved that there is nothing he can do about it anyway. One moment of panic may well spell his doom. “Now lean into it,” he thinks, “but don’t break or lose your oar.” That light, to me, looks a lot like Race Rocks, a few miles from Victoria. It is noted for its turbulent surrounding waters and the image is so true I can smell it. I can taste the brine on my lips, feel the wet air on my face and the slap of the sea against my fragile, thin hull. I’ve been in such situations and can see, hear and feel everything including the pull and spring of the wooden spoon oars. Perhaps there is a nice small halibut in the bottom of the skiff. He isn’t out there just for the exercise.
Designed to warn mariners away from danger, light houses are seldom built to draw them near but onward he rows. This painting expresses tension and peace all at once for the seasoned mariner and a certain terror for the viewer who is a landsperson. I love it. I want it. There is another special nautical painting which, years ago, I did not acquire yet remains indelible in my memory. Now the capitalist craving haunts me again but for the time being this new longing will have to stay in the shop window where it has called to me for the past year. The painting is a metaphor of my life. Read into it what you will. I have a fantasy of my writing desk by a window looking out to sea, my books on shelves at either elbow, that painting on the wall where I can see it along with other art I cherish. Still rowing toward distant marks, tide against wind I yam what I yam. You know the Bob Seger song.
The painting requires only a bit of money but I I have none and there are, of course, debts and bills to be paid first. The job I started a week ago lasted less than four days. I made a simple but grievously stupid error on my first morning. I was easily able to repair it and offered that, but the damage was done. There are no second chances after making a bad first impression. My wagging tail was suddenly tucked where the sun seldom shines. That dark cloud of doubt weighed on both me and my new employer. With a rapidly dwindling trade, due in part to both the global virus dread and the puckered economy in result of regional protests I could clearly see there was not much work for me at the moment. I need the income and I need the affirmation of being able to hold a job. Gone! I must confess my weary body and the incomplete healing from my recent surgery also made it obvious that perhaps my glory days on the job are past. I was able to prove to my younger co-workers that motors can be diagnosed and repaired efficiently without computer diagnosis. Maybe ignoring protocol was what did me in. But then, it would have been something else. So what! Life goes on.
This is a tough week and first things first, I must repair the engine in my truck. Maybe that will restore my confidence. Done. But I feel no better. Suddenly I’ve come down with flu-like symptoms but haven’t coughed up any Corona bottle caps so no worries mate. I was at the doctor’s office last week and everyone with a sniffle is piling in there. I don’t do baa very well. You get old, you get sick, you die. Then the cycle begins again. Old Jack wants to go for his morning outing, which will be a slow and halting procession, for both of us. We each need the air and the exercise and off we go before the drizzle thickens into a steady rain. Spring draws nearer.
“And so in time the rowboat and I became one and the same-like the archer and his bow or the artist and his paint. What I learned wasn’t mastery over the elements; it was mastery over myself, which is what conquest is ultimately all about.”
― Richard Bode , First You Have to Row a Little Boat: Reflections on Life & Living