Tuesday, December 16, 2014

an artist's memoirs, the complete collection

It was to be, I now recall almost two years after the event, a clandestine visit.  I drove north with the approach of wintery weather, a light snow falling as I crossed a bridge over a river, a rough map sketched out on a piece of paper as I looked for a narrow path leading east off the main road.  Next to the instructions of where to park my jeep I had noted not to drive to fast as stirring up dust on the dirt lane, I was told, would bring the ire of neighbors.  Privacy was much valued, maybe I should leave my camera at home.

I am told not many people get to visit the sail loft of Dabbler Sails, yet Stuart had invited me to pick up my sails in person after a mutual friend had vouched for me.  At the home on a small heavily wooded hill I met Stuart Hopkins and Dee Carstarphen, Stuart's partner in sails, sailing and life.  I remember Dee's almost shy, quiet smile, and her sparkling eyes.  In the loft Stuart showed me the sails, explaining that Dee always checked over his work stitch by stitch to make sure there were no faults.  And perfect they were.  And then he gave me a gift, Dee's book "Narrow Waters, An artist's memo of sailing through sound, swamp, city, forest, marsh and glade."  It was the first of four books that Dee and Stuart would send me over the next year, the books being my only complete collection from single author.  Each book is signed with a personal note from Dee, making the books a collection that I treasure.

I had meant to write about Dee before, but had not because I had met her only briefly in person.  I felt as though I did not know her well enough.  But I do know her now from reading and rereading her books.  It's all there - the joy, the humor, the willingness to follow the path less traveled.  (Dee and I have a little history together - we were both on Coronado Island decades ago, maybe a few miles maybe a few years from each other.)  She has led a life that would be the dream of many.  Dee spent 10 years sailing the windjammer  "Maverick" in the Caribbean with Captain Jack.  (Again, more shared history - On Maverick they welcomed aboard a new young deckhand by the name of Danny Moreland; just a few years ago I sailed from Martha's Vineyard to Norfolk on board the square rigger Picton Castle with Captain Daniel Moreland.)  

"Maverick Sea Fare", Dee's book about those years, masquerades as a cookbook.  Her words are the recipes, her drawings are a story of life sailing the tropical islands.  The sketches are of storms and pirates, a ship with a bone in her teeth, palm trees, tuna, dolphin fish and spiny lobsters.  What an adventure it must have been!

With "The Conch Book" Dee seems to be a biologist, ethnographer, economist and environmentalist all in one as she studies the Queen Conch from the Caribbean to the Keys, Panama to Bermuda.  Written and drawn in her own hand, the only way she does a book, she tells the story of the conch and the role it plays in history, nature and culture.  And of course there are a few good recipes thrown in.  

"Windjammer Cooking" is the story of Dee's time as a sea cook on Down East Windjammers.  Presented once again as a cook book, it is the story of sailing tall ships off the coast of Maine.  The chapter "Life Aboard A Dude Cruiser" is a primer for and a delightful look at shipboard life, both for experienced sailors and novices.  

I love all the books, but my favorite of all is "Narrow Waters."  It  is the story of sailing  from the Chesapeake Bay to the Dry Tortugas and then back to Stuart, Florida, a modern day version of Henry Plummer's The Boy, Me and the Cat, the 1912 sail down the coast in a catboat.  It is a leisurely winter trip down the intracoastal waterway on board "Sea Wind" with her partner Stuart, known as "The Skipper."  Dee shows that she is an artist with the eye of a naturalist, making wonderful drawings of the waterway, swamps, forests, birds, alligators, fish and boats along the way.  (Again, shared history:  I've sailed much of the water  traveled in the first 30 pages of the book - Norfolk, Elizabeth City, the Alligator River, Oriental and Beaufort.  I can tell you she captured it - from the ospreys to the early morning mists - just right.  Dee mentions a seafood processing plant on Cedar Creek off of Adams Creek;  the same seafood processing plant with a noisy cycling refrigeration system that would have kept me awake all night had I not moved Spartina around the corner out of earshot.)  

"Narrow Waters" is the story of a journey and the story of love affairs - a love affair with water, nature and a love affair with the Skipper.  Dee and Stuart have a relationship that I will always envy.  

I was telling a friend last summer that one of the true joys of Spartina was the people I met along the way.  Dee and Stuart are two of those people.  I went on that clandestine trip to pick up a set of sails, and instead found new friends.  Stuart, thank you for the fine sails.  Dee, thank you for the wonderful books, and thanks also for making sure that Spartina's sails are, stitch by stitch, perfect!    


Baydog said...

Wow, nice post. Some good reading material to look forward to. Steve, you've outdone yourself, again.

EyeInHand said...

Well said, sir. I would give you a good recommendation any time.

I believe I have a case of "Narrow Waters" if any of your readers would like a copy.

MaryLou said...

I don't usually buy books - it's the librarian in me and the desire not accumulate more anything, but you may have convinced me on "Narrow Waters" - sounds wonderful and I'm sure it would fit on the shelf next to "The Boy, Me and the Cat."

Steve said...

Definitely. It is fun to read the books side by side. Dee even has a sketch of Henry Plummers boat in her book. Make Fred get you a copy for Xmas.