Monday, August 25, 2014

Quality of Life is Perhaps the Most Important Part of Life

Whatever else you want to say about working in this industry, the quality of life onboard ship, or at least onboard this ship, is very high. The food is absolutely outstanding-- only once have I had a meal that was merely decent. When the cook was busy on grocery day he "took it easy" and made juicy steaks and baked some potatoes. Today he made chicken wings with his own soy and teriyaki sauce. And when meal time is done, there are often leftovers and always chips, oranges, cookies, pastries, and a whole assortment of goodies open for whoever wants them. And while our work is not strenuous, it is enough to build up an appetite, so I am spending quite a lot of time in the mess.

Downtime is pretty much ideal for me. I have my laptop, a phone that has all my books on it, and only one roommate who is fairly clean and quiet. Obviously, no regular internet, but I anticipated and prepared well for this. No one bothers me when there isn't work to be done, and the crew is cordial and mostly keeps to themselves or to small groups of three and four.

The starboard wake disturbs an amazingly flat lake.
On the subject of my roommate, he is a good guy. He is from Pakistan and got citizenship three years ago. The American part of his family runs a supermarket in Maine and the rest of his family lives near the Afghan border. He speaks fluent Urdu, Pashtu, Arabic and English and enjoys pontificating at length on a variety of subjects from religion to shipping to the state of modern society. He is pretty good natured and would probably not mind friendly pushback when he is talking out of his ass, but I have been in a quiet mood for the last few weeks. Perhaps later I will show him the error of his ways. And perhaps not; that deep impulse to correct people who are clearly wrong on things that don't really matter has receeded a lot in the last year or so.

But the real height of shipboard life is the little things, or perhaps I should say the scenery. The white noise of the ship drowns out most obnoxious noises, like people talking in the background or strange clickings and the like, and the constant vibration is quite soothing when mediated by a mattress or shoes (though walking on the deck of my room barefoot makes my feet feel all tingly). There is very little roll to the ship, but the tiny roll we do have when under way is a great feeling. So much so that the moment we come loose from the dock and start to power away I get a little excited all over again as the rumble and roll resumes.
The bow wake, always good for a little distraction if you don't mind getting up in the splash zone.

The lakes themselves are beautiful, both on clear days when you can see clear out to the horizon and on the foggy days when you can walk out to midship and not see either the bow or the superstructure. When there is scenery or other ships you can watch them work or roll by, and when there is nothing but water clear out to the sky I feel a sense of glorious isolation, like this ship is the only thing in the whole world, like I exist enveloped in nothingness. And yet even in that nothingness, in the space between our ship and the scenery, the texture of the water is hypnotic, endlessly fascinating. Each time I glance out a window while we are underway my heart catches again.
The water in the lake was calmer than the water in my glass. I never thought I would see a landscape flatter than the deserts in Arizona.

But of course, the real beauty of maritime life is the little things, the things that are each tiny stories without precedent or followup, each so insignificant that they aren't even stories. I talked about the poor bat that we didn't rescue at Silver Bay. At the Soo Locks between Lake Huron and Lake Superior we took on an extra cargo of maybe 15 small birds, three of which were these adorable yellow birds that were almost perfectly spherical with stubby legs and a head attached. Perhaps because we left in a bit of a fog, the birds didn't figure out that we had left until we were way out to sea. I watched them occasionally circle the ship, looking for land on the horizon, but we never came close enough for them to fly away. We carried those birds the full 18 hours from St. Marie to Silver Bay on the opposite side of Lake Superior, at which point they finally got off and went from being Michigan birds to being Minnesota birds.

A Tiny Lighthouse in the middle of the water. It probably indicates shallow water, but I thought it looked cool. Apparently, crewmates say it looks amazing at night, so here's hoping a catch another picture.
Every day there are these tiny stories. Today we were in deep fog and high wind and I was walking down an exterior ladder directly below the bridge a few decks down when the foghorn went off and I swear to you that this blog almost ended then and there because it startled the crap out of me right as a gust blew through from behind. I don't really know why I didn't fall down those stairs and break my damn fool neck, but I didn't.

In any case, I have three hours before we reach the next dock, so I am going to see if any of those fantastic chicken wings are left over (probably not) and then go back to my book until work time. I will probably be working until the small hours of the morning, but bosun keeps the schedule very flexible so that no one is sleep deprived for more than a day at a time.

UPDATE: There were more chicken wings! They were delicious. My roommate tells me I should be a muslim because of all the miracles that Allah performs for us every day, and the miracle of these chicken wings has me about 85% convinced.

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