Issue: December 2001
The Wait

The boat is coming out of the water this month and already my heart feels like the sky just dumped an inch of sleet on it. You think you're ready for it-the solemn motor over to the boatyard when nobody says much of anything, the Travel-lift moaning its end-of-season dirge, the sight of her propped up there over the dirt on those spider-legged jackstands, her underbelly exposed like the bloomers on a high-kicking vaudeville dancer named Fannie. Amid your gloom about the whole idea of winter, you feel a little uncomfortable for her, sitting up there like that, the proverbial fish out of water. No, you're not ready for it.

All the winter projects in the world cannot change the simple truth that-at this latitude, at least-you're spending the next few months living approximately like a mole. Sunrise happens when you're in the shower, sunset happens when you're still at the office, and even if you do manage to get out on the water, you're dressed like you're ready to summit Everest. Gone for now are those long, luscious, shoeless summer days.

I don't know how it is in your family, but in mine we try to postpone the inevitable as long as possible. Our final sail of the season last year was a crystalline, frigid Thanksgiving Day. We put up the number two and the main and beat up-river, just so we could turn around and coast back-the sailing equivalent of whacking yourself in the head with a stick because it feels so good when you stop. I gave thanks that my sister and brother-in-law came with us, because I had my hands full trying to keep the kids upright. Every time we tacked they rolled around like fuzzy bowling balls, over-stuffed arms and legs flailing. A few big powerboats cruised by and I confess to impure thoughts about how warm and snug their occupants looked in the enclosed bridges.

Still, just getting out on the boat again after three straight weekends of leaf-raking, gutter-cleaning, bulb-planting suburban ennui made me feel like a fish leaping off the hook to wet, blue freedom. I would grab this last taste and roll it around on my tongue like a butterscotch from a grandpa, try to make it last.

Don't get me wrong-there's a lot to be said for winter. Sledding. Ice-skating. The honk of geese high up and winging toward the Eastern Shore's broad fields, the peculiar creak of a swan's wings as they beat the still air. The clear, cold sky and fuscia sunsets that fan themselves across it.

But still, we wait. We stack the sailbags in the basement and from time to time I will go down during the dark evenings and plop myself among them, listen to their crunch, smell the tart breeze in them. We squirrel away our memories of warm sun and ripe moons, uncovering them when our hearts growl like a hollow stomach. We hunker down, sip some hot tea with a splash of summer's rum, and wait for the days to lengthen again.