Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Turning North

(A Guest Blog from Bill)

We motored out of Manatee Pocket this morning and, reading "mile 3924" on our chart plotter, turned north at St. Lucie Inlet, Florida.

North. We're no longer going away; in at least some symbolic sense, we're now going back. When you grow up around horses, you know that when they turn toward home, they always speed up. Unlike a horse, I unconsciously thumbed back on the throttle, justifying the slowing-down as a way to conserve our battery power. But that wasn't it.

When my colleague and friend, Liz Goehring, visited us in Tennesee a while back, she brought us a book that she treasures, North with the Spring, by Pulitzer Prize-winning nature writer Edwin Way Teale. Teale and his wife, Nellie, after losing their only son in battle during World War II, embarked on a long imagined trip--to follow spring on its journey north. 

Teale wrote,
"Spring advances up the United States at the average rate of about fifteen miles a day . . .  . It sweeps ahead like a flood of water, racing down the long valleys, creeping up hill sides in a rising tide. Most of us, like the man who lives on the bank of a river and watches the stream flow by, see only one phase of the movement of spring. Each year the season advances toward us out of the south, sweeps around us, goes flooding away into the north. We see all phases of a single phase, all variations of this one chapter in the Odyssey of Spring. My wife and I dreamed of knowing something of all phases, of reading all possible chapters, of seeing, firsthand, the long northward flow of the season."

So on a day in which I feel a profound and inexplicable sadness, I will take some comfort in the opportunity we have in the rest of this trip. Cynthia and I can follow the robins north, the spring peepers, the blooming of irises (my favorite flower), the red-winged blackbirds. For us, each of these natural moments is packed with personal history and meaning. 

When we were in college, we  accompanied our undergraduate advisor, biologist Dick Holmes, on a peeper hunt at night in a marsh near his farm.  Later in college, we pulled to the side of the road en route to my commencement to pick an iris to pin to my gown. When we were first married, and Cynthia was teaching at St. Lawrence University, we marvelled at the appearance of robins in February, on the narrow slash of green lawn where the heating plant's steam lines melted the snow. When our children were young, they learned to recognize the sound of the red-winged blackbirds that set up a noisy chorus each spring in Freeville, New York, telling us that the long winter was over and we would soon be able to put our four kayaks into the water and start paddling again. 

But in every other year, those moments were brief. This year, as we--like Teale and his wife--move northward at 15 miles a day, we will be able to linger with experiences that have always been ephemeral. That provides some solace. We're heading north with the spring.


  1. Elegant tale of the renewal of spring, with a touch of nostalgia in the realization that as spring is replaced by summer the journey will end. However, as life is a cycle, much of the joy is in the journey, not the destination. Enjoy your journey....I am, thanks for sharing.

  2. Don't rush, it's snowing in State College right now. 2-4 inches expected overnight and more next week about this time if the system develops right.

  3. Glad to read that you two are doing well. I just read an article on CNN about solar highways that made me think of your adventure. Liz and I may just "have" to make a spring visit somewhere on the east coast.

  4. Funny, Cap and I were just saying it's probably time to schedule another boat-based science education conference!