Beginnings

Lofty aspirations at sea start with basic jib tending. “Watch that luff.” or  “We’re coming about. Time to shift the jib soon.”“Ready About!”

Plain language as we reach the buoy and are ready to moor the boat, “go forward and dowse that jib.”

Sometimes just a bit of anger when the crew is tardy with the sail on a heaving foredeck.

Soon it’ll be mainsail, halyard, and sheet.

On Tattoos

I do not sport a tattoo, and by force of habit will never put an arm or chest under the needle. Why? I had a Merchant Marine father who wore a large one on his right arm and firmly discouraged tattoos. Once again, you ask, Why? According to my father, tattoos were used by police to identify suspects. And being so many people either have unique designs that are easy to spot, ” it has the names and dates of the last Rolling Stones Concerts.” Or have the same dozen designs, ” he had a big Harley-Davidson tattoo on his right arm.” You become easy to either identify or misidentify.

From his history as a seaman visiting hundreds of ports, my father believed that police were reductionists; you have that tattoo; therefore, you did the crime. While disagreeing with my father on many issues, I had a high opinion of any statement he made regarding seamen and life at sea. The Carreras clan has always been salty and wet, and our oral tradition on things maritime is strong.

I do not object to tattoos for others; they can take their chances being pulled in by the police in Samoa as suspected pedophiles, thieves, or drug-addled purveyors of disputed political platforms. But until they enact legislation banning the darned things, it’s an individual choice.

As you can see, I have no strong opinion on the matter at all.

Vocabulary

It’s interesting to examine where and when we pick up items of speech, the words and turns of speaking that pepper our conversations. We pick up some from literature and some from individuals we interact with.

Dudgeon was not a word in my family’s vocabulary for expressing anger or upset. I was living along the coast of Maine, and my mother-in-law introduced me to it. She was the main entry point for new vocabulary items like being “highly permuched” for being very pleased with oneself. Living in Maine proved a revolutionary period for phrases and terms I’d utilize continuously.

My history teacher in high school made a significant contribution when he told me that if I didn’t start working harder, he would “grease your skids.”I had to go to my merchant marine father to find out what he meant about greasing my skids. My teacher had started as a shipyard worker, and to hurry the launching of vessels, the skids under them got greased to make them slide into the water quickly. He was offering to fail me rapidly unless I worked up to expectation. I was soon expelled from school, but the expression stayed with me.

I picked up a bunch of Royal Navy terms from a favorite professor in grad school who instilled them with the Pussers rum we drank at gatherings.

I think my speech would have turned out to be boring without the occasional interference and influence of others.

On Style

We were at a tavern in the Seaport district in New York. I had just won a bet on recognizing a carver’s work based on their tool cuts. It was an easy win; the carvings I had identified were by a carver whose work I was familiar with. Carvers have habits like everyone else, ways we like to do eagle feathers, eyes, or our taste in how fancy the volutes are ( those carved spiral designs that you often see on violins, columns, or holding up figureheads). See enough of this, especially if it’s your professional interest and you recognize the style.
Of course, the most carving is anonymous. Whether in stone, wood, or other media, most of us and our carvings will be nameless. An occasional mentor of mine had trained in France before the Second World War and told me that daily, hundreds of feet of exquisite trade carved molding and detail were produced in his master’s shop. All of it was destined to be nameless.
So yes, I can recognize the styles of Samuel Robb, Bellamy, Rush, or Skillin in many cases. But museums are full of unattributed work. Some of this is happenstance; the carver was in a small harbor and attracted little notice. Or, in the case of Bellamy, he was located in space and time when his work attracted attention. Bellamy also developed a distinctive and unique style that captured much attention.

Friends who’ve been with me on visits to the Peabody Essex Museum or the Mystic Seaport have to stifle yawns if we pass a particularly lovely piece of carving. Then, my whole demeanor changes, and I begin to discuss the style and execution of the design. Then, getting deeper into the weeds, I discuss if the carving represents a particular regional style. Please don’t laugh; when it comes to volutes on billet heads, there is a regional difference between, say, the Chesapeake and New England.

I imagine two old ships carvers in the 19th century getting snookered and getting into a fight over the curves on a volute to the disgust of their wives. The marine trades are full of passionate people.

Berry Bowls – 2022

There are many types of terrariums. But berry bowls are a peculiarly New England item I learned about while living in Maine as a young man. Using a glass bowl, or snifter glass, you fill the bowl with mosses, partridge berries, teaberry ( Gaultheria procumbens), and perhaps other woodland plants. They were something green and growing brought into the house during the winter. A berry bowl was a reminder of summertime and the woods. It was traditional to make them for the ill and housebound.

Last year I was seeking a different approach to berry bowls. So I decided to push the envelope just a bit and add an extra touch. I’ve been fascinated with carnivorous plants for several years and loved the bogs in Northern Maine where pitcher plants, Jack in the pulpit plants, and sundews thrived. So adding the carnivorous plants as centerpieces to my berry bowls seemed logical.

Here are this year’s berry bowls with pitcher plants, partridge berries, teaberry, and several mosses. The bowls appreciate a sunny but cool window; they only need water to moisten things.

