Reynard's Parables of the Houseboat

On Tuesday night we returned to Prescott from a houseboat trip on Lake Powell. We prayed and drank and swam and played.

It begins with a white Xterra crawling across the Navajo lands, toward Page, which is on the Utah border, so that the usual suspects are Navajos, Mormons, and Other. In this case the "other" element is the management team from a construction company, packing wine, beer, tequila, vodka and dvd's of Wild Hogs, Oh Brother Where Art Thou, and back seasons of "The Office." The Mormons were the owners of the houseboat and business associates. They began each meal with a prayer, and even asked their guests to lead prayers ,,, when in Rome ... I didn't get asked but I was prepared.

Religion and politics should be like spice, used sparingly and lightly to season conversation, but never taken by themselves except by adepts who have carefully raised their tolerance, the way some people train themselves to tolerate viper venom. Objective observation is the meat and potatoes of socializing. A spade is a spade and a heart is a heart. You have your feet on the ground and your head in the air.

Which brings me to the first Parable of the Houseboat, which is that of St. John of the running lights. John is an executive who came up through the trade. He's got his truck and his dogs and his boat, and he keeps his hand on the throttle and his eye on the wake. As Brother Joy astutely observed, masculinity is a defense against the feminine, which is what drives men toward engineering and tinkering, or just out fishing with a cooler of beer, not to mention driving sled dogs to the North Pole or climbing Everest.

So John got himself a cool little cabin cruiser at auction for a steal of a price and brought it along as our runabout. When we put the houseboat to beach and anchored her down, he lost a running light overboard beside the houseboat. He knew where it ought to be. He went out to look for it, diving down and following a pattern to make it an efficient search. A woman might have had a feeling where it might be and looked for it there. A seer would wait for the water to clear. John laid out his grid and began to eliminate where it was not to be found, hoping to capture it in a logical trap.

But there must have been an unfelt current in the water, because he came up toward what was supposed to be air and, "Bonk!" his head hits the underside of the houseboat. He can't break surface and he's disoriented. When he thinks he's swimming port to starboard he's swimming bow to stern, and he's out of air. Finally he makes it out from under the stern and sweet Jesus air does taste good when you haven't had any for awhile.

The lesson of this parable is don't kill yourself looking for a running light.

The next day the water cleared and the seer, who was the young man of the group, was standing on the top deck. He was looking into the water. He saw the running light and went down and got it out of the water. Awhile later he jumped on what looked like a boogie board, John gunned the runabout, and Jason raced out across the lake behind John's boat, waving one hand in the air like a cowboy riding a bronco. John was headed off with a few others toward the Queen's Bath, a natural bathtub formed in the rock near where we were anchored. I found a deck chair and began to read the book I had taken along: "Gabriella, Clove, and Cinnamon" by Jorge Amado . Beside me, Linda was figuring out how to make some kind of complicated spreadsheet.

I seldom read novels anymore, but I am convinced that reading a good novel nourishes the brain. It creates a place, a time, and a cast of characters with which one must become familiar, and then gradually you are drawn into the flow of the story. When I first started the book I found myself reading the same paragraph over and over. It was like pulling a chord to start an engine. It took a few turns before the engine kicked in. It also took finding a relatively quiet place and a couple of lazy afternoons.

The beach where we anchored was beneath a wall of red rock that was sculpted like pastry. It was steep but we could walk right up it at the lower elevation. Further up it was a cliff face. The formation wrapped around us and provided shelter from the wind. The first day out the wind was aroused and she made it hard to set anchor. The boat wanted to drift leeward. But on the second day the wind had relaxed and the lake was calm and reflective. A group that day set out to rainbow bridge, which was about an hour and a half or more away. I had been to Rainbow Bridge, and wanted the relaxation of sunning on the top deck with Gabriella.

The second Parable of the Houseboat involves St. David of the Stone. To be more specific, of the Kidney Stone. Sometime early in the morning on Tuesday he was prowling the passageway wondering what was wrong with him. I know that feeling. One night many years ago I woke up and had that weird feeling in my body, someplace in the middle between the back and front, and I couldn't understand where it was headed. It should have been headed to the hospital where they have the good drugs. But I just waited and wondered. I was standing in the bathroom when the pain hit. It doubled me into the sink and I broke two teeth on my way to the floor, where I came back to consciousness beating my head into the tile. I don't really remember it, but I don't want to experience it again. I didn't want Dave to experience it without painkillers, either.

Luckily Dave's wife had some morphine prescribed for post surgery, and she gave him a dose to kill some of his pain while we dug up the anchors and stowed them, then headed back toward the marina. At some point someone reported topside that he was moaning in agony. We decided that though we were pretty sure we knew what was going on, we couldn't be certain. Morphine can cover up other symptoms, too. So we radioed for an ambulance to meet us when we came in. As Dave rolled away on a gurney Linda took his picture. "He'd do the same for one of us," she said. "We'll include it in the slide show at the Christmas Party."

The lesson of this parable is always take morphine with you when you're not close to a hospital.

I found myself really liking the Mormon couple. They spent all their time looking after us, fixing us food, cleaning up the galley, and being gracious hosts and conversationalists. I thought about when I was fifteen, and lived in a Mormon town in Utah. There was a lot of pressure there to follow some pretty strict rules. There was the main society, or inner circle, who at least advertised themselves as following them, and then there were the Jack Mormons, and non Mormons, who carried the community shadow. It was there where, for the first time in my life, I learned the pleasures of being one of the bad kids. Well, we weren't really bad kids. We were just doing community service, carrying the shadow of the inner circle.

I like these people because they are focused on holding the center. We serve each other the way two elements are in harmony in the artwork of a dinner plate my friend found in India. In the center a woman sits in meditation, her legs folded together and her palms face up, her eyes closed. In each of her hands there is a man's foot. He extends upward from the inner containing circle of the plate, his head extends through the outer containing circle, into the outer rim. I need grounded people to hold my feet so that I can see outside the containers. Sometimes the inner circle needs Reynard. In the end it's two polarities of the same field which have forgotten they serve each other.

Posted: Fri - October 17, 2008 at 03:36 PM