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In 27 short essays divided into three sections --Attitude, Adversity, and Gratitude --he creates a connection between the seaside environment and human experiences from which we can all learn important life lessons. He describes what it means to live with change in "Crests and Troughs," ways of getting unstuck in "Barnacles and Other Grabbers," and reshaping adversity in "Greenheads in Season, No Refunds." The giant Under Toad, the tern's aggressive bombardment, and a dreaded shark attack can teach us about our fears, vulnerabilities, and assumptions. Lynn imaginatively and playfully examines the shifting sand dunes, breaking waves, and mysterious cormorants as well as other shore life to discover the lessons they reveal to us. Each story is tied to a seaside image --patterns in the sand reveal a grandmother's kindly wisdom about lasting love, the waters of a marshy maze echo the failures in using the wrong map, and the gull's grittiness and acceptance demonstrate what skills a young couple needs to survive 118 days at sea.
Sharing honestly and intimately about family, friendships, and personal experiences, Lynn's writing is accessible and inspirational. His stories are permeated with an exuberance, grace, and gratitude for each day, embodied in his daily mantra that he has embraced from Winslow Homer: "The sun will not rise or set without my notice and thanks."
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SHORE LINESLife Lessons from the Sea
By Edwin Lynn
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Edwin Lynn
All right reserved.
Chapter OneEVEN KEEL Staying Balanced
I find immense pleasure in the gurgle and splash of a boat propelled by a direct force of nature, the snapping of canvas and the humming of rigging in a fresh breeze, the rattle of ropes running through blocks, the crying of gulls, the lift and heave of a buoyant hull, the pressure of wind against my body, the sting of flying spray, the sight of billowing sails and the swirling foam of the wake. -Robert Manry
I was eager to go sailing. The sun was bright, framed by a few fair-weather clouds. My friend David, who had been a drug counselor and a corporate human resource development officer, had invited me for a day sail. He was not one to get up at the break of dawn, so I was able to enjoy a good weekend sleep-in. At midmorning, I met David at the dock of the Ipswich Yacht Club, where he had already begun preparing the boat for departure. Not being a sailor, I am always surprised at how much preparation is necessary to get underway. Sails need to be put up, lines and rudder checked, food stored, gasoline and motor connections completed, and life jackets and seat cushions put in place.
As the novice deckhand, I merely followed David's instructions to pull this and tighten that. I have found that skippers of sailboats enjoy these rituals and show none of the restlessness I feel. I wanted to get going, but I've learned that the sailing experience is not just on the open water, but also in the detailed preliminaries and relaxing postludes. When everything was ready to David's satisfaction, I cast off, and we leisurely powered out from the inner waters. As we approached the more expansive Ipswich Bay by Crane Beach, we prepared to hoist the sail. David was in charge, the sail was quickly up, and with his direction, we began to cruise comfortably in the bay.
When our course seemed set, and the sails trimmed, I asked David how his stress management seminars were going and, somewhat parenthetically, what was included in the course. He laughed, as anyone might with such a give-me-your-life-story-in-twenty-five-words question. To start, he asked me the meaning of the word stress. I told him that the word brings to my mind nervousness, tension, and ulcers. David nodded and confirmed that's the way most people think of stress, but if I wanted to understand its effects better, I needed to recognize some distinctions. He described how stressors, which can range from loud music to an abrasive boss, are the causes of stress; they are the external conditions. The stress itself is within us and is based on our inner reaction to these outer forces. As David got more into his description, he clasped his two hands together and pulled them equally, saying "We need tension, but if one hand pulls too hard, yanking the other, stretching the shoulder muscle, we have distress."
The wind suddenly increased, and in mid-sentence David jumped up to adjust the sail. Never one to let a topic go, he suddenly changed his expression and became more animated and said "I know a good way to explain what I have been talking about. The wind acting on the boat is a stressor. We need it to fill our sails. If we have no wind, we can't go anywhere, and to a sailor, being becalmed is about the worst thing that can happen. We can also experience excessive or unexpected wind, which can become distress if we don't react quickly. Sometimes sailing difficulties are caused by inadequate skills; at other times such unknowns as heavy winds or sudden gusts can cause trouble for the best sailor."
David interrupted his remarks when he noticed our sail begin to flutter. He made some adjustments, and we were back to our conversation. The longer David talked, the more he seemed to like his analogy. He proposed that there is a strong relationship between the physical and emotional elements of stress, much like the connection between the skipper and his or her boat. Our bodies and emotions respond to the outside stressors in the same way the skipper and boat respond to the wind and water. The skipper reacts to situations based on his or her skills and the destination in conjunction with the capacity and handling qualities of the boat.
By now we had reached the northern tip of Cape Ann and needed to decide whether we wanted to go around Halibut Point to Rockport, perhaps sailing on to Gloucester Harbor, or to remain cruising in Ipswich Bay. David was in good spirits and thought the longer trip would be more enjoyable. We altered our direction, he checked his charts, and we began our journey toward Gloucester with the hope of a late lunch at one of their dockside restaurants. After settling on our new course, David continued to talk about stress. I agreed with him that we are likely to be under the most severe strain when we face the unknown. Most people like and need predictability and control, and the feeling of lack of control is one of the most significant factors in causing stress.