My berry bowls remind me of the New England woods and are a touchstone to my past. Some of my earliest memories of Maine were going into the woods foraging for the makings of berry bowls with my friends.

I buy the carnivorous plants from a nursery and procure the mosses, teaberry, and partridge berries from the small bog I’ve created near my pond. If you wish to make a berry bowl, please consider that our native wetlands are delicate and threatened environments. Rather than injure them, consider buying your plants from nurseries.

Surreal Dream

A Flashback Friday presentation from 2019

I’ve had some doozies of lucid dreams in my time. But, about six months ago, I had the most extreme case. ****Spoiler alert John Haley Bellamy is the Dean of 19th-century American Shipscarver ( IMHO). Dali was my favorite Surrealist and habitue of New York growing up. So I wondered what would happen if Dali and Bellamy ran into each other. So – A Surreal Dream.
I was sitting in my usual spot at the Rienzi coffeehouse in Greenwich Village, and joining me that night was John Halley Bellamy. John was down from Kittery for his first trip to the Big Apple. He wanted me to fill him in on who the local shipscarvers were, the best time to visit the Empire State Building, and the Guggenheim directions. We were pouring over one of those little accordion maps of the city that hotels give you when in walk Salvador Dali. Dali siddles up and starts praising Bellamy for being an early Surrealist. “My only dispute with you comes in the calculation of spirals and curves you use; I’ve always preferred logarithmic spirals; you, on the other hand, use something that looks like it’s part of an ellipse? Bellamy, admiring Sal’s logarithmically twined mustachios, takes time to twirl his mustache ends into a number seven Copenhagen curve and replies, ” I started in a boat shop, so I used ships curves.” They happily spent the next ten minutes discussing how to simplify for emphasis, stretch proportions, and play with conventions. For once, I was without words.
After an hour or so, Dali said he’d pick up the check. So he and Bellamy wandered out onto McDougal Street. Dali suggested they head to Paris and visit. Pablo – “Not really a Surrealist, but an interesting artist…”
Pondering my next move, I noticed the signed credit card receipt – I quickly pocketed it and walked out with a signed Dali.

Mahan and the Mermaid

 If you read the “about my stories” page on my blog, you’d see that I love and appreciate sea stories. These generally have the approach of TINS – this is no shit. In other words, ” I heard this from my buddy, who served aboard the USS Pig Tail when it happened.” Sea stories do not have the classic “they lived happily ever ending.” More likely, they end with everyone heading off to the Blue Anchor for an evening of carousing.

Well, to each his own. But each genre has a perverse “you just know this didn’t happen” take on things. For example, visiting the Unseely Court for fairy tales and mermaids for sea stories. So there is a sort of connection.

Mahan was married to a mermaid. It seemed unlikely that a stunning daughter of the sea would pick Mahan, the Navy’s most unkempt and alcoholic Bosun’s mate. When we first heard about it, we figured it was an alcoholic hallucination. But in fact, that’s what the marriage certificate said. Mahan was seen every month driving to the pet store to get the twenty-pound bags of Miracle Sea to add to her required bath water. On the few occasions that Stella was seen in social company, she was always in long green sheathlike dresses that seemed as though it was actually “her” rather than clothes. Her tiny feet seemed an afterthought and not natural. She always hung on Mahan for support and had a way of flipping her legs about that didn’t seem normal. The other Navy wives and girlfriends thought she was odd, used no cosmetics, and loved the seaweed salad at the harborside sushi restaurant. But Mahaan was smitten, and Stella was smitten with Mahan.

Their families did not get along. Hers objected to her marrying a member of her people’s age-old exploiters. And his family found her background too “fishy” and improbable. Being of old Irish stock, the Mahan family knew about the “special” people of Ireland and wondered aloud why he couldn’t marry a proper Irish Sidhe and not some watery tart.

Stella and Mahan felt confident that the families would reconcile when the children came along. But the grandmothers to be argued endlessly about whether the birth should happen in the hospital or nearby harbor. Mahan, his father, and his father-in-law sensibly left the delivery location to them.

Then they laid a course for the Blue Anchor, bought multiple rounds for the house, and left birthing to the ladies.

Perspectives

The Prison Point Bridge runs like an arrow across what once was Miller’s River. The water had, long ago, been filled in for railroad yards, an old glass factory, and a slaughterhouse. I was freshly back in Boston from Canada.

It was November now, and the last warm touches of October crimson had fled from the oaks in the parks. I arrived in Boston last week with my cat, a guitar, and a pack. Finding housing had been a chore.

A lead took me to a rundown Single Room Occupancy on Temple Street. The proprietor was a little shrimp named Bernie, who initially insisted that he had no rooms available but invited me in for coffee when he saw my cat. Over coffee, he explained that he ran the house primarily for his old Merchant Marine buddies and a few selected others. Unfortunately, his friends were beyond their “looking for a ship” days and needed homes. Bernie provided this for as low a price as you’d find. After coffee, he led me to the door, but as I left, he said, ” Hey, Carreras? Did I ever ship out with your dad? Nico, Nick, or some such?” I replied that my dad had been a Dollar Steamship Lines sailor and later American Presidents Line. “Carreras, come on back; your dad was a shipmate. I got a room at the top, but it’s warm.”

