Had you descended from the Pequod's try-works to the Pequod's forecastle, where the off duty watch were sleeping, for one single moment you would have almost thought you were standing in some illuminated shrine of canonized kings and counsellors. There they lay in their triangular oaken vaults, each mariner a chiselled muteness; a score of lamps flashing upon his hooded eyes.
In merchantmen, oil
for the sailor is more scarce than the milk of queens. To dress in the
dark, and eat in the dark, and stumble in darkness to his pallet, this
is his usual lot. But the whaleman, as he seeks the food of light, so he
lives in light. He makes his berth an Aladdin's lamp, and lays him down
in it; so that in the pitchiest night the ship's black hull still
houses an illumination. See with what entire freedom the whaleman takes
his handful of lamps- often but old bottles and vials, though- to the
copper cooler at the tryworks, and replenishes them there, as mugs of
ale at a vat. He burns, too, the purest of oil, in its unmanufactured,
and, therefore, unvitiated state; a fluid unknown to solar, lunar, or
astral contrivances ashore. It is sweet as early grass butter in April.
He goes and hunts for his oil, so as to be sure of its freshness and
genuineness, even as the traveller on the prairie hunts up his own
supper of game.
I have just come to a realization about Moby-Dick:
This isn't really a novel about Ahab and his monomaniacal hunt for the white whale that took his leg. This is a long meditation on the vocation of whaling and all its elements--the whale, whalers, ocean, cetology, mythology, history. Ahab's story is just the vehicle for Melville's examination of all things whaling. Perhaps that's why so many people get frustrated with this book so quickly. They go into it expecting a 19th-century version of Jaws. What they get instead is long chapters on whale anatomy and short chapters on whale oil lamps.
Currently, I'm sitting out on the balcony of my room at the Boyne Mountain Resort. It is a little past 10:30 in the morning, and, for once in my life, I don't have anywhere to go, anything to do. I can sit out here as long as I want and meditate on the warmth and trees and thrumming cicadas. Below me, a few minutes ago, a group of people were standing, speaking French. It sounded as if they were arguing about something. One woman was scolding a child in French. I don't know what she was saying to the child, but I could guess it was something like this, "No, we are not going to the water park right now! We just had breakfast! Why don't you go for a walk or something and let me relax!"
There is quite the community of people at this place. At breakfast, I saw a large Indian family--grandparents, mothers, fathers, grandchildren. Some of them were talking about going on the zip-line tour. I wanted to warn them about El Diablo, the line where I ended up getting an ass-full of dirt. I didn't, though. Last night, we went to a restaurant and dined al fresco. I heard several different languages--German, French, Spanish, and, I believe, a Russian dialect. Like I said, this place is fairly international in its clientele.
I have a feeling it's going to be a lazy day. Nothing to rush to. No plans. Just playing it by ear, which is not a practice I usually subscribe to. I'm a planner. A list maker. Generally, I want to know, when I wake in the morning, exactly what my day holds--the places I'll go, people I'll see, things I'll do. That's me. My wife will be the first to tell you that I'm a little bit of a control freak about my time. Don't like being late. Hate it when people don't follow my timetable, even if they aren't aware of my timetable.
So, vacations can be a little bit of a test for me. Forcing myself not to plan things out to the last minute. At breakfast this morning, I got it in my head that I was going to take my daughter and her boyfriend on a nature hike. I got back to our room, announced, "I think we should go on a hike." My daughter looked at me with a furrowed brow, and her boyfriend said, "Yeah, no. I'm going back to bed." They are now both asleep. I know my son will not go for a hike with me--he's probably scheming to get back to the water park as we speak. He's a lot like me.
It seems, despite my best efforts, that my plans include writing two blog posts. Vacation is sort of like trying to understand Moby-Dick. It's an exercise in foiled expectations.
Saint Marty is thankful this morning for the challenges of vacation.