As I lie on the boat, I can hear the rustle of a file on a blade intermingling with the throb of an engine. As the motor passes, it’s curling wake laps against the hull with a delicious foamy slurp. Then, everything resumes its calm. Still, the file on the blade, the rustle of another body on the sole below, and the crisp heat of the sun.
I like it when there’s time like this; time without specifics. Just time. Time on expedition feels entirely different in quality than regular time. The week leading up to the journey often feels squeezed with preparation, as if time has contracted, swallowed you in it’s flow like gravity in a black hole. Everything must somehow get crammed in to the days before you drop off the face of the Earth. But then, once you enter that boat and leave the dock behind, there’s nowhere else to be and no one else to be accountable to except the people sitting right there with you. There are shifts in weather and light and the sensations of your own body. There is a lot of staring at the empty horizon, punctuated by moments of checking the charts, re-trimming the sails, and tidying the boat. But that hurried feeling disappears into the distance as the land dissolves into blue.
There is time. There is ample time. In fact, the question of whether there is time barely arises, perhaps only when considering how much time is left to explore an island if nightfall is approaching. There is no dinner time, other than that time at the end of the day when we’re no longer underway and the stomach signals hunger. There is no bedtime, other than the time when darkness falls and your body succumbs to full sleepiness after a day of use. And then, you wake with the sun.
The days take on a habitual rhythm that fuses them together. It’s the ultimate exercise in presence. It’s not that every moment is simply lived in the present. But instead it feels like past, present, and future intersect seamlessly. I never understood in my bones what it meant to have a nonlinear or circular sense of time, until expedition. It’s the same idea as musical variation on a theme. The core theme is always the same, the core rhythm, even if the details embellishing it change.
Throughout most of human history, our way of measuring time has been embedded in nature and the landscape. Time is just a way of describing change, whether you’re describing it through the progression of floral blooms over the course of a day or the change in the position of a clock hand. In the last 100 years or so, we’ve moved to an increasingly fixed way of measuring time, which conflicts with our own personal experience of time. Personal time feels more elastic - think of moments of intense focus when time seems to evaporate, moments when you’re having a really good time vs. when you’re required to do something you hate, or moments when you’re waiting for the water to boil and it feels like it is taking an eternity. When you’re on the clock and time is divided into it’s smaller increments, it loses its elasticity, its expansiveness, its relationship to the larger, cyclical flow. Attention becomes focused on the hour, on the minute, not necessarily on the surrounding environment.
It’s interesting to see what people do with expedition time, when they’re separated from work and partners, from their usual schedules and habits. Some stay on or close to the boat, enjoying the chance to nap, read, or just contemplate the open sky and sunshine above. Some clamber off the boat the first chance they get, eager to explore, or perhaps, to finally be alone on a trip where time away from the group is a scarce commodity. And some hop about productively, straddling land and boat, fiddling with this or that, clearing dead trees, sharpening an ax, fashioning a rope ladder out of wooden dowels and spare line.
I relish having the time to write. For some reason, it’s hard for me to develop a consistent writing practice on land. But on the sea, the words seem to ride in on the passing waves. I think it’s the difference in time. It’s hard for me to write when I’m feeling squeezed between musts and shoulds, which is often. I need the mental space, the freedom to think about nothing in particular, to chew on whatever is around me instead of what’s nagging from the inside.
But for now, the fiddlehands and the explorers are back, which means it’s time to start thinking of dinner, not to mention the fact that Francis (my fictional tapeworm) is waking up.