The Boats and the Waters
By Gerald Gray
I think I know where the boats came into my life, that is—the love of them.
The Queen Mary from England to America in 1936, a lost love now.
The Nalle, a motorboat in the Swedish Archipelago, where my shorts caught on the bow flagpole as we were docking, and I was slowly lowered to the dock ahead of the boat.
The car ferries when they were still on San Francisco Bay.
The rowboats in the marshes of the unnamed lake near Corona during the war.
Different sailboats I had on the Bay here, the Thunderbird and the other, both now sunk.
The ferry on the Baltic from Germany to Sweden, and the overnight ferry up the Oslo fjord from Copenhagen, when I slept on the deck.
The paddle wheeler down Lake Geneva to the French town of Lausanne at the end.
The Mary Rose up a seaward fjord on Vancouver Island at the end of the West Coast Trail.
The rowboat my son and I will overnight from Italy to Switzerland to see if Hemingway’s protagonist really could have done it.
They are all associated with some kind of adventure. I didn’t know what that was on the Queen Mary, I was only two. But every other one was chosen. I think, though, all the boats of my adult life were determined by my boyhood time on the little lake near Corona, rowing alone through the cattails where the red-wing blackbirds crowded in the reeds, complaining as they lifted off whenever I got close.
The lake was still and muddy, never clear. The boats were for guests at the small hotel, guests who never used them because the boats were rough, wood with water in the bottom, unmatched oars or even boards to paddle with, and sometimes dried worms curled upon the seats after true sailors had finished their fishing expedition up the Amazon.
Perhaps ten years ago I went back. The lake was overgrown with tules and deep grass, now part of the Santa Ana River basin. The boats were long gone. Our house is gone,
And the three room school is gone. But the blackbirds remained, and have remained—my favorite bird, and if I have again some boat with a sail I shall have a red sail and the boat will be called “Red Wing”.