By Jackie Leavitt Published by Broken Tooth Press, Hollow IV Winter 2016 www.brokentoothpress.com
By Jackie Leavitt
Sunsets have the power to stop you in your tracks. You could be in the middle of a run, breathing hard, sweat dripping down your back, when your feet stop on their own. You could be mid-conversation at a cafe enjoying an afternoon cappuccino, when your voice trails off as the beams of light illuminate your face. You could be an island in the stream of humanity, rooted to the sidewalk, while the rest of the 9-to-5-ers push past, oblivious, on their way home from their day in the office.
They demand silence and your full attention. Anything otherwise would be a shame to you and the sunset. Everything else stops mattering, except for you trying to comprehend how the sunlight can stream so sublimely over the clouds, highlighting the color spectrum that overwhelms your irises like multi-colored streamers above your head at a birthday party. The iridescence is a sacred fire in the heavens, and it feels holy as your face is bathed in the soft pink glow reflected in the sky. There’s a quality of awe, of inspiration, of peace, of magnificence.
And each sunset – and each moment within it – is unique because of the person viewing it, the scenery, the time of year, the weather. Do you have clouds to light the sky in pinks and purples, morphing into different shapes in the wind? Or do you have crystal clear vistas showing the chromatic order of indigo to gold? Did you get to see the mythical green flash as the sun set behind the skeptical ocean horizon?
And sunrises, the more subtle sister to the sunrise, can be even more stunning. Perhaps it’s because we see them less often – only if we wake up at a god-forsaken dark hour or if we stay up way past our usual REM patterns. They are a gift and a surprise, not to be taken for granted. Those few times you are actually up with a vista – it takes your breath away. Sometimes sunrises are soft, with a light blue sky painted with wispy, backlit clouds. Sometimes they are as vibrant and fiery as a sunset, with red streaking the sky like a premonition.
The strangest sunrise I’ve ever seen was an anchored-sailboat view of the ocean horizon, which seemed to be blanketed in the distance with a rust-brown haze. And yet, out emerged a perfect red orb from the waterline, creating the illusion that the fog was somehow behind the sun. It seemed as if the ball of fire climbed from the middle of a smoky sea like a phoenix rising from its ashes.
But there’s nothing like chasing a sunset with a window seat to the world. Sitting above the clouds in an airplane, you take over Zeus’ view, looking down on the snow-capped mountains or green-and-brown fields that stretch out as far as your airplane eye can see. Clouds checker-mark the landscape, or billow up like cotton candy, allowing only small peeks into the mysteries below. And the sunset stretches for miles and miles, and for minutes upon minutes, far longer than any human should have the honor to experience. It’s slow motion, where you have the luxury to gracefully move your glance around to soak in the deep blue, royal purple, rose pink, and orange-lemon colors that dominate the sky. It seems endless and still, although you and the sun and the earth are all moving at inconceivable speeds.
When the sun finally sinks behind your horizon, slowly the heat and the warm colors seep out of the sky, leaving behind a hazy, two-tone blue. It creates a strange feeling of an otherworldly view of a foreign planet. The curve of the ground matches the sweeping color of the heavens above, with only a light blue – almost white – cresting above the earth like a cold, desolate sphere’s last gasp of atmosphere. You are alien to it – alone.
By Jackie Leavitt As we approach at daybreak on our sailboat, Isla Isabela rises from the sea with the sun, silhouetted in the glowing pink and purple clouds. We turn around to the southeast side to anchor next to two five-story-tall rock islands: volcanic statues twisting toward […]
By Jackie Leavitt
Seaward. I’ve begun to think of her as an evil four-year-old who will gleefully throw everything on the ground, when given the opportunity. I think everything should be in its special spot in the galley. She thinks everything belongs on the floor.
The temper tantrums can be minor, like her slyly sliding a bowl of chili down the counter to collide with a cutting board, sending the contents spilling. But they can be reflective of a full-scale gale, with books and fruits and plates and coffee flying in all directions, weightless for long seconds, like a vengeful tornado.
What a brat.
