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  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

My husband Tim tells the story of asking his father, David, and mother, Eloise, to join in a counseling session when he was a young man dealing with issues of depression. To David’s credit, he agreed to go, probably at great personal cost. Like so many men in his generation, Tim’s father was a product of depression era parenting, the early death of his father, and a stint in WWII. His nickname, given by his squadron mates during the war, was “Smiley”, an inside joke to highlight his disgruntled state most of the time.

In this environment, Tim only recalled this main thought from the age of three on: He wished he had never been born. His father was a “no machine” whose impatience in the smallest of normal father/son interactions caused him to shrink and disappear. When it became apparent in his twenties that he was losing a battle with his depression, he sought counseling.

That first session, David was introduced to the counselor, shook her hand politely and then announced, “I don’t like you and I think what you do is stupid. “ When Tim returned the next week and asked for the counselor’s impressions, the counselor simply said, “We won’t need to see them anymore. I have a much better understanding of why you might be here.”

Tim, if you know him, is much beloved for his quiet, gentle spirit. That is a wonderful thing. But he reserves his deepest self for himself, as he often says he learned early that to express eagerness, or joy, or any spontaneous idea, would quickly result in reactions of disgust, ridicule, or shame. Keeping his deepest self so close to the vest is a reality I accepted early on, not without some struggle and sadness.

So you can imagine how surprised I was when at our once yearly visits to the “animal” store with our grandkids on vacation in Leavenworth, he started purchasing miniature plastic animals, most less than an inch in size. At first he kept them close to his chair where he studied, but then as the collection grew, he began to display them in his room on an open shelf, each placed very carefully in specific arrangements.

When we recently sold our home and moved, all of his beloved animals went into odd containers or bags, and as we unpacked in our smaller home, I wondered how he would display his collection, as he no longer had a man cave.

Taking a shower one morning, I looked up at the window and noted a tiny penquin staring back at me. I turned to shut off the shower and saw above the soap dