Two summers ago, I was scared before the skiff even launched. The NE wind had come down. It had been blowing 40 mph, ripping the ocean to white, but now it was probably down to 30 mph. I hadn’t run a skiff yet that season. So this was my first run, in these shuddering seas?
I was fully dressed, as we always are when we step into a skiff: I was wearing full commercial grade raingear, a life jacket, a hat, my fishing boots, but I forgot my gloves. My hands were already so cold it wouldn’t matter when they got wet.
And they did get wet. As did the rest of me, even through the small opening at my neck. We all stand in our open skiffs when we travel to see over the bow. Like lightening rods, the water finds us first. Whole sheets of water pelted me as I rose and fell in the swells, my knees braced against the seat in front of me to stay upright, my arm on the tiller. Gasping for air between waves, I quartered my way from one island to another.
I have made this crossing many times and been out in storms far worse. I was not terribly afraid once I left shore---I was mostly awake, all of me. What I saw! The deep blue heaves and lifts me like breath; the whitecaps under the wind are my gasps. The grey clouds that sweep the mountains and troughs, spilling their water, and the sun that breaks between them, lighting the fires . . . All this exploding in water and howl of wind and motor, eyes blinded by the force of so much being and existence. . .
And more astonishing, even this on the island I just left. That island is a working island where everyone is head-down on task, where there is no shelter from the wind, where the nets are splayed across the grass, and the island is covered in tractor-roads.
Our island too is a working island, where nets and tractors, skiffs and machines cover grass and beach.
This day of mending net in the wind, it was hard to speak to anyone and I was cold and wet ---but what I saw! Let me tell you about the colors of this work! The colors of all this gear on land before it is dropped into the sea to catch fish.
Let me tell you about the blue-green nets and the yellow corks and the pink buoys and the endless coils of line ready to do their work for us.
Let me tell you about yellow and orange raingear hanging in the gear shed waiting for the bodies to give them life and the rusty anchors sunk in sand to hold our boats.
Courage lives here, and endurance, and a brotherhood of fishermen. But can you believe that beauty lives here as well, even when it is not intended or sought?
“We walk by faith, not by sight,” we often quote, but just as often, it is our sight that awakens our faith. Even when we do not intend it, in our busiest hardest labor, beauty and order and color emerges from our hand and pours forth speech that brings praise out of silence---for those who see it.
I see it. I hear it. I am sure you do as well. Even here:
Where do you see strange beauty in your world?
Praise Him, the Father of All Beauty and Good,
Who can be found in storm and sea,
Who can be seen in the work of ordinary, tired hands,
Who yet will be praised
By babes and fishermen and women late
at the sink or deep in the soil:
Praise Him for bringing Loveliness out of our
And, I do not forget the eaglets, Calvin and Maddie (as named by my youngest sons), who have doubled in size. Here, too, is strange beauty forged from odd feathers and dinosaur faces. Here, too, we watch and praise . …
Look! I can almost fly!