I told David that our discussion reminded me of a study I read about in the newspaper of a group of commuters in England. The first passengers to get on a train travelled one hour and 40 minutes to London. They were studied for their stress reactions, and then compared to a similar group who had boarded the train closer to the city for only a 50-minute ride. The researchers were surprised to find that the one hour and 40-minute riders were under less stress when tested than the 50-minute commuters. At first this was quite a puzzle, but through further investigation, it was found that even though the commuters at the beginning of the line had to travel twice as long, they were more at ease on the train because they felt in control. When they got on the train at the beginning of the line, the train was virtually empty, and they could choose their seats, continue a conversation, and place their coats and briefcases in the location of their choice. They felt that it was their train. The passengers who got on at midpoint had no choice of seating, often had their conversations interrupted, and occasionally had to stand and hold their belongings. They had very little control over the situation even though they had a much shorter ride, and as a result, they experienced greater stress.
After a bit of talk between us about commuting in and out of Boston, David related that the skipper of any boat also needs to be flexible about arriving at his or her destination. As we headed toward Gloucester, I became aware that we needed to tack in a manner responsive to changing conditions by setting our immediate course in conjunction with existing channels and prevailing wind direction. David began describing the individuality of boats in setting a course, pointing out the variety of sizes, lengths, styles, sails, keels, and drafts. One type can cruise well with a strong headwind, while another performs best under more moderate conditions. Some boats absorb a crosswind easily, while others are unstable in an unexpected gust. And in all vessels a keel or some form of ballast is critical to maintaining a boat's balance. Everyone can see the glory of the billowing sail, but they often forget the equal importance of the unseen keel. If a boat has too much sail, it can become unstable. If it has too much keel, it becomes sluggish.
In thinking about David's comments, I realized that the same stressors create distinct responses on different boat styles, just as varied conditions cause diverse levels of stress within individuals. A balance must exist between the two, the same kind of balance that is important in dealing with human stress. We need the wind in our sails of activity, but we also need inner stability and self-confidence. Our personal ballasts can be aided by our family and friends, which like a responsive and loyal crew can hold a line or pull a rope to help keep the boat, and us, on an even keel.
David asked me to look up at the top of the mainsail and pointed to a little red streamer at the top of the mast. He sighed, smiled slightly, and seemed particularly pleased with the thought of his next comment. "That streamer is called a telltale," he said, "and it is used to predict subtle variations and changes in the wind. The larger sail may not respond to these minor variations, but the telltale, because of its lofty position, light weight, and long shape, is more sensitive to these differences, helping a skipper determine the maximum wind speed and anticipate changes in wind direction."
We, too, have our own forms of early warning—our telltale systems. A number of years ago when I was especially busy, I developed a subtle twitch in my left eye. When I was under stress or not getting enough sleep, this telltale reminder told me to slow down. Several individuals have told me about their own personal telltales. When one friend keeps too fast a pace in her life, she begins losing her appointment book. Another friend gets a nagging soreness at the back of his neck. Colds and aching backs have long been interpreted as warnings of excessive stress and tension. If we can recognize our own early-warning system, sensing our rising irritability and tension as it builds, we can, like a good sailor, learn to change course.
By now, we were approaching the broad entry into Gloucester Harbor. Where previously we had been on an empty ocean boulevard, we were now approaching the highway of fishing trawlers, power boats and other sailboats moving in all directions. As we entered these more active waters, I thought about the day's sail and my conversation with David. This seafaring day taught me that for good sailing, like good living, we need confidence in ourselves and our craft, reliance on our crew, a strong sail, an even keel, and a watchful eye on our telltale ribbon.
BENCHMARKS Fixed Points of reference
Benchmark: A surveyor's mark made on some stationary object of previously determined position and elevation and used as a reference point in tidal observation and surveys. –American Heritage Dictionary
Benchmarks are basic to all building design because they provide the fixed point of reference needed to begin construction. I became familiar with the importance of benchmarks while studying architecture. When designing a building, an architect inspects the property and, using a survey map, determines the best location for the building in relation to the topography, orientation, neighboring buildings, and geological features. The building's basement or first floor and its relation to ground level serve as a reference point for construction of the remainder of the building and are established in coordination with the nearest permanent benchmark.
There are three benchmarks at Crane Beach, one at Steep Hill that overlooks the beach (124 ft. above sea level), one at the bottom of the hill at the gatekeeper's house (17 ft. above sea level),and one on the Crane gravesite on Hog Island in nearby Essex Bay. At most locations there is a 4-inch benchmark that consists of a round brass plate inscribed "U.S. Geological Survey Bench Mark" and designating the elevation above sea level as well as the date the benchmark was placed there. One can be on the flattest plain in the Midwest or at the highest mountain in the Rockies, and a similar round plate will be anchored into the ground, marking that location's elevation above sea level. This little-noticed symbol designates the height of the ground at that particular location at mean sea level and serves as a reference for all geological surveys and maps.
