Delays, and Cook’s Grog

A mermaid sketch card: watercolour and ink, 2.5x3.5 inches

A mermaid sketch card: watercolour and ink, 2.5×3.5 inches

I’m about to set sail (on a ferryboat) to the great dry inland of BC, and fear that I may have to leave you all high and dry on our story until next Tuesday — I’m setting off with two partial pages, but then I realized that I will probably have no way to scan them and send them off to you. Arrrgh! So next Tuesday (August 18), the winds being willing, I will post the next two pages at one time — so be sure to check them both and find out why Hart Jones feels he must feed the mermaid a libation of grog!

And what exactly is grog, anyway? According to the Wikipedia article on the subject, it was a drink made with water or “small beer” (a weak beer), lemon or lime juice, and rum, to help combat scurvy. Nowadays, however, it can refer to any alcoholic drink.  Aboard The Mermaid, scurvy isn’t so much of a worry, because she is a coastal vessel in a mild climate, able to get plenty of fresh fruit and veggies (and Cook makes sure of that) — so they have their own grog recipe that they like, made of cider infused with spices that they trade for in the Southern Isles. It’s not always the same, but Cook makes it with a medium-sweet cider (did you notice all those barrels down by the galley?), sticks of cinnamon, star anise, cardamom pods, ginger root, and cloves. He makes a big batch of concentrated syrup using the spices and some fresh squeezed cider (so no alcohol yet) by heating it in a kettle. He bottles it up and seals it, then he adds the spice infusion to the hard cider when he taps it. If they have lemons and lime on board, he adds a squeeze or two to taste. Mmmm!

The Music of the Waves

Hello, Denizens of the Internet Sea!  I hope you’ve all been swimming about happily in the summer sunshine. Myself, I took a brief break this past weekend; I desperately needed to get away and get some perspective on life — and for me, the place to do that is down by the sea.

"Dawn Fog" Watercolour

“Dawn Fog”

West about an hour from Victoria, BC, is a place called French Beach. It’s a provincial park with a campground, in a beautiful forest next to a cobblestone and sand beach. There are silvery driftwood logs to sit on, and the smooth, many-coloured stones hold the heat of the sun — you can lie on them, after wriggling around to make a nice comfy hollow, and soak up the heat from below while the cool breeze blows over you. There is always a cool breeze; the Pacific Ocean is like a giant refrigerator, and although it may be properly summer-hot half a kilometre inland, by the ocean you need a sweater. Or two.

On Friday, I was basking on those stones, leaning on a log with two friends, sleepily gazing at the gentle waves lapping the sandy part of the beach and being lulled by their music. The distant horizon, where normally one would see the Olympic Mountains across the strait, was misted over, and it looked like there was nothing between us and China. I found myself drowsily contemplating of all the things that could be under that silvery surface. There could be whales just out of sight, or giant squid, or sea serpents. There were certainly undersea gardens; I could just see the tops of the kelp floating in great rafts on the surface. I knew from kayaking over those same beds, gazing down into the clear waters on a still day, that the kelp’s holdfasts are attached to rocks many metres below, making a whole undersea forest for fish and tiny creatures.

The night before, I had lain awake listening to the wind rushing through the trees and the breakers crashing on the shore. Sometimes it was hard to tell the sounds apart. The night sea sang a song of power, a duet with the wind; I could imagine King Neptune himself out there, gleefully hurling bits of his kingdom at the alien land, eroding and claiming it to pave his pelagic halls. Sitting in the sun the next day, the languid fingers of the waves rolling the rocks together in delicate, tinkling cascades of sound, I thought of how many different tunes water can play. Or perhaps it is all one symphony, never-ending, and ever changing.

I fell to imagining what it must sound like underwater to those who live there. Not like the sloshing noise and muffled shouts of playing kids that you get when you duck under the surface at the pool — it must be like hearing the planet breathing. The sound of the waves above instead of the wind and the gulls and ravens; the rustling of anemones and sea fans and eels slipping in and out of their caves instead of the hooting of owls and rabbits rustling through the grass. And you would feel it on your skin, and reverberating through your blood, not just in your ears. If you were able to make sounds, like the whales, like the mermaids, your songs would pass right through other creatures, changing them for a moment into a part of you, a language far more intimate than our words carried on the thin air.

At last I had to return to the dry stones and the forest; but something had been conveyed to me by the chanting waves. I took away a kind of peace, an urge for a slower rhythm. Here’s the thing: if you can go to the sea, do so as often as you can, and listen carefully. Even if you are nowhere near the sea, remember that you carry its salty song in your veins; keep a large seashell at hand so you can listen to its echoes. And don’t forget to sing along.

Beneath the Surface Watercolour

Beneath the Surface