I live on the prairie, but I was born near the sea.
On rocky shores and tidepools I cut my teeth.
And it is never far from my mind.
So I give you this today – a poem, I suppose – because I can’t stop remembering.
I Imagine an Ocean
I pretend, sometimes, that the field to the east of my house is the sea. I imagine that the brown slopes are actually undulating waves; that the trees far off on the edge of the hill are trees on an island, waving their branches in a salt-scented breeze.
Not palm trees – no thank you – these are pine trees, the trees of my childhood, the trees of Puget Sound with their balsamic scent (Does that word work here? I choose to say it does.) and their sticky sap just waiting its turn to enfold unsuspecting bees which, in their amber prisons, will fascinate scientists millennia from now.
I imagine my prairie ocean with the most success when it’s foggy and I cannot see the dirt. Then it’s easy to see phantom many-masted ships, their sails set and their scuppers gleaming. Or, more likely in these days, scurrying speed-boats, as we used to call them, their purpose apparently nothing more than making waves and scaring seagulls.
I imagine I am on a tall cliff – not unlike that of my youth – and I – why not? – a lighthouse keeper, a fog-horn blaster, the sole protector of sailor’s lives. Their one and only defense against a watery grave.
Would that I had been there for the Edmund Fitzgerald.
In the autumn when combines, like ships in the night, roam the sloping shores of my imagined ocean, I sit out on the deck and savor the sight: I am in a valued port, a sheltered haven where HMS John Deere tacks back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, in her attempts to reach safe harbor. I wave and shout, “Ahoy!” but the good ship cannot hear me over the chugging of her engines and she carries on – back and forth, back and forth, until, finally, she sails away, taking her fleet with her.
Bonus: For those of you who don’t know my reference, The Edmund Fitzgerald was an ore ship which sank in a storm on Lake Superior on November 10, 1975. All 29 men in the crew perished. This video link is of a great song, by Gordon Lightfoot, titled, the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. The video is entirely footage of Lake Superior, the wreck itself, and with the song as the background.
Yes, I realize that I referenced a fresh-water incident in my salt-water poem…but it’s the ship which comes to mind when living in Minnesota! In addition, I must say that I did not mean to be flippant about the wreck…it was a heart-breaking incident and remains, to this day, the largest ship ever to be lost on Lake Superior.