Moby Dick, Chapter Two: Euroclydon, The Northeast Wind

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No, I did not practice yoga here today.  I practiced here three days ago.  And it was glorious.  The Low Point, Man-O-War Cay, Abacos, The Bahamas

My goodness it is blowing here today!  Early this morning, Euroclydon, the Northeast wind, howled in at about 30 knots and spun us completely round on anchor.  We are now nose to the north and nothing not nailed, screwed, or lashed down above board will stay put.  The wind stole our nylon purple shopping bag and sent it floating past the boat behind us.  Our friend, Muffin, who lives on that boat, rescued and delivered it to us at about 9.  Ten minutes later, it was in the water again, and Ryan had to go after it in the dinghy. 

Defying the gale, I practiced yoga on the bow this morning.  The wind tore my mat out from under my feet and tried to yank it into the water.  I finally threw it down the forward hatch.  Sun salutations went okay, but standing poses were hard.  Triangle was the most difficult. I didn’t even attempt one-footed forms, like tree or dancer.  I did side plank with my feet propped against the hatch, which seemed like cheating, but really was pretty impressive, because the wind kept trying to knock me down and I held out for ten breaths.  Chair was awkward, since I had to plant my feet wide apart to stay upright on the foredeck, which is not flat but slightly hill-shaped.  If I broke a sweat, which I usually do, the wind whisked it off my skin before I noticed.

I found it impossible to relax during corpse pose.  I tried to imagine myself dead, the flesh falling off my bones and all my muscles falling slack.  Usually I come up with a lovely image of myself in a white shroud, surrounded by candles and flowers in an oval, narrow cave with lovely ochre walls, and I feel quite serene contemplating myself while ever thought falls away from my mind.  But this time I just thought, death, death, death and about how hideous I will look when I am dead, my cheeks all saggy and my body heavier than ever.  Narcissism really gets in way of inner peace. 

Euroclydon will not stop blowing.  The long leaves of the coconut palms are rustling furiously, and their trunks, like the many breasted Lady of Ephesus, are leaning, perilously loaded with green globes.  The coconut gives life and takes it away.  With a machete, one could live a long time without money on these islands, where the coconuts litter the ground.  Locals never tire of telling me that more people die from getting hit on the head with a coconut than by being struck by lightning. 

We have three coconuts awaiting the machete in our dinghy.  We made the rookie mistake of opening a coconut on board, and had to spend half a day scrubbing and bleaching the stains that the pith created in the gel coat.  The fibers are very good to plant in, as they have nutrients, but they make a terrible mess.  When the wind dies down we might take the three coconuts to the beach and whack away at them.  Fresh coconut tastes divine. But we are probably too lazy to do that today.  In fact we have been too lazy to whack them for the last ten days or so.  Lucky for us, the wind is going to blow into next week.

Euroclydon has been pushing Sophia back and forth on her anchor lines like a kite, rolling us this way and that.  A satellite image shows the blow bearing down on us as the whip-like tail of a great white swirl at the center of the Atlantic ocean.   I’m sitting, safe and sound, but shivering, on the comfortable veranda of the Hope Town Inn and Marina. A girl in jeans and jacket just slapped past in thongs, complaining, “It’s soooooo cold!  I’m not used to this.”

2981517e808ad36fbe4154803daa15baIn chapter two of Moby Dick, Ishmael quits “Manhatto” and arrives in New Bedford, just missing the last boat to Nantucket for the next three days.  He searches for shelter on a “very dark and dismal night, bitingly cold and cheerless.”  In a funny moment, he stumbles into an ash-box at the door of a Black church, where he sees “a hundred back faces” and “a black Angel of Doom” preaching on “the blackness of darkness, and weeping and wailing and teeth-gnashing.”  Ishmael backs away from this “wretched entertainment” at the bar he’s named “The Trap.”  That’s the joke.  But the meditation on blackness here is a puzzler.