I run around after her, cleaning up her mess, and try vainly to anticipate her next violent move. But I’m left afterward with aching legs and a morose look upon my face, while she is as spry as ever.
Only I can see this vindictive side to Seaward. To everyone else, they are blinded by her bright white hull and nimbleness as she cuts through the waves and wind. Just as I begin to resent her, like a sun cresting from the clouds, she calms down in front of other people, an angel, and tries to lull me as surly as the waves rock us at night.
But I can see past her first layer, underneath, where her smile has a malicious mischievousness, like honey, mixed with a ghost-pepper bite.
By Jackie Leavitt
A couple months ago, I was Skyping with my sister, Vickie. She was sitting in her hotel bed in Hawaii, having just finished months of sailing from New Zealand while working on an educational tall ship. I was sitting on a palm tree–lined beach in Martinique, sipping a beer while the sun made its lazy journey toward the Caribbean’s watery horizon. We hadn’t talked in about three months, when she was in New Zealand and I was about to depart for the Dominican Republic to meet up with my friends, Lars and Travis, aboard their 38-foot sailboat, Bueller.
Sounds pretty unreal, right? Two sisters, thousand of miles away, both having spent the past three months sailing to islands that many people visit for their once-a-year week-long vacation. Literally sailing and living through paradise.
But it doesn’t have quite the rosy glow after you haven’t seen land in four weeks, as Vickie recapped from her crossing to Hawaii. While going slightly crazy from constant ocean, she got sick, then a second-degree sunburn, then her period, before the real kicker:
“Oh,” Vickie practically shouted at the screen. “I got fucking lice.”
Somehow, both of us had eluded these dreaded creatures when we were kids. But now, at 28-years-old, there had been no escape for my big sister.
I grinned at the screen, and we both laughed. We were both thinking it: Life on a fucking boat. I got it. For the first time I really understood what Vickie’s time sailing had been like, as I was about to hit my three-month mark living aboard a sailboat.
Before joining Bueller in March, my sailing experience was limited to small boats for afternoon adventures. I enjoyed several golden camp summers cruising away on Sunfish and a brief stint on my university’s sailing team, where I learned I much preferred casually drifting along on the lake rather than racing. And I had romantic conceptions about what it would be like to live on a boat, as I’m sure everyone does if they haven’t done it.
The facts are true, and they sound pretty damn rosy: sailing long-term with your friends on a boat they own through blue ocean to tropical islands far away from home.
But when there’s a fantasy, real life is usually just around the corner, waiting for you.
Life aboard a boat is still life, with the good and the bad and the grime — even if it’s in a location people usually go to for their honeymoon. And at some point, even the extraordinary becomes ordinary if you do it often enough.
“At some point, it’s like, oh look, it’s another fucking palm tree,” Vickie said, half laughing.
She echoed something I had been thinking to myself more frequently this past month. As Bueller pulled up to new islands as we make our way down the Caribbean chain, I have become slower and slower to pull out my camera to document the arrival. I thought to myself, will I actually be able to tell the difference between islands in my pictures? Same with snorkeling the coral around the islands. Will I actually see anything new? Sometimes you do. But things begin to mesh together in your brain. They lose the sparkle and excitement they had initially. It all begins to feel the same. Or as Vickie would say: Another fucking island. Another fucking coral reef.
Are we becoming jaded? Too many beautiful beaches? Too many vibrant sunsets? Too many fucking palm trees?
But that’s the thing. An island is more than its beaches. It’s more than the palm trees. It’s more than the water surrounding it. What makes islands different from each other is what’s inside the island. The people. The culture. The land. If you never make it past the beach or marina, it’s like thinking you’ve understood a book by reading only its front and back cover.
But it’s also important to hold on to that romance you started with, but perhaps with an added dash of humorous reality. That way you can call the very tight quarters “cozy” rather than “cramped”. And swapping daily showers for daily ocean dips (plus a real shower every five or so days) can be seen as a natural cleansing system rather than unhygenic. And getting head lice stops being horrific, but turns into a reminder and opportunity to buy yourself your own awesome sun hat, instead of raiding the lost-and-found. Some things are better when lost.