I think we all have our own benchmarks—fixed points of reference fastened to a place or event that by their permanence or repetition provide a solid foundation from which our lives are measured. Periodic, consistent repetition creates a benchmark, such as a symbolically significant holiday event that becomes ingrained in us through the retelling of family tales and capturing them in photographs and videos.
A classic family benchmark is what could be called the "wall mark"—on the wall or frame of the kitchen door—where parents mark the changing height of their children. Each mark, usually on a specific occasion such as a birthday, dramatizes the changing status of the children as they grow taller. The children grow a little each day, but by periodically recording the change, we can contemplate their ever-changing size.
When I was growing up, a benchmark in our family was the annual vacation week at Rogers Lake in Old Lyme, Connecticut, on the shores of Long Island Sound. Every morning we would romp on the sands of the nearby beach, and when the sun became too hot, we would retreat to the cooling shores of the lake. The last Sunday at the cottage was designated "the day of the big picnic." My parents would invite all our friends and family members to share the ocean and lake with us for the day. There was always an abundant amount of food at the cookout, with an obligatory and excessive junk-food sidebar for the children. The older adult relatives would talk, share stories, and watch the children; the teenagers would swim, boat, water ski, eat, fool around, and show off. This annual event became a connection for us to create family memories that did not vary much from year to year. The candid shots and everyone-saying-good-bye photos provided a continuing family record, and over the years the photographs were compared as moms and dads, aunts and uncles, and teens and children grew older. During the winter months we were often entertained by stories of friends, romance, and memories of the big picnic. This annual gathering provided a fixed point of reference for our families' growth and change through the years.
Like the once-a-year big picnic, some benchmarks are periodic while others are a one-time event by which all similar, subsequent events are measured. When my wife, Marj, and I spent our first Christmas together after being married, we had just moved to Denver and knew only one other couple. We had very little money. We bought a very modest tree about two feet high and paid one dollar for a package of Hallmark paper, cut-out ornaments representing people from around the world. We were quite proud of our first tree and our ingenuity. Each subsequent year, as one of our annual Christmas rituals, sometime while decorating the tree, we will say, "Remember the first Christmas when all we could afford were those paper ornaments?" That first tree, like the foundation of a building, is a benchmark against which our subsequent Christmas trees are measured.
A Christmas benchmark can also be a time of sadness. The Northshore Unitarian Universalist Church in Danvers had a tradition of families joining together in a caravan of cars to travel to the homes of our elderly shut-in members on the Sunday evening before Christmas to sing carols to them. The event was always heart-warming, with adults and children bundled up to brave the cold as we joined our voices in a series of songs, from the boisterous "Jingle Bells" to a peaceful, although not always melodious, "Silent Night." As minister, I planned the route and led the trip. As the years passed, I began to feel a certain apprehension about the event. It seemed almost every year that someone we had visited the year before had passed away. I was sad at the time of their death, but at Christmastime the accumulated losses over the years came together and formed a poignant contrast to the eager young voices of the children and their proud mothers and fathers. As we drove from house to house, I would remember that we had previously gone down Bay Street, where Virginia always invited us in out of the cold in spite of snow dripping from our boots. Or we would go past the part of the town where we always added "Happy Birthday" to our carols to Warren as he celebrated his December 23rd birthday. The caroling evening became a benchmark of passing time and dear friends departed.
The ocean is constantly changed by wind and tides, but the mean sea level remains a constant. Each day our lives move forward, but it is our memories of special, eventful days—the big picnics, holidays and birthdays—that provide us with our fixed points of reference, our personal benchmarks.
Excerpted from SHORE LINES by Edwin Lynn Copyright © 2011 by Edwin Lynn. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Even Keel—Staying Balanced....................5
Benchmarks—Fixed Points of Reference....................11
Pearls of Wisdom—Confronting Limitations....................15
The Horizon—Points of View....................19
Crests and Troughs—Living With Change....................23
Swash and Rill Marks—Patterns of Behavior....................27
Sandbars and Sand Dunes—Regret and Resentment....................31
Tame and Turbulent—Strengths and Weaknesses....................35
Sharks—Image or Reality....................39
Tides In, Tides Out—Holding On and Letting Go....................43
Greenheads In Season, No Refunds—Reshaping Adversity....................49
Barnacles and Other Grabbers—Getting Unstuck....................53
Gritty Gull—Adapting to Challenges....................57
Crab Shedding—Being Vulnerable....................61
Ocean's Edge—Transition Difficulties....................65
Cormorant Diving—Time To Act....................69
Fog Lifting—Seeing Clearly....................73
Rented Boat, Borrowed Map—Limits of Theory....................77
Undertow, Under Toad—Real and Imagined Fears....................81
Seaside Sunrise—Grateful Beginnings....................87
Grains of Sand—Gift of the Ordinary....................91
Building Sandcastles—Playful Exuberance....................95
Whale Logging—Peaceful Presence....................99
Rock Solid—A Loving Core....................103
Seashells—Symbols from the Sea....................107
For Spacious Skies—Awakening to Beauty....................111
To The Sea Again—Spiritual Gratitude....................115