We snuck in a few days at Winter Harbor this year. We had to forfeit last year, and missed it. Too much life going on. But this year, with the house nearly done we felt we could take a few days off and not lose the chance again. Glad we did.
The sailboats are still in storage, but we took the canoe, paddled it over and back. I took photos and video as usual, but just haven’t had time to look at any of it. Went back tonight, back at my editing station again finally, and got a nice feeling from this part. Enjoy.
May we all have more days like this in the coming year.
The floors got refinished Friday, so we had to stay out of the house all weekend. This finally made some time for a chore postponed for a year now – washing the Melonseed sails.
Jim Drake, a fine boatbuilder and fellow sailor in the Old Bay Club, got in touch shortly after the fire, so soon I think there was still steam rising from the snow. He asked what he could do to help.
The night of the fire, the fire marshal generously offered to take us into the house to retrieve anything of value. We were so numb we couldn’t think. He went in and pulled photos off the walls, and found Terri’s handmade jewelry box, black as ebony, and brought them to us. I could only think of one thing – my sails, stored in the basement where the fire started.
We went in by the basement door wearing headlamps, and waded through shin deep sooty water, still raining down from the floors above. By the light of the headlamps I could see gear and tools and wood bobbing around in the black pool. The shop looked like the hold of a sinking ship. We grabbed the sails rolled up in Tyvek, and carried them out into the yard.
In daylight the next morning, I could see that, miraculously, they had not been scorched, but were covered in soot. When I heard from Jim, maybe even that day, the only thing I could think of was this boatbuilder friend might be able to figure out how to clean them.
And he did. A short time later a box arrived from his sail loft, containing two pounds of special cleaning powder and a set of simple instructions. For a year now, the sails and the cleaner have been stored in Doug’s rented garage, waiting for me to attend to it. Besides being consumed with house construction, the prospect of trying to clean the sails, perhaps only to find them beyond saving, was enough to put me off. With move in day coming in less than a week, and the wet floors keeping other tasks at bay, seemed like it was now or never.
They soaked in a tub of hot water with the cleaning solution overnight, stirring with a soup ladle every few hours. This morning I pulled the plug. Trying to rinse them from outside the tub was a full contact sport, like wrestling a jellyfish. I finally gave up, stripped down, and just got in the shower with them. Which worked out well, but I will spare my gentle readers the photos of that particular step.
They hung from the rope swing out in the wind and the sun all day to dry. I must say, they look almost as good as new. Cleaner than they were before the fire. There are only a few faint smudges left, adding character. I’ll always remember where those came from.
Oh, and Terri’s jewelry box? Another friend, fine cabinet maker Todd Leback of Vaneri Studio, took on the task of restoring it and sent a photo. It looks like the original birdseye maple again.
Two more things to make our Christmas a lot more cheerful.
Forty years ago, in my first semester of college, I bought some plants to furnish the room. The dorms were dim and dogeared, depressing. Plants were cheaper than chairs, so I picked some up at a campus sale, all in little 4″ pots. For a few bucks they brought a little life into the place. At least for a while. The room was so dark, most of them died by the end of the first year.
One, though, managed to hang on. An odd little thing, just a grey scaly bulb the size of a billiard ball, with skin like an elephant, half buried in the soil. A stout trunk tapered up from the bulb, topped with a pom-pom of grassy green leaves. It looked like something right out of Dr. Seuss. A botany major friend determined it was a ponytail palm. I became rather fond of it. Frond of it?
The next year I moved off campus and it came with me, suffering mightily for the rest of my college career – knocked over by inebriated housemates, dug up and defecated on by ill-behaved cats, neglected when I went away for holidays. Even stayed home alone the summer I went abroad. It survived all that, and eventually outgrew the original pot, earning a splurge on a new larger non-plastic container.
I left college, and the plant came with me.
Years went by and wherever I went the plant went, too. Cars and furniture and clothes and jobs got shed along the way, dead husks shucked off like snake skins, but after each purge the plant remained. If I dug through all the photos of my life over the past 40 years, this one odd thing would keep popping up in the background like a silent Forrest Gump:
In a cabin on the York River where I had my first wooden sailboat, sitting on the old grain scale that served for an end table.
In the apartment in downtown Atlanta just off Peachtree Street, where I squatted under a tree next to John Lee Hooker playing the blues in Piedmont Park, and saw R.E.M. in a bar in Athens for $5, which included a pitcher of beer.
On the iron balcony of a pink victorian in the historic district of Savannah, where church bells chimed on Sunday mornings and Spanish Moss collected on the railings, and finches twittered in the aviary I built for them that summer when the Challenger exploded with a teacher aboard.
In the basement of my grandmother’s house in Richmond, when Apple and Microsoft started marketing the first viable desktop computers, and the Berlin Wall came down.
There in the attic in Richmond when I logged onto the World Wide Web for the first time, and stayed up all night exchanging messages with people across the world over a dialup modem.
In the background, a little bigger now, when my daughters were born, and learned to walk and swim and ride a bike.
In Scottsville, where they played soccer and finished high school and went off to college themselves.
In the sunroom where Terri and I drank coffee and planned trips to the West Coast or the Low Country.
All the while that funny little plant kept going, eventually filling a large oriental porcelain pot the size of a bucket, standing in the corner so tall it brushed the 9 foot ceilings in our house.
Until the night of the fire.
When we walked through the house the next day, all the plants were wilted, black like everything else. That night it got down to 16 degrees. Though heat from the fire kept the whole house warm for a day, it dipped below freezing every night the following week. There was no power and no heat in the house. Everything froze.
Seven days after the fire, I gave Doug a tour of the damage. When we came to this plant – black and wilted, covered in soot –he said, you know, that’s a pretty big root ball, it might be OK, maybe you could save it?
