(As told at the Golden Inn)
The Cape of Good Hope, and all the
watery region round about there, is much like some noted four corners of
a great highway, where you meet more travellers than in any other part.
was not very long after speaking the Goney that another homeward-bound
whaleman, the Town-Ho,* was encountered. She was manned almost wholly by
Polynesians. In the short gam that ensued she gave us strong news of
Moby Dick. To some the general interest in the White Whale was now
wildly heightened by a circumstance of the Town-Ho's story, which seemed
obscurely to involve with the whale a certain wondrous, inverted
visitation of one of those so called judgments of God which at times are
said to overtake some men. This latter circumstance, with its own
particular accompaniments, forming what may be called the secret part of
the tragedy about to be narrated, never reached the ears of Captain
Ahab or his mates. For that secret part of the story was unknown to the
captain of the Town-Ho himself. It was the private property of three
confederate white seamen of that ship, one of whom, it seems,
communicated it to Tashtego with Romish injunctions of secrecy, but the
following night Tashtego rambled in his sleep, and revealed so much of
it in that way, that when he was wakened he could not well withhold the
rest. Nevertheless, so potent an influence did this thing have on those
seamen in the Pequod who came to the full knowledge of it, and by such a
strange delicacy, to call it so, were they governed in this matter,
that they kept the secret among themselves so that it never transpired
abaft the Pequod's main-mast. Interweaving in its proper place this
darker thread with the story as publicly narrated on the ship, the whole
of this strange affair I now proceed to put on lasting record.
ancient whale-cry upon first sighting a whale from the mast-head, still
used by whalemen in hunting the famous Gallipagos terrapin.
my humor's sake, I shall preserve the style in which I once narrated it
at Lima, to a lounging circle of my Spanish friends, one saint's eve,
smoking upon the thick-gilt tiled piazza of the Golden Inn. Of those
fine cavaliers, the young Dons, Pedro and Sebastian, were on the closer
terms with me; and hence the interluding questions they occasionally
put, and which are duly answered at the time.
"Some two years
prior to my first learning the events which I am about rehearsing to
you, gentlemen, the Town-Ho, Sperm Whaler of Nantucket, was cruising in
your Pacific here, not very many days' sail eastward from the eaves of
this good Golden Inn. She was somewhere to the northward of the Line.
One morning upon handling the pumps according to daily usage, it was
observed that she made more water in her hold than common. They supposed
a sword-fish had stabbed her, gentlemen. But the captain, having some
unusual reason for believing that rare good luck awaited him in those
latitudes; and therefore being very averse to quit them, and the leak
not being then considered at all dangerous, though, indeed, they could
not find it after searching the hold as low down as was possible in
rather heavy weather, the ship still continued her cruisings, the
mariners working at the pumps at wide and easy intervals; but no good
luck came; more days went by and not only was the leak yet undiscovered,
but it sensibly increased. So much so, that now taking some alarm, the
captain, making all sail, stood away for the nearest harbor among the
islands, there to have his hull hove out and repaired.
small passage was before her, yet, if the commonest chance favoured, he
did not at all fear that his ship would founder by the way, because his
pumps were of the best, and being periodically relieved at them, those
six-and-thirty men of his could easily keep the ship free; never mind if
the leak should double on her. In truth, well nigh the whole of this
passage being attended by very prosperous breezes, the Town-Ho had all
but certainly arrived in perfect safety at her port without the
occurrence of the least fatality, had it not been for the brutal
overbearing of Radney, the mate, a Vineyarder, and the bitterly provoked
vengeance of Steelkilt, a Lakeman and desperado from Buffalo.
"'Lakeman!- Buffalo! Pray, what is a Lakeman, and where is Buffalo?' said Don Sebastian, rising in his swinging mat of grass.
