Wednesday, December 4, 2019


If you're looking for some good winter reading (for yourself or as gifts!), check out The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2019. So many interesting articles! Your local bookstore is sure to have it, giving you a nice excuse to browse for other great stuff while you're there.

We spent Thanksgiving week at a nice Airbnb in Caspar (on the Mendocino coast next to Jughandle State Natural Reserve), and I devoured this book (along with an Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout or two) by Liz Clark called Swell: A Sailing Surfer's Voyage of Awakening

Liz wrote the book on a laptop, as you might expect, but the laptop was placed on a homemade table of branches set in the shade of a mango tree in Tahiti. It's published by Patagonia, and if their other titles are as fun, interesting, and wise as this one, I'm going to be a very happy camper.

The story spans a dozen years, starting with Liz's days as a young Environmental Studies major at U.C. Santa Barbara and ending when she's a salty, seasoned sea captain who's logged 20,000 miles of solo sailing -- first down the California and Mexico coast, then onward to the Galapagos, and finally across the Pacific Ocean. (It reminded me of another excellent read called Paddling My Own Canoe by Audrey Sutherland.)

It's a "hero" story in the sense of Joseph Campbell's book The Hero With A Thousand Faces: there's Departure, Initiation, and Return. She's been getting to know her old Cal 40 sailboat for three years, and now, poised on a razor's edge, the call to adventure beckons: "I blink with fatigue as I try to convince myself to feel excited and proud after the seemingly endless preparation. But my fear and anxiety don't want to negotiate. My inner turmoil seems written in the sky. To the north: light, familiarity, comfort, safety, family. To the south: dark, unknown, doubt."

Needless to say, she pushes through the veil of self-doubt to undertake the adventure of her life. She'll sail through calm seas and stormy ones. She'll encounter drudgery and bliss, the mundane and the magical. She'll outmaneuver, Odysseus-like, the "gods" who toss one potential calamity after another at her. 

Eventually, she wins an apotheosis: "Suddenly thousands of raindrops fall before me. The movement of the expanding rings through the rosy water triggers some kind of trance. I watch the droplets transform into mini-swells of energy--varying wave amplitudes crossing over each other from all directions. Dynamic, chaotic, brilliant. Both infinite and finite at once. Time freezes and it feels as if my consciousness is floating. I am the raindrop, and the cloud, and the sky, and the setting sun. On this unusual frequency, I feel the connectedness of all things, a sensation of deep belonging. All one and simultaneously separate. Feeling becomes understanding--this great dichotomy dissolves. In this strange, brief moment, I am expansive like the Milky Way, minute like plankton, powerful like the tides, as solid as the volcanic crater, fragile like a spider's web, patient like the trees, and empty as a cloudless sky."

Having won the boon (and the book contract!), she goes on with her life, an inspiring example we could all emulate to our benefit.

"I've fallen countless times," she writes, "only to rise again, cloaked in new strength, and determined to find my way to a mental horizon of unlimited potential again. I have wrinkles around my eyes and sunspots splotch my skin, but I feel beautiful. I still have little money in the bank. I only own three pairs of shoes, all of my clothing can fit in one duffel bag, and I still flush my toilet with a hand pump--but I feel rich. I have spent the most energetic years of my life testing my physical, mental, and emotional capacities in pursuit of a dream.... 

"I have proven, at least to myself, that with plenty of hard work, choosing love will never lead to lack. It takes courage, but once the decision is made, doors open that seemed forever shut. Walking through them feels hopeful, exhilarating, and full of purpose. I am not the best sailor or the best surfer, or the most credentialed at anything, but chasing my dream has taught me that fulfillment and self-love don't come from being 'the best.' They come from pursuing our passions and connecting to our own spirits, communities, and world."

As one year comes to a close and a new one awaits just below the eastern horizon, Liz Clark's book makes for great company as we step into the coming transition.