I am down by the water again. And I am young. Very young.
I can hear the seagulls and the sound the wakes of passing boats make against the bulkhead, perfectly timed and mesmerizing. There’s the smell of the old wooden docks and the creosote on the pilings, blue black, bubbling and shiny in the mid day heat of summer. My eyes narrow in the glare of the sun off the water.
The water. Where I want to be.
My fingers are sticky with tar and sand, as are my jeans from where I sat on the dock while I watched the boats go by, dreaming of having my own. Someday.
I look closely at my hand. Now it’s the hand of a middle aged man sticky with tar off of a dock line I just coiled. From my boat, a boat I dreamt about on that long ago afternoon of my youth.
I was just there, in that moment, but now I’m back in the present, not really sure that I want to be. Placing my hand close to my face I inhale the powerful aroma of the creosote.
And I go back there again. Happiness warms me like the heat of that day.
This happens to me a lot, especially as the time of my youth grows further away from my present. Certain aromas stimulate my memory, as they do to all of us, but mine are always from and around the water.
They can take me there, even when I’m not.
Gasoline and two-stroke oil will do it. Mixing the two, my hands become those of a fifteen-year-old again, trying in vain not to spill the blue, precious oil around the lip of the portable red metal gas tank from my first outboard. A tank full of dark powerful leaded gas and the promise of adventure it will yield me with my boat. The clink of the brass safety chain in the tank and the click of the black cap on the lip insure the moment is real.
Then comes the clouds of pulsing exhaust, richly choked, sputtering perfect drops of oil and water behind the boat where they form tiny rainbows on the water’s surface.
I can see the undulating sandy smooth bottom through the clean, salty water. Drying barnacles and seaweed scent the air. Silver and green baitfish are spooked by my shadow and flee from impending danger. I carefully place my aqua-marine Penn 710 Spinfisher fishing reel in the reel seat of my rod and secure it with several twists of the locking rings. A tang of Three-in-One oil wafts by as I slip the rod in a holder. I look up and lock eyes and smile with my oldest friend as he hands down more gear from the dock. Sea & Ski assaults me. Only now, I’m seeing my friend through progressive lens, prescription sunglasses. I’m closer to four times fifteen than one. I close my eyes, inhale, and go back there once more.
Opening a can of Z Spar Captain’s Varnish takes me there. I am drawn closer to the amber, viscous elixir of my youth, breathing deep, meaningful moments from its pungent scent of tung oil. I’m twenty-one, standing at my bench on the sandy-floored, quiet paint shop of the old boatyard surrounded by the tools of my trade. I carefully select my badger hair brushes from a dented metal ammo case. Unwrapping them from their cloaks of waxed paper, the hairs are soft and slippery with thinner from yesterday’s cleaning. A thirty- five foot Aage Nielson mahogany sloop named Masquerade is behind me on the railway, as are her five coats of black enamel and countless hours of my labor. Sunlight mixes with unfiltered Camels as the ancient mechanic leans in the doorway of the adjacent engine shop.
You done with it yet, Michelangelo?! he wheezes and then tosses out a butt with his final say as he slides away. It’s just a boat you know. Well, maybe to him I think, but not to me or her owner who is coming out from New York this weekend, anxious to see her and my hand applied progress. I return to my task, readying to brush her first coat of cabin house varnish. I fret about how much Penetrol to add to the varnish to help counteract the press of the day’s humidity. Its golden color swirls as I stir it into my paint pot of strained varnish, releasing the pleasantly teasing but unhealthy aromatic hydrocarbons. I need more…
Three decades and 3000 miles span the moment. My hand shakes with nervousness as I now attempt to apply varnish to the tiller of my sailboat, Patience. I stare at the foam brush in my hand, wishing I had retrieved my badger brushes out of storage, still wrapped in wax paper in a metal box with more dents. Smelling of my youth.
Take me there.
We all go there thanks to something that triggers our memories. Not for long. Time unfurls itself and we are there again in the moment. Fleeting but real. A place and time we knew and perhaps shared with others. Just don’t try too hard to look for it. It’s there waiting, right under your nose. Have a nice trip.