On being … in uncharted territory

By Ingrid Sapona

Maybe it’s because I write, but I’ve always been interested in adages. You know, those old sayings that have been around, it seems, forever. Because the general truth is usually pretty obvious (or uncontroversial), it’s easy to trivialize adages and sayings. But, if you’re like me, every now and then something happens in your own life that makes an adage come to life in a way that vividly reminds you of the underlying wisdom. For example, if you’ve ever pulled the one right (wrong?) thread on a machine-stitched hem, causing a long stretch of it to come down before your eyes, you gained first-hand experience of the adage “a stitch in time, saves nine”. 

I recently spent a week sailing with some friends to ports I’d never been to on Lake Ontario. Though I’ve sailed for a long time, this was the longest cruise I’d ever taken. When you’re out on the water for hours on end, it’s impossible not to reflect on sailing. As with most things, technology and innovation has transformed sailing. We have conveniences that make sailing safer and more pleasurable. Auto helm is an excellent example. Not only does it free up your hands, it steers a straighter line than most skippers can for extended periods.

One of the topics of conversation that seems inevitable when you’re spending a week on a boat is the combination of courage and naïveté people must have had hundreds of years ago to board a ship for the New World. I can’t imagine the physical conditions of life on such a boat. I couldn’t help wrinkle my nose at the smell of a leaf of lettuce or a piece of fruit that had started to turn in our cooler. I don’t even want to think of what live animals on board must have smelled like!

Besides comparing the physical conditions those on long voyages endured, naturally there’s also the question of navigation. Thanks to our GPS, we didn’t even need to uncover the boat’s compass. Imagine relying on celestial navigation to cross oceans!

Modern day sailors have GPS that you can program to get you from waypoint to waypoint, and there are charts and guides that tell you what buoys to sail between and what on-shore landmarks to watch for as you approach a harbour. Because some of the places we were sailing were known to have shallow areas, we dutifully put on our depth sounder – something we normally only think to put on if we’re approaching a marina we’re not familiar with.

Though we were never out of binocular view of the shore, we wouldn’t have dreamt of setting out without a well-known reference book that covers all the ports on the lake. It has great aerial shots of different clubs and marinas. It also details what to look for (buoys and landmarks) and describes spots where it’s shallow. That book became our bible, and there were many sections we reread to make sure we knew where to pay particular attention.

But, the book was not a nautical chart. That became very clear on day two, as we came upon what looked like outcroppings branching off a few small islands that were not mentioned in the book. A nearby larger island and the markings and depths around it were described in some detail, but not the smaller ones. We confidently continued forward, figuring our trusty guide would have mentioned any shoals or reasons not to proceed between the islands. We also figured our depth sounder would have alerted us to shallow waters. And, just to be safe, one person was on the bow, keeping an eye out for rocks ahead.

At about the time we noticed that our depth sounder had stopped working, we felt a bit of a bump. Then, before we could hit reverse, we felt a bit more of a jolt and we were stuck. Lucky for us, the bottom was kind of soft. It took about an hour, and a bit of ingenuity, but we managed to get the boat off the shoal.

We were never in any danger and the boat was not damaged, which are really the only things that mattered. But, after more than a bit of blaming the book for not mentioning the shallow water, we knew the fault was our own. The book, however useful, isn’t a substitute for a navigational chart, which would have provided enough details about the depth that even if our depth sounder had been working, we clearly would not have gone that way.

When we were safely in deeper waters, I couldn’t help smile about the fact that I now had first hand experience of what it means to be in uncharted territory. Or at least of what can happen when you don’t have a chart, which (though it isn’t quite the same in terms of responsibility) can lead to the same outcome!

You know, I have a feeling that if you live long enough you’ll have first-hand experience of the wisdom of many adages…

© 2015 Ingrid Sapona


On being … Bastille Day already!

By Ingrid Sapona

No, I don’t generally celebrate Bastille Day (though I’m open to it, as it seems a good excuse to indulge in a chocolate croissant or two, but I digress…). What’s really on my mind is the need to focus on things that remind me of summer – before it’s gone.

When we’re school-age, it’s impossible not to notice it’s summer because, if nothing else, it means a break in the daily routine. But as an adult, I’ve found that summer has a way of sneaking up on me. And, if the weather isn’t what you expect summer to bring (here that would be hot and humid), then it’s easy to feel that summer hasn’t yet arrived when, in fact, it’s mid-July already!

So, in hopes that I’ll catch that summer vibe (regardless of the weather), the past few days I’ve been thinking about all the things that represent summer to me. There are two main categories “summer things” fall into. The first category is what I think of as summer triggers – things that automatically make me think of summer, no matter when or where they come up.

The best example of a summer trigger for me is the smell of Coppertone. (Well, Coppertone Tanning Lotion, as it used to be called. I think some Coppertone Sunscreens smell like the Coppertone of my youth but, sadly, not all do any more.) Another instant “summer” trigger for me is the word boondoggle. You see, when I was in a kid, my elementary school put up a craft hut next to the playground every summer. One of my favourite crafts was weaving with boondoggle cord. You know, it wasn’t until I was in my late 20s that I even heard of that other, rather negative, definition of boondoggle! I’m not embarrassed to admit that I whiled away hundreds of contented hours in my youth “boondoggling”. (It’s been over 40 years since I’ve even seen boondoggle cord. I sure hope it’s not gone the way of vinyl records.)

The second category is things that, though enjoyable any time of year, summer wouldn’t be same without. (Mind you, road construction – though a staple of summer – isn’t in this category. Remember, I’m talking about enjoyable things.) Ice cream is the most obvious thing in this category. Whether it’s soft serve or regular ice cream, on a hot summer day, there’s nothing better. Laying back on a blanket and watching fireworks blossoming above and feeling the boom echo through your rib cage is another special summer sensation.

Then there are the songs of summer. The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” undeniably represents summer for most folks of my generation. But it’s certainly not the only song that conjures summer for me. Don’t ask me why but Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” is another one that sings out “summer” to me. In fact, I love the idea of a song of summer so much that the past dozen or so years I’ve enjoyed picking out a toe tapper that I dub my song of summer. This year I can’t decide between Andy Grammer’s “Honey I’m Good” and Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance”. (No matter what you think of these songs – or how sick and tired of them you might be – I’ll bet you can’t stop yourself from bopping when you hear either of them.)

Wow, I have to say, writing about all these special “summer things” has put a smile on my face and has made me want to revel in the season (regardless of the weather). I’m sure you have a list of your own things that mean summer to you. I hope this has helped you focus on them for at least a few minutes. And, if you’re like me and you haven’t really started enjoying summer just yet, all I can say is Bastille Day has come and gone! You better make the most of these long days now – it’s gonna be Labour Day before you know it.

© 2015 Ingrid Sapona