PAIN TO PEACE

Pain to Peace

I was in the sixth grade when my father received orders for Dow Air Force Base in Bangor, Maine. My memories of Maine are vivid. I can still visualize the old four-level house on Blackstone, the forty inches of snow that fell from one storm, our snow forts and snowball fights. I loved the woods that surrounded our military home on Langley Drive.  I spent hours roaming the birch and pine forest, picking wild blueberries and raspberries. Then I’d return to our duplex red-eyed and sneezing as I was allergic to evergreen sap. (To this day, I cannot have a real Christmas tree.) I treasured our Saturday visits to Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor. For some reason the ocean waves assaulting the rock coast called to me. Perhaps it was the untamed wildness of the currents and tides, or the raw beauty of the colors of rock, water and sky that fascinated me. Or maybe the reason was in my astrological sign – Cancer, the crab, a water sign. Whatever the reason, I never forgot the three and a half years we lived in Maine.

I always planned to go back, but as with so many things, life interfered. Work, family, marriage intervened. I finally returned in June of 1995. I lost my husband to cancer in June of 1994. In the months that followed, the losses mounted. It seemed every phone call contained a death notice. After singing at a friend’s funeral service in November, I fell apart and my mother declared, “No more.” Even though there were more losses, I did not sing, nor did I attend the services. Instead, I looked for a getaway, a place where I could find peace and revive my spirit. The answer came in an ad in YANKEE Magazine for the Maine Windjammer Association. There was something about the picture of the majestic schooner at full canvas that attracted me. I called the 800 number to request more information. Within two weeks, a packet arrived in the mail and the planning began. My family wasn’t too keen on my going alone, but I stood my ground. This trip had to be for me. Seven months later, on a gray, wet Sunday afternoon, I stood at the edge of the wharf and requested permission to board the MARY DAY.

In 1994, the Maine Windjammer Association listed fourteen ships in its fleet. A number of the wooden ships were rescued from the old fishing and trading vessels built in the late 1800’s and in the early part of the 1900’s. These tall-mast beauties weathered storms and the ravages of time, and earned the honor of National Historic Landmark. In the early 1960’s, new schooners designed and built specifically for windjammer cruises, were added to the fleet. the MARY DAY was the first of the new ships. The newer vessels were built in the tradition of the wooden vessels of earlier days with an attention to the craftsmanship of a bygone era.

My windjammer cruise differed from a luxury cruise in that it had no frills. Think of it as camping on the water.  A passenger could choose to lounge on the deck or to augment the crew.  By working with the crew, one experienced sailing in the old tradition. Meals were prepared in a small galley on a wood-burning stove.  The anchor was raised using a two-man pump wench. Sails were hoisted by two teams pulling the rigging lines in tandem. Ropes had to be coiled, decks swabbed, the wheel manned. I worked, but I still reserved time to sit on deck and commune with nature. I watched eagles glide across the sky; saw harbor seals play along the islands in the bay; laughed when the dolphins would leap and splash in the gray-green water. I felt the breeze kiss my cheeks and the sun burn my neck.

Windjamming is an experience I will never forget or regret. I relive the thrill of taking the polished oak wheel and navigating our course while our captain stood at my side guiding and encouraging. Nothing compares to the sight of the tall ships skimming the water. They are beauty and majesty, a tribute to our forefathers’ seafaring skills. I would love to sail again.

This longer-than-normal Outtake does have a purpose. I followed my gut in a quest to find peace. Not only did I regain my center, I discovered the setting for my second novel GRACE ISLAND.  I continue to feature this beautiful state in novels and screenplays. I encourage every writer to follow his instincts in writing his story. Others may make suggestions, but you are the captain of the work. Do not allow other voices to force you to make changes you are not comfortable making. No sea captain would leave port without plotting his course. By the same token, a writer should plan before starting the story. I’m not suggesting a forty page outline with twenty pages of character sketches. However, a character list and brief notes on story and plot are essential. Just I required guidance and encouragement when taking the ship’s wheel, a writer needs critique and suggestions to solidify his work. Know when to say enough. I’ve seen authors write, rewrite and edit a piece until it no longer resembles the original premise. Do your best and let it go. Use every experience, every emotion, even the most painful ones, to color and build on the plot. Writing a novel or story is not an event, it is a journey. There are obstacles and disappointments along the way. With this in mind, I wish you, my fellow writers, fair winds and calm seas as you travel your writer’s journey.

Cait Collins

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