Sunday Brunch: Circumnavigating My Imagination

Sunday Brunch With Melissa Bartell

“Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” — Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

I have this recurring fantasy that usually comes to visit around this time of year, when even though the calendar insists we have a couple more weeks of spring, the heat and humidity are adamant that it’s actually summer, and woe betide anyone who thinks a mere calendar can dictate the changing of the seasons.

Woman on a Sailboat

My annual fancy is this: sailing around the world in a wooden boat. I don’t mean one of those race-against-time circumnavigations that are all about being the youngest, the oldest, or (likely in my case) the shortest woman to do so solo. I have no interest in breaking records or beating time. Rather, I envision the nautical equivalent of meandering through a botanical garden. I dream about sailing from place to place, spending a few days exploring this country or that archipelago, and then continuing on.

I’ve loved the sea since birth, of course. I’m a bathtub mermaid because I live five hours from the nearest coastline, but the scents of salt and tar and the feelings of wind in my hair and sea-spray in my face have existed in my memory for as long as I’ve had conscious memory, just as the sound of the surf is my favorite lullaby and the mournful groans of foghorns were the first tones I learned to duplicate on my cello.

My sailboat fantasy was launched because of a book I read when I was eighteen or twenty, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that books are part of a sequence of events that have become a summer ritual, of sorts.

First, I start devouring ‘ocean’ books. I don’t mean beach books. No Frank or Siddons or Hilderbrand or Monroe. I do read all those authors during the heat of summer, but when I say ocean books, I mean books like John Steinbeck’s The Log from the Sea of Cortez, Tania Aebi’s Maiden Voyage, Susan Casey’s trio of travel-journalism-meets-popular-science books, The Devil’s Teeth  (about the Farallon Islands off San Francsico, and the great white shark population there), The Wave (about maritime science, climate change and rogue waves, and Voices in the Ocean (which I’ve just started reading for the first time, having just discovered it exists – it’s about dolphins). I also read the books by whatever contemporary teenager has attempted her own circumnavigation most recently.

I embrace ocean films as well – things like In the Heart of the Sea and The Perfect Storm, yes, but also the various Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Anything where ships and sailing and the power of the ocean is visualized, up to and including shark movies. (Not Sharknado, but definitely the original Jaws.) I’m not a particular fan of Nicholas Sparks’s novels, but I can watch Nights in Rodanthe and Message in a Bottle over and over, when I’m in sailboat mode.

Next, I reclaim my mermaid tail, making sure I swim for at least an hour every day. I’m a chubby mermaid, but I usually finish the summer tanner, and fitter, than I began it, and being in the water – even if it’s only my pool, makes me happy.

My pool time is enhanced by my vivid imagination. My backyard is kind of a jungle (because we are not DIYers and we’ve had a lot of rain) and the trees and flowers obscure the fence that surrounds my yard, making me feel like I’m swimming in a lagoon on a tropical island and the susurration of the balmy breeze through the treetops easily becomes the sound of surf.

Sometimes, swim-time comes with pleasant surprises: a sudden summer rainstorm (the kind with no warning and no lightning), birds alighting on the branches that form a canopy over half the pool, dragonflies showing off their colors. Most of the time, though, it’s just me, slicing through the water or bobbing in it, and letting my thoughts float free.

Finally, I try to make my writing and reading spaces as boat-like as possible. I’ve always wanted a captain’s bed (they make them in queen sized, which is what our current mattress is), but that wouldn’t be practical in the house we have, so I must content myself with our headboard, which has built-in lights and cabinets, and in my collection of nautical stripe sheets and summer quilts. I have scented candles in my bathroom that echo the aquatic scents I love so much, and the Word Lounge is filled with mermaids and seashells and toy boats. I even have special summer coffee mugs that feature starfish and seashells on them.

As the summer heat rises and falls, and then rises again, even higher, I flow in and out of my sailboat dreams. I’ve come close to booking a week on such a boat, but I never quite do it, because while I love the fantasy, I also know myself incredibly well. I’m the girl who never liked camping, and the woman who considers ‘roughing it’ to be staying in a hotel that doesn’t have room service or free wifi.

A few years ago, while visiting my parents in La Paz, BCS, Mexico, I couldn’t sleep – it was too quiet in the desert, even with the water only a couple hundred feet away – so I used the Tune In app on my iPad to find something comforting and relaxing to listen to. I stumbled across a podcast from RTE Radio 1 in Ireland: Seascapes. It’s part fishing and tide reports, and part maritime culture, and every episode begins with the host (who in my head is much older than he probably is in real life) calling out a cheery “Hello!”

For a while after that, I listened to the show every week. Now, though, I save the episodes for when I’m in a marine mood. I seal myself into my writing studio, light the candle that sits in a pile of shells inside a fish-shaped dish, and binge-listen while I write and sip strong black tea.

Isak Dinesen wrote, “The cure for anything is saltwater – sweat, tears, or the sea.” For me, it’s enough to circumnavigate the vast oceans that exist in my imagination, because the waves and I are old friends, and my blood is equal measures of seawater and caffeine.

Image Copyright: nickolya / 123RF Stock Photo

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa A. BartellMelissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.