So a few days later I took it out back, lopped off the stalk, and stuck it in the neighbor’s spare room with the other smokey things we hoped to save. A month after that, I brought it to the cottage, still bare and black, and set it near the window and watered it.
A month later still, two months after the fire, I noticed a small lump on the stalk. Then, a few days later, a tiny spud of green broke through.
I tipped the pot over and let all the black sooty water drain out, added some fresh soil. A week later, another spud appeared, then another.
Now, there are several sprouts of green, and it seems this tough old plant refuses to die.
When I lived in Savannah, I discovered a remarkable native plant called “Resurrection Fern“. It spreads out along the top of big Live Oak limbs forming a fringe of little bonsai forests.
An epiphyte, it has no root system, since there’s no soil where it grows. It clings to the bark and survives in the humid southern air on nutrients in the dust and rain dripping down the limbs.
In periods between rains it turns grey and shrivels up like origami ashes, losing up to 97% of it’s moisture and going dormant. But it revives and turns vivid green again within hours after the first splash of rain. Most plants die after losing only 10% of their water, and don’t come back. These plants could remain dormant without water for over a century, and still revive.
Very impressive, these little ferns.
So I’m christening this tough and homely house plant of mine the Resurrection Palm.
Six Terabytes of data, over 50 thousand photos, all the raw and finished video footage, hours and hours and hours of it. Everything. Going all the way back to 2004. Photos of the girls since middle school, scans of family prints now gone, the boat building and sailing archives, travels, life.
Somehow tonight they all came back from the grave.
I had given up on it all. Already mourned the death, mentally buried the body and said last rights. And yet, still.
Next to the living room, the office got it almost as bad. Smoke and flames and water. The intense heat melted anything made of plastic, making macabre Dali-esque drip art. Then smoke and soot seeped into the smallest crevices, turning all black. Then the water and foam from the firemen. The room was several inches deep in water before they were done, dripping through the floor to the workshop below throughout the next day.
Days after the fire, I went in and collected the hard drives. All the wires, the power supplies, and the cases of the cheaper backup drives, all melted. I yanked out what remained of the cables and put the bodies in a plastic tub in the boatshed, where they sat in the freezing cold for over a month, drying out.
I assumed they were all lost. Had to. Too hard to hope. But, still, mapped out a plan to try and recover what I could. It would require buying exact copies of each, sometimes used on ebay, and transferring the guts of the deceased into the bodies of the still living.
Last weekend the burned drives came to the cottage where they got cleaned off as best I could, at least so I could handle them. On some, the cases had to be broken off with pliers to access the drives within.
Tonight a duplicate of the main RAID storage unit arrived. I borrowed the power supply and cables from the new one, updated software on the laptop, and plugged it in, fully expecting to have to pull out the drives and transplant them. But low and behold, the dang thing fired right up and mounted on the desktop. Amazing.
Paying extra for the good stuff paid off this time. The cheaper drives, with cases made of plastic, all melted. I’ll still try to save a couple of those, but chances are slim. The LaCie 5Big RAID was expensive. Twice the cost of cheaper drives of comparable capacity, but made of metal, with premium drives and controllers, it took it all like a champ apparently. Even the LEDs and power buttons survived the heat.
Sometime in the next few days, a third party replacement power supply will arrive. Then I can connect the new and old together and start the transfusion, transferring a lifetime of imagery, digital lifeblood, to the new host.
Back when I was building the Melonseeds, I frequently got lost down a rabbit hole of history, thinking about all the things going on in the world at the end of the 19th century, in 1888, when the plans from the boats were drawn. Was a fascinating time, undergoing rapid change as fast as today. The transitions from sail to steam, agriculture to industry, rural to urban, were as transformational to society in that era as the computer and internet have been in ours.
On this day in 1889, Nellie Bly – a single young woman, 24 years old – set off alone from New York by steamship to set a record for circling the world, by ship and train and any other convenient conveyance. With just two days notice. She took the dress she was wearing, a coat, some underwear and toiletries, and a bit of money tied in a pouch around her neck.
The goal was to best the fictional Phileas Fogg, protagonist in a popular book of the time, Around the World in Eighty Days, written by Jules Verne. She would meet the author along the way, pausing in Paris long enough to interview him.
She was a young journalist who had talked her way into a job at The World, working for Joseph Pulitzer. Her first assignment had been to convince people she was insane so she could be committed to a women’s lunatic asylum. This was after talking the paper into accepting the project in the first place, to get the actual job.
She spent 10 days in the asylum. The exposé she wrote about the experience made her famous, and the ensuing outrage prompted improvements at mental institutions.
This race around the world was just a different kind of crazy. She sent back dispatches on her progress from remote places around the world, all published in the paper, using what was then the first modern form of worldwide communication – by telegraph. She crossed Europe, passed through the new Suez Canal, was delayed by problems with the trains in Asia, visited a leper colony in China. In Singapore, she bought a monkey. In Hong Kong, she learned that another woman had set off just behind her in the US, and was traveling the opposite direction, trying to beat her time, making it a real race.
Bad weather slowed her Pacific crossing, threatening to make her miss the 80 day deadline. Pulitzer chartered a private one-time train run, dubbed the Miss Nellie Bly Special, to speed her from San Francisco to Chicago, traversing 2500 miles in less than three days – a the fastest train trip ever. To spur the crews along, she presented each railroad superintendent on the with way with a bottle of expensive champagne.
She arrived back in New York after only 72 days, setting a new record for circumnavigating the globe. Which, alas, would be broken over and over again as travel improved, but it was quite a feat at the time.
A few years later she married a 73 year old millionaire, who promptly died and left her all his money and his steel manufacturing plants, which she ran successfully until she died in 1922.