Sniffing Boats, Singing Seals and Fat Banks of Fog

“When there’s enough that is the same
and enough that is different in such a relationship,
there is a fruitful middle ground to be explored.”

~ Luci Shaw, writing about her friendship with Madeleine L’Engle in Books & Culture. When I read those words, I immediately thought of travel.  We have humanity in common with all the people of the earth: we all experience loss, love, boredom, fear and wonder.  But each region has a unique culture and in exploring both the likenesses and dissimilarities we find things of delight and things of disgust.  The thrill of recognition – oh, she’s just like me! – and the fascination of otherness – um, why is that important to you? – are part of building any relationship.

William Zinsser calls the memoir “one of nonfiction’s most appealing forms.”  Amen and amen.  Insert travel in front of memoir and I’ll be swaying and singing my praises.  Travel memoirs float my boat. I love exploring Afghanistan, Russia, Japan, Mississippi, Patagonia, Provence, Tuscany, China etc. from the eyes of an observant outsider.

Some Lovely Islands by Mr. Leslie Thomas is now one of my favorite travel memoirs.  I will scour the bookstores of Great Britain for copies of this book. Thomas out-Rick-Steves Rick Steves as a “temporary local.”  He is not as philosophical as John Steinbeck in Travels With Charley, but his writing sparkles like a sun-drenched sea.  I filled nine pages of my journal with quotes from this author.

Thomas decided to visit 10 very different islands off of Ireland and Great Britain in one year.  Some were uninhabited, some had monasteries, a few had long-established communities, and most had a lighthouse.  It was great to read a chapter, surf the web and see the visuals; some of the people he mentioned in this 1967 book are now selling photographs on the web.  Viva le Google!

It is the writing that pinches, tickles, grabs and holds you.   He sees the elements of nature as living things; they are alive when you read his descriptions.

The mountains and sky fell upon each other
like black wrestlers locked in a hold;
and there was I staggering over mooring ropes and anchors.

…the saddest sight. 
A whole village, a whole life,
a whole story in doleful ruin.
The houses back up the hill,
roofless, windowless, doorless,
like a congregation of senile people
without teeth or eyes.

Fat banks of fog…with a certain politeness
stopped short and stood around
just outside the harbour.

The boat sniffed around the rocks
and panted into the landlocked pool
like a dog pleased to have rediscovered
a familiar rabbit hole.

Fads and fashions,
pavement and politics,
are miles away and of no matter.
The singing of the seals is real.

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2 thoughts on “Sniffing Boats, Singing Seals and Fat Banks of Fog

  1. For some reason, this reminded me of the first time I took the ferry over to San Francisco and landed at Pier 39, where the sea lions bask in the sun on the wooden docks and bark at all the tourists, hoping someone will throw them something to eat. I was amazed that these wild animals would be so social toward humans! This sounds like his travels were really amazing.

  2. Ah…”the singing of the seals is real” … I so love the sea and all that lives with it, on it, around it — my family had a boat when I was a child and I loved every moment on the ocean! Beautiful post — I shall find this memoir to read this summer. Blessings, Laurie  —  P.S. Praying for your friend!

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