Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Writing Prompt, July 7: Step Onto the Ferry

Prompt: Write about taking a summer ferry ride.

I love this opening from Step Onto the Ferry, and Summer Begins

The piece by Lili Wright appeared in the Sunday "Travel Section," when the New York Times still offered a back-page travel essay.

Without a doubt, ferries are my favorite way to travel. I would take a ferry to California if I could. I would take a ferry to France.

Sure, ferries are slow and heavy. They can be rusty and cranky and can grunt when you least expect it. They have dirty windows and plastic seats without cushions. Ferries are the frumpy, weak-coffee serving, wiener-roasting rec rooms of transport, but I prefer them to any other means.

A ferry trip feels like a clean beginning, an ending to whatever happened before. As you leave land behind, you also leave behind that worn-out, crusty you who had lost her sense of humor and possibly her grace. . .

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

RECUERDO by Edna St. Vincent Millay :

. . .We were very tired, we were very merry --
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry;
And you ate an apple, and I ate a pear,
From a dozen of each we had bought somewhere;
And the sky went wan, and the wind came cold,
And the sun rose dripping, a bucketful of gold. . .

Thirty-five years ago, I spent the summer in the small towns of Camden--where Edna St. Vincent Millay grew up--and Rockport at the Maine Photographic Institute (world-reknowned now but in only its second year then--no doubt the reason I managed to be admitted to classes with Mary Ellen Mark and Charles Harbutt). I was 26 and pregnant with my first son, and how I loved telling that to complete strangers as I puffed out my belly. I took a ferry to Monhegan Island and took photos of clothes hanging outdoors on clotheslines, reflections in windows and no cars. No cars were allowed on the island. I found some of Robert McCloskey's books (One Morning in Maine, A Time of Wonder and Blueberries for Sal) and stashed them away for the children and grandchildren I would have one day, starting with the sweet son I was carrying then. When I had first found the then newly published OMiM as a brand new reader, I was mesmerized. I wanted to be that little girl who lost her tooth as she helped her father dig clams for lunch. I wanted to live on that island off the coast of Maine every summer. Perhaps the closest I came was spending the day on Monhegan Island and vacations on Ocracoke Island off the coast of NC when our three children were growing up.

I loved riding the ferry from Hatteras to Ocracoke or Swan Quarter or Cedar Island to Ocracoke. Those are the only ferries that take passengers to the 15-mile island on North Carolina's Outer Banks. The free one from Hatteras to Ocracoke is the shortest ride, about 40 minutes. The writer of "Step Onto the Ferry" got it right when she wrote of leaving behind the crusty person with little grace once the ferry ride began. I remember some few passages across the waters when I was so full of grief that I determined not even to get out of the car, but I usually did and then felt some release as I let the sea spray and the wind blow through my hair and allowed some of the grief to pass back into the sea around me.

One ferry ride when all three children were elementary and middle school ages, we borrowed my sister-in-law's movie camera at her insistence. Matt, our oldest, had been walking around the ferry with the huge camera over his shoulder when I succumbed to the worst-case scenario thoughts and had him bring it back to the car. A minute passed before a speedboat shooshed between our ferry and one coming in the other direction, and suddenly an overwash completely covered the first three cars at the end of the ferry and pushed three inches of water into the car's open windows, covering the camera that lay in my lap as it swooshed in. No camera repair was available on Ocracoke so we let it dry out as best we could, but it didn't return to life. We took it to a repair shop when we returned home, and the technician determined that the warranty had expired, and it would cost nearly the purchase cost to repair it. Our small savings account was depleted to purchase a brand new one, and we returned it to my sister-in-law without telling her of the incident. The end of the story is not quite a Guy de Maupassant ending. We had another call from the technician saying that he had repaired it after all and wouldn't charge us for it. We still have that camera, and it still works sometimes.

Ferries are freeing, not formidable like the ones to mythical Styx or Lethe from the Greek stories. Well, maybe Lethe-like, forgetting some of the mainland troubles and becoming unencumbered by them.

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