the eastern shore of our Lake Erie, Don; but- I crave your courtesy-
may be, you shall soon hear further of all that. Now, gentlemen, in
square-sail brigs and three-masted ships, well nigh as large and stout
as any that ever sailed out of your old Callao to far Manilla; this
Lakeman, in the land-locked heart of our America, had yet been nurtured
by all those agrarian freebooting impressions popularly connected with
the open ocean. For in their interflowing aggregate, those grand
fresh-water seas of ours,- Erie, and Ontario, and Huron, and Superior,
and Michigan,- possess an ocean-like expansiveness, with many of the
ocean's noblest traits; with many of its rimmed varieties of races and
of climes. They contain round archipelagoes of romantic isles, even as
the Polynesian waters do; in large part, are shored by two great
contrasting nations, as the Atlantic is; they furnish long maritime
approaches to our numerous territorial colonies from the East, dotted
all round their banks; here and there are frowned upon by batteries, and
by the goat-like craggy guns of lofty Mackinaw; they have heard the
fleet thunderings of naval victories; at intervals, they yield their
beaches to wild barbarians, whose red painted faces flash from out their
peltry wigwams; for leagues and leagues are flanked by ancient and
unentered forests, where the gaunt pines stand like serried lines of
kings in Gothic genealogies; those same woods harboring wild Afric
beasts of prey, and silken creatures whose exported furs give robes to
Tartar Emperors; they mirror the paved capitals of Buffalo and
Cleveland, as well as Winnebago villages; they float alike the
full-rigged merchant ship, the armed cruiser of the State, the steamer,
and the beech canoe; they are swept by Borean and dismasting blasts as
direful as any that lash the salted wave; they know what shipwrecks are,
for out of sight of land, however inland, they have drowned full many a
midnight ship with all its shrieking crew. Thus, gentlemen, though an
inlander, Steelkilt was wild-ocean born, and wild-ocean nurtured; as
much of an audacious mariner as any. And for Radney, though in his
infancy he may have laid him down on the lone Nantucket beach, to nurse
at his maternal sea; though in after life he had long followed our
austere Atlantic and your contemplative Pacific; yet was he quite as
vengeful and full of social quarrel as the backwoods seaman, fresh from
the latitudes of buckhorn handled Bowie-knives. Yet was this Nantucketer
a man with some good-hearted traits; and this Lakeman, a mariner, who
though a sort of devil indeed, might yet by inflexible firmness, only
tempered by that common decency of human recognition which is the
meanest slave's right; thus treated, this Steelkilt had long been
retained harmless and docile. At all events, he had proved so thus far;
but Radney was doomed and made mad, and Steelkilt- but, gentlemen, you
I really like this little passage, which deals, in part, with my little part of the world--Michigan and the Upper Peninsula. Melville's description of the lakes and forests is pretty dead-on. Ancient and unentered forests. Lakes that are more like oceans. Gaunt pines. As a U. P. writer, I always appreciate coming across descriptions of my home. I especially appreciate the fact that I didn't remember that the Great Lakes make a cameo appearance in Moby-Dick.
It is Memorial Day. This morning, my kids and I went to a parade, and then we attended a service at a local cemetery in honor of war veterans. It's what we do every year. A tradition. From what I understand, Memorial Day used to be a much bigger deal in my neck of the woods. Huge celebrations. Parades that were bigger and better than Fourth of July parades. Community picnics.
Now, those days are long-gone. Ever since I can recall, this day has been marked by little fanfare. A six-minute procession downtown consisting of a fire truck, some antique cars, a couple marching bands, and members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars marching almost in step. The glory days of Memorial Day seem like passages in an old book. They've passed from reality to the past to history to myth.
I am at my mother's house right now. We are going to have a barbecue. Steaks, I think. I bought a watermelon for dessert. Another Memorial Day tradition. Of course, things have changed in the last few years, since the death of my brother, sister, and, now, father. My remaining siblings sometimes seem to have lost their way.
Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Halloween, Christmas, Easter. All of these holidays used to be big deals in my family. Times where we all got together and told stories and ate. Nowadays, Christmas is a quick trip to Walmart on Christmas Eve. Halloween is an inconvenience--little kids interrupting Netflix. And Memorial Day is a few steaks thrown on the barbecue after the latest D-grade movie is over on the television. The holidays I remember have slipped from reality to the past to history. Pretty soon, they will be myth.
I hope I never let that happen in my home, with my kids or wife. I don't want them to remember our lives together like some kind of fairy tale. Things change. I get that. Parades shrink. The shores of the Great Lakes go from ancient forests to lines of condominiums. People die. The easy thing to do is to let these things take over. Sit in a dark room, stare at your phone or the television. Sleep all day.
That's not my style. I fight to keep Christmas special. Try to fill Halloween with candy and ghosts and trick-or-treating. Make Memorial Day more than just a half-ass dinner when there's nothing else to watch on television.
I don't want to live the same day over-and-over, like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. There's got to be more to life than that.
Saint Marty is thankful tonight for a good day with his kids. For parades. For remembrance. For the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the people whom he loves.