By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published August 4, 2016
“We’re stuck,” my husband said glumly.
It was a roasting summer day in 1988, and we were tooling around an island in the Gulf of Mexico in a rented boat. Fortunately, we soon discovered the root of our dilemma, namely gobs of black mud that were being spewed from the engine’s growling mouth.
In “Walden,” Thoreau wrote about retreating from city life into the woods, so that when it was time for him to die, he wouldn’t discover that he hadn’t lived. As he put it, he yearned “to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.”
Living deep struck a chord with us, which is why we traveled frequently to this remote island. We went to eat fish and crabs just pulled from the sea, and to enjoy the shows Mother Nature put on when she decorated the sky with spectacular colors. We were willing to put up with glitches—like getting stuck in the mud—because, for us, they were part of living deep.
My husband was captain of the boat, so he was faced with freeing the reluctant vessel from the mud, while I did my best imitation of first mate—by making encouraging comments and keeping my eyes peeled for sea monsters.
After some huffing and puffing, the captain was successful, and we were once again on our way to a nearby barrier island for a picnic—but then, after a few moments, the engine went “gobble, thwurp, blurf”—and we came to a dead halt.
“Let’s forget about the picnic,” I implored, as I envisioned us roasting in the ruthless rays of the sun. “Maybe we should get the boat back to the dock and figure out what’s wrong.”
Easy for me to say, of course, since Captain Jef had to sink up to his knees in mud, as he again coaxed and wiggled the boat free. When we finally got to shore, we were both discouraged and rather grouchy, and I proclaimed, “I’m never going out on a boat again.”
We then headed grimly to our favorite restaurant, where a cheery waitress took one look at our faces and hurried over with cold beers, which—along with fried soft-shell crab sandwiches—soon worked their magic.
“Maybe I was being too hasty,” I said sheepishly. “We rented the boat for the day, so do you want to give it another try?”
Jef agreed enthusiastically, and we made our way to the dock, stopping for a moment to talk with a friend who had spotted our boat stuck in the mud. A seasoned boater, he handed us exactly what we needed to navigate the island—a chart of the ocean’s depths.
Captain Jef was now able to avoid the shallow spots—and before long, we neared the barrier island, where he turned off the engine for a while and let the boat drift. We both dozed for a few moments, but then awakened with a start because something big was churning up the water a few feet away—and the boat was shaking precariously.
“I hope it’s not sharks!” I exclaimed—but then started laughing when I realized a school of porpoises was playing tag around the boat.
“They’re welcoming us back,” Jef said with a grin.
When we got to the island, we climbed from the boat and waded into the water, delighted because we had this lovely area entirely to ourselves—unless, of course, you count the occasional tiny fish nibbling at our legs.
“Heaven,” I murmured as we floated—and then remembered childhood days when I’d envisioned heaven as a castle in the sky where folks sat around playing harps—which, frankly, didn’t thrill me too much.
But now my imagination spun out a different scene, featuring long, lazy afternoons, soft-shell crab sandwiches and friendly dolphins dancing in a vast trembling sea. And who knows? Maybe a day in the Great Beyond is exactly like the magical afternoon my husband and I savored in our boat so long ago. Maybe heaven is all about “living deep.”
Artwork (“Cair Paravel,” oil on canvas) by Jef Murray. You may contact Lorraine for information on his artwork. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.