by Celie Johnson for Kidspirit's Numbers & Symbols Issue.
The world is irrelevant. All focus is on one thing: the present; every aspect and every physical thing, feeling, or emotion that creates every second, of every hour, of every day.
In this particular moment, I am on my boat Totoro, named after my favorite childhood movie. The name brings back memories of the dozens of times my sisters and I watched the animated film, cuddled in knit afghans, embraced in yawns created by being up past 10 pm.
Totoro is the embodiment of my childhood; the almost obnoxious yellow of the dorsal surface and the baby blue of the hull mimic perfect sunny days spent outside on the water. As a child I was only allowed to sail across the harbor and back. Now, “all grown up,” I drift towards the vast Atlantic ocean, yet I find myself still sheltered by my beloved little harbor. The tide is going out pulling me to the south. The wind is coming from the north today, strange, as it usually blows from the opposite direction. But it’s perfect. I have a straight shot at open sea. While I usually tack 12 to 20 times to open water, today I’ll tack four times. The tide pulls me further from the Yacht Club — my safe harbor.
In no time my perspective alters dramatically. I look back and see a white speck in place of my whole world. That’s what I love about open water. It doesn’t matter where you come from or where you’re going; everyone comes from a similar, seemingly insignificant, speck. You can strain to find a sign that proves you’re still part of the world, but your boat is the only thing that ties you to reality. It’s interesting to feel this way, like you are no longer in the world. Especially in today’s society, where technology and modern media have us believing the world revolves around the individual. Being constantly available and “in touch” creates a negative connotation around being alone, out of touch. I find it hard to pull myself away from technology and society, but when I do, it’s worthwhile.
I let my mind float into the unusually blue sky. I am drifting alone in the ocean. Although unsettling at first, the more the solitude sinks in, the more comfortable I become. I think about what it means to be alone. If I disappeared right now, who would know? Could they save me in time? Scary thoughts pass through my mind. I find solace in thinking about what is beneath me — yards upon yards of unexplored territory, inhabited by multitudes of species. I’ve never been so alone, but ironically, I’ve never been surrounded by so much life.
I come back; I focus. The subtle pull of the tide and the waves rock me and my boat. It makes me feel as though I’m part of something bigger. I realize the world is alive and constantly breathing. It’s restless, and I’m part of it.
Just after I tack, I watch my mainsail fill with air. I marvel that something can look so full, yet so empty. I suddenly catch a breeze. I breathe in. Salty, humid air fills my lungs. I’m flying. The wind picks up; the boat glides, almost hydroplaning. The salt from the wind coats every exposed surface. I drag my right hand in the water while my left controls of the boat. The water feels refreshing beneath the hot sun.
The sun beams down on everything for as far as I can see. In the distance, I see the mountains and greenery of Acadia National Park. Turtle Island is to my right and Schoodic Point is to my left; I never forget how fortunate I am to be able to live in such a beautiful place. I close my eyes, feeling the warmth of the rays on my eyelids. The sun warms while the breeze cools; I feel neither cold nor warm.
I am in the Atlantic, maneuvering a fiber boat. Why? Because I want to. Isn’t that reason enough? Yes, things are happening in the world, but sometimes, if only for a moment, it is nice to breathe and remember how it feels to not feel. The highways will still crowd with cars and the cities will pulse. Whether I’m in the ocean or not, life goes on.
Inhale, exhale. I’m dreaming.
I open my eyes and jump into the frigid waves of the water without thinking. The moment my toes hit the water and my head submerges, I am alive again, fully aware. I am engulfed in something lovely and new. As soon as I fall, the water catches me, seems to embrace me as I sink. I’m sinking. But as soon as I want to reappear, the water buoys me. When I surface, my mind is renewed and awake. I catch up to Totoro as she drifted away during my ridiculous plunge.
Now I am freezing, but I don’t mind. I head to the harbor and moor the boat. I do this effortlessly, it’s such a habit. My life is a habit. But it’s nice to do nothing for a bit.
When she wrote this piece, Celie Johnson was a 17-year-old from Portland, Maine, where she was a junior at Waynflete School. She enjoys exploring, writing, and making music, as well as anything to do with the ocean.