July 11, 2003

seven eleven

Let’s see, what day is it? Friday? The Eleventh. 7-11? The sign of a good summer is when you feel all conventional units of time slip into a shapeless mush, to be replaced by measurements much more personal and kinetic. During my first few weeks out in Oregon I kept track of the days, the weeks, the landmarks. On one day it was officially one week since I left Minnesota. On another day it was two weeks, marking the longest I had ever been away from my home state.

Then I started slipping. I missed one month by a week or so. I’m coming up on two months now, but I’ll probably forget that day too. When it comes I won’t think of it as the day that marks two months gone, but the day that Cherry Poppin’ Daddies played in Hood River.

As it is, the weeks are arbitrary. The months are arbitrary. I find myself measuring the passage of time by progress, change and rhythm. Before I left the Midwest I spent a few days down in Madison for my sister’s graduation. When Greta and Tyler bought their house they inherited a head of medusa modeled out of a gigantic jade plant. As my parents and I packed up to make our way back to Hopkins, my sister slipped me a clipping of the jade. Back in Hopkins my mom planted it in a cereal bowl.

The morning I hit the road I squeezed the plant into the last open crack in my Green Dragon Wagon; it ended up on the edge of the rear seat. If I tried to open the door it would fall out, so I had to drop it in through the window.

Three days later, a little shred of jade plant found itself on the kitchen windowsill in a house on Eugene Street. I watered it regularly, but for the first week or so it was pretty stressed out and didn’t do so hot. The snakes were dimpled. I eventually intervened, removed a few excess snakes and shoved it deeper into the cereal bowl. It liked that, and has since started to grow into a robust little jade. It drinks up water like your blood drinks up wine, and I need to rotate it every so often to make sure it grows up balanced.

When I showed up in Hood River I knew nothing about how to properly rig a sail, how to put on a harness or how to get on the board without uphauling. I knew enough to get on the water and fool around in the Midwest; what was sufficient to teach eightysomeodd 9- to 14-year-olds about windsurfing. My limbs were atrophied from my academic rigors. My brain was curdled and it took time to shake it off.

And I’ve come a ways so far. Yesterday I had my best session yet out on the River at the Event Site. I’m nailing my waterstarts on my Mistral Edge, to the point where I’m finally spending more time on the board than off. I’ve stopped taking crazy random falls, and now when I get to the end of my reach I can set down my gear, hop off and waterstart in less than a minute. In previous sessions, such a feat could take me more than an hour (see: Rowena). I’m dialing into my harness in high winds, and I’m getting more familiar with gusts, lulls, and the general squirrelyness of the Gorge.

With windsurfing you develop a strong sense for the wind. It speaks to you. It whispers, like a person. You can read it but not always accurately, because the wind is the hymn of the gypsy. Rig up or rig down? Is it going to build or drop off? You feel a oneness with the forces of nature, and you weep for all those straggling breezes that have never dragged a soul across the water.

This sense doesn’t develop naturally, and requires that you train yourself to listen. It takes time, but it is time measured by the wind, not by minutes or hours. You must court her like a gentleman, patient and elegant. If you try to force yourself upon her, rush the process, she will chew you up and spit you out. She will stop talking and your ears will hum. The wind calls the shots around here, and she hears it when you curse her name. She hears everything.

The two of you will love, will lose, will sacrifice. These are inevitable. You alone will determine how you handle the three, as the wind already has her mind made up. Only after you have learned to listen will you learn to sail. Will you learn to live. Will you learn to sacrifice with grace. To lose with humility. To love with everything.

And then?

You will raise a ruckus.