Archive for November, 2011

Deep Water Days

You’re dreading winter—not just its cold and darkness, but its inescapable patterns. For part of the week you work in near-isolation. On two or three other days you watch the kids, scrambling to finish assignments with cabin fever coloring all your perceptions. Add your aching bones into the mix, and a cloud of Thoreauvian desperation threatens to swallow you whole.

But here and there a warm day is still possible, filling you with gratitude and precarious joy. You know why the blue skies keep coming, of course—climate change. Which is obviously bad. But you allow yourself to separate cause and effect, to appreciate (using a Biblical metaphor) the beautiful seascapes that follow a deluge. At lunch time you’re compelled to get out and savor our frying planet in all its post-autumnal brilliance.

Not just you. First you have to pry the kids away from one of their favorite DVDs, Burt Dow, Deep Water Man. It’s an animated version of a lesser-known Robert McCloskey picture book, concerning an aged fisherman who, “retired or not,” still pursues his calling on the open sea. Burt, it seems, just can’t stay dry. God forbid that his boat, the Tidely Idley, should ever be put to pasture.

You might as well admit that Burt Dow is your favorite, too. Because Burt and the Tidely Idley are both living proof that it’s all still possible. In the story, Burt accidently hooks a whale on his line, and, inverting the Jonah myth, requests shelter within the leviathan. A storm is coming and it’s the only solution the old deep water man can think of. Once inside, he fears he’s been too hasty and transforms from fisherman into escape artist.

The adventure doesn’t stop there—anything is possible, after all—but you hate to spoil the ending. Let people watch the DVD for themselves. And no matter how great the original book is, tell them it’s the movie version that really grabs you, with its salty narration and merry music. The music is pretty simple stuff, just an accordion and an acoustic guitar, but it’s what finally spirits you out to the sidewalk to shuffle the golden leaves.

It stays in your ears as you cross the street, holding two impatient hands on either side while all three of you look prophetically ahead, anticipating the park as if it were itself a treasure on the horizon. You don’t want to let go of those hands, but you will when you get there. You’ll have to. The guitar spills goldenly around your feet, the accordion purring alongside it like an old cat gifted with song.

You reach the park with its swing-set and its tiny lake and surely, surely, there’s a whale somewhere in that lake. Isn’t there, daddy? Because anything is possible, and you let them race ahead to sea for themselves, and then you stand there by yourself, surveying the far shore. For the next ten minutes they chuck rocks and acorns into the shallows. Now, somehow, this is the perfect day, the perfect season.

So go ahead, share the ending after all—Burt Dow escapes the whale, befriends its entire pod, and finds his way to land at the break of dawn. As for you, you’ll haul two small fry home in time to feed them lunch and get back to work. And the world, so painfully high and dry, will swim to freedom while you’re holding the line.

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