It was too warm. All the steam heat rose to the crows’ nest I occupied, and I had to leave the door and window open all winter. My cat loved this. He became a frequent visitor to all the rooms in the building and soon filled his scrawny kitten body out to a full muscular cathood from treats. Since he cleaned up the building’s rodent population in a week and terrorized a few small dogs in the neighboring buildings, he soon won the title of Grey Menace. No mouse, dog, or bare toe was safe from the Menace. The Grey Menace introduced me to the other tenants. If I was searching for him, he was with Jay, Tom, or Alfred.

As Bernie said, the residents were old sailors. The list of lines they had sailed for was long and glorious. But few had much to retire on, and none had family that wanted them for an extended stay. One described the situation, “Well, Carreras, we’re on the beach permanently.” A few worked as “lumpers” at the fish pier, helping to unload fish, but most just picked up odd jobs around the Haymarket. They cleaned the market stalls and replenished their food stocks with what they could scavenge.

On occasion, you’d get one of them talking; they’d transport you to pre-war Japan, China, or the Caribbean. They spoke of the ships they served on, what years, who cooked, and if the food was good. They did not recognize the urban landscape the way a landsman would. Most of us see our cities from the inside out. 

Even if you grow up in a coastal town, the sea is a fringe. Not for them. It was a view from the docks. They recognized ports not by the landmarks you’d expect but from the harbor and its entrance, the navigational features, wharves, piers, waterside districts, and places they frequented.  

Later on, when I learned sailing and coastal navigation, I realized how valuable this perspective was. A port looks entirely different from the water than from the pier. Distances are different. You go around to a location by the long path of roadways. On the water, you go over to the other side.

Perceptions are different; the optics of what you see and how you perceive it can vary daily and by the time of day.

Next time you take a cruise, whale watching, fishing trip, or harbor cruise, practice this alternate way of looking at your world. Your old and familiar will be different and new.

A change of perspective is a good thing now and then.

Special Orders

Plum Island sunset -copyright, L.N Carreras

Woodcarvers sometimes get strange requests. But they are usually the sentimental type of thing, specialty designs of various sorts. Well, I know one carver who has a kind of specialty in erotic sorts of things, but this story is not about her designs.
I tried to break into the occult carving market by doing runes sets for people telling fortunes, only to be priced out by Chinese mass-produced junk. However, the shop owner in Salem did save my card and referred to me unique clients with special needs.

This was how I received a small series of annual commissions for boxes of a particular type. While dimensions varied yearly, they always needed to be made from hand split, hand sawn, and planed ash. In addition, the ash had to be fastened with wooden pegs. The hinges and lining were of a hide they provided for this purpose. Finally, each box was carved with specific runes on each surface. I received the orders in September; delivery was always the final week of October. The commissioners were pleased because the orders were repeated for several years.

Then one year, a new order came in from another group for oak sticks of a certain length, taper, and thickness. Each was inscribed with an old word in Glagolitic that I found impossible to translate. I felt odd about this order, and after completing it, I told them that I would not accept future orders of that kind. That was OK, they said, and the following year it was a specific type of crucifix they wanted. Crucifixes and stakes? The next year they sent along some small bottles with a design for a wooden holder. The text was something in Latin, and I suspected that the bottles were for Holy Water. They said they were so pleased with my work that they would mention it to their friends.

And oh, did their friends contact me; there were particular orders for Samhain and special orders for Beltane. And then came the orders from cults, sects, and rites from Africa, India, and Micronesia. It got so turning them down was difficult. There’d be pressure, a sort of do it, or misfortune might befall you. “Oh, Mr. Carreras, you over billed us on our last order. We took the liberty of reducing your payment. We hope you are satisfied.”

It was the damned Ouija boards that tore it. Having had a terrible experience with one in the sixties, I put my foot down and flat-out said no. As of three years ago, I refused all orders of the occult. Yes, they paid well and on time, but they were much more demanding than my nautical customers.

Then the little box with the doll arrived by FedEx. It was then I knew that I had to take action.

It pays to keep up your dues in specific organizations. Working in boatyards, carving eagles, and other significant work associated with the deeps stood me in good stead. A trip to the harbor, a few poured libations to Davy, Neptunas Rex, and the other deities of the port, seas, and oceans took care of things. Those powers of the depths resented flatlanders horning in on a dues-paying member. So cease and desist notices were sent.

I know this hasn’t turned out well. And I know that science refuses to believe that it’s a war of natural orders, But Ian, yep, the Santeria, Voodoo, and a few other groups found out that you don’t mess with the sea. That town in Idaho that became a ghost town, I feel awful about that.

I am very sorry now that I have started it. Evidently, the Olympians are trying to get everyone to the peace table. And I hear rumblings that some think It was all my fault for trying to do what I shouldn’t have.
But while the big guys are duking it out, most people think it’s just Climate Change.

I guess that’s good for me; I’d hate to change my name and move at this stage of my life.

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