Like most people who read this magazine, my boat is my haven. It is my family's own little kingdom, our fragment of heaven here on the blue planet, the crucible of dreams big and small. Our escape. At least, when escape was a possibility.
To its credit, the boat did its best to serve on the weekend after September 11, 2001. The weather conspired beautifully with our last-minute plans-a steady northeasterly cooled the sun, and a cloudless sky stretched on forever. We left Annapolis at about noon on Saturday, shook out the sails in the Severn River and reached toward Bloody Point, heading for a favorite anchorage off Eastern Bay. Nearly every boat we saw was flying the American flag-not unusual, since most boaters raise the Stars and Stripes when they're under way. But can any of us ever unfurl this flag again and see a bit of mere nautical dress-up? Within two days of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, every boating store in Annapolis-and, I suspect, elsewhere on the Bay-was completely sold out of them. We had bought ours when we launched the boat earlier in the summer. Flying behind us now, the colors took on a new meaning: the red of bloodshed, the white of innocence, the dark, dark blue of inconsolable sadness.
At sunset, we watched as flocks of Canada geese pushed off from the cornfields into the early night sky. High above them, military helicopters flew in pairs east to west, their prolonged drone reminding us, in case we needed the reality check, that we were among the fortunate few to have found this small bit of quiet and solace. That night, the moonless sky was a black bowl of stars. We lay up on the bow and counted the ones we saw falling. We counted the satellites too, wondering what they saw as they silently zoomed over our fragile world. Sunrise greeted Sunday morning as a steady, hopeful glow in the east, the water beneath us so still that it perfectly mirrored the cathedral sky. It was like floating in liquid amber. When a blue heron yawped overhead and startled my daughter awake, and when the local crabber came along to tend his trotline, the simple predictability of both was a comfort.
It could be that some things never change; not the promise of the sunrise, not the autumn honk of the geese, not the growl of the workboat's engine, steady on and ornery. At least, this is why we turned to the boat and the Bay on that weekend, and why we were grateful we could. For the hope of constancy. For reassurance that some things, maybe, can survive a world suddenly and utterly changed. For the idea, illusory though it may be, that out here at least we can watch the stars fall across the immutable sky, and dream of peace.