He wanders on and stops in front of the Spouter Inn, a wooden house with a sign that speaks ominously of coffins and spouters, also known as whales.  It’s just drab and dreary enough to appeal to our hero,  standing as it does on a

sharp bleak corner where that tempestuous wind Euroclydon kept up a worse howling than ever it did about poor Paul’s tossed craft.

Ishmael is thinking of that story in Acts, where the tempestuous northeast wind stirs up a storm that rages for two weeks, nearly sinking the vessel that carries the Apostle as a prisoner to Rome.  After three days, Paul tells the sailors not to worry, because an angel stood next to him in the night and promised that God will protect them all.   Euroclydon rages on 11 more days, and the sailors throw things off the boat, and generally freak out.  It’s one of the Bible’s best sea tales.  Ishmael mixes it up with the saga of Lazarus, who may or may not actually be in the street by the side of the Spouter Inn:

Poor Lazarus there, chattering his teeth against the curbstone for his pillow, and shaking off his tatters with his shivering, he might plug up both ears with rags, and put a corn-cob pipe into his mouth, and ye that would not keep our the tempestuous Euroclydon. 

Perhaps Ishmael is just imagining him there, thinking as he is about the myth of Paul, who heals many sick people after his boat runs aground at Malta.  The foreshadowing is pretty straightforward.  We are to expect a storm at sea and a miraculous survival.  But the guy who rises from the dead, poor Lazarus, does not seem to be doing so well.  And then there is the fact that Ishmael has just referred to a church as a trap.  Juicy stuff for the atheist reader!

Throughout the chapter Ishmael has been thinking about the difference between being on the inside or outside of warm houses in cold climates. He passes by “The Crossed Harpoons” and the “Sword-Fish Inn,” and the sight of the jolly warmth within them only seems to underline his own misery.  Now standing before a “palsied” house that looks “as if it might have been carted here from the ruins of some burnt district,” (perhaps a reference to Gommorah, with which Ishmael associates the ash-box at the Trap) he considers that Euroclydon might be experienced as a “pleasant zephyr to any one in-doors, with his feet on the hob quietly toasting for bed.”   The opposite viewpoint is not, as you might expect, from the cold outside looking in at the warmth, but rather from the inside looking out through a “sashless window, where the frost is on both sides, and of which the wight Death is the only glazier.”

Attempting, perhaps,  to make light of this dark thought, Ishmael compares his body to a frigid house and his eyes to the panes that Death has fashioned:

What a pity they didn’t stop up the chinks and crannies though, and thrust in a little lint here and there.  But it’s too late to make any improvements now.  The universe is finished; the copestone is on, and the chips were carted off a million years ago.

It’s witty but bleak, finally, and myopic.  It is here that Ishmael evokes the image of Lazarus, chattering his teeth against the curbstone.  He rouses himself with a pun on blubbering and whaling, and ventures into the inn. 

If Euroclydon can make even the Bahamas feel cold, imagine what it does in New England, or Pittsburgh, or even as far south as Richmond, where my son proposes to go for New Year’s Eve?

B has lived for short periods on the street before, and goes about in ragged clothes. A friend took pity on him and gave him a pair of shoes.  Another kind soul presented him with some sturdy boots.  He won’t accept new shoes from me.  Nor can he buy them for himself. 

No, he doesn’t take drugs.  In fact, I wish he would.  If he would only take the medication that three different psychiatrists have recommended, he would feel better, steadier, calmer.  But he is afraid of side effects, I guess.  I’m not sure. 

When I think about Ishmael as a young man alone, depressed, stuck in his head, a person who could be my own child, alone, in the wilderness, forlorn, lost, friendless, cold, meditating on death—I know this is not a conventional way to read the novel, but it is the way I come at it—I worry. Ishmael is  just a character in a novel, I tell myself, get a grip!  But what can I do?  I’m like the mother who sends a text to her son, “start worrying, details to follow…”

Q: What’s the difference between a Rottweiler and a Norwegian mother? A: Eventually, the Rottweiler lets go.

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