Saturday, May 5, 2018

May 5: Old Log-Books, End-of-Semester Stuff, Father's Nameplate

Had you followed Captain Ahab down into his cabin after the squall that took place on the night succeeding that wild ratification of his purpose with his crew, you would have seen him go to a locker in the transom, and bringing out a large wrinkled roll of yellowish sea charts, spread them before him on his screwed-down table. Then seating himself before it, you would have seen him intently study the various lines and shadings which there met his eye; and with slow but steady pencil trace additional courses over spaces that before were blank. At intervals, he would refer to piles of old log-books beside him, wherein were set down the seasons and places in which, on various former voyages of various ships, sperm whales had been captured or seen.

While thus employed, the heavy pewter lamp suspended in chains over his head, continually rocked with the motion of the ship, and for ever threw shifting gleams and shadows of lines upon his wrinkled brow, till it almost seemed that while he himself was marking out lines and courses on the wrinkled charts, some invisible pencil was also tracing lines and courses upon the deeply marked chart of his forehead.

But it was not this night in particular that, in the solitude of his cabin, Ahab thus pondered over his charts. Almost every night they were brought out; almost every night some pencil marks were effaced, and others were substituted. For with the charts of all four oceans before him, Ahab was threading a maze of currents and eddies, with a view to the more certain accomplishment of that monomaniac thought of his soul.

Now, to any one not fully acquainted with the ways of the leviathans, it might seem an absurdly hopeless task thus to seek out one solitary creature in the unhooped oceans of this planet. But not so did it seem to Ahab, who knew the sets of all tides and currents; and thereby calculating the driftings of the sperm whale's food; and, also calling to mind the regular, ascertained seasons for hunting him in particular latitudes; could arrive at reasonable surmises, almost approaching to certainties, concerning the timeliest day to be upon this or that ground in search of his prey.

So assured, indeed, is the fact concerning the periodicalness of the sperm whale's resorting to given waters, that many hunters believe that, could he be closely observed and studied throughout the world; were the logs for one voyage of the entire whale fleet carefully collated, then the migrations of the sperm whale would be found to correspond in invariability to those of the herring-shoals or the flights of swallows. On this hint, attempts have been made to construct elaborate migratory charts of the sperm whale.*

*Since the above was written, the statement is happily borne out by an official circular, issued by Lieutenant Maury, of the National Observatory, Washington, April 16th, 1851. By that circular, it appears that precisely such a chart is in course of completion; and portions of it are presented in the circular. "This chart divides the ocean into districts of five degrees of latitude by five degrees of longitude; perpendicularly through each of which districts are twelve columns for the twelve months; and horizontally through each of which districts are three lines; one to show the number of days that have been spent in each month in every district, and the two others to show the number of days in which whales, sperm or right, have been seen."

Ahab on the hunt.  Tracking his quarry throughout the oceans of the world.  Of course, he has some knowledge of the habits of sperm whales.  By all indications, he's been a whaling captain for most of his life.  It's not IF he will find Moby Dick.  In Ahab's mind, his rendezvous with the white whale is inevitable.  Like June following May or impeachment following Donald Trump.

I have some tasks to finish this weekend.  All my end-of-semester stuff.  Grading final exams.  Calculating final grades.  Hours of work.  My goal is to have it all done by Monday morning.  Realistically, it will probably take me until Monday evening.  And then there are four months of . . . writing.

This morning, however, aside from blogging and grading, I will be heading to the cemetery for my father's interment.  In three days, my father will have been gone for three months.  Strangely, I think of him a lot more now than when he was still alive.  See him all the time.  Last night, as I was pulling into the gas station to fill up my car, I saw an older man driving an Equinox pulling out of the parking lot.  He could barely see over the steering wheel.  I actually laughed out loud because it looked so much like my father.

Yesterday after work, I stopped at the cemetery to check out the cremation stone where my father is going to be placed.  I don't know why I did this.  I guess I just wanted to have a moment to contemplate by myself.  Think about these last few months.

The death date was already on my father's nameplate.  For some reason, I hadn't expected that.  My sister's cremains are in the same stone.  I am used to seeing her name, with her birth and death dates beneath.  I am also used to seeing my mother's and father's names on the stone, as well, with their birth dates below.  Wasn't prepared to see the addition to my father's nameplate.

I stood there, studying the stone for quite some time.  I probably looked like Ahab studying his maps and whaling journals.  It was a bright, early summer evening.  Temperate.  The sky, blue as an iceberg.  It sort of took a moment for my mind to adjust.  It made my father's death more definite and final for me.  Without the dates on that stone, my dad could have been on a long hunting trip.  Absent but not gone.

I'm glad I stopped at the cemetery yesterday.  I think it will make the service this morning a little easier.  Not quite as . . . shocking to me, if that makes sense.

Saint Marty is thankful today for the sun outside.  The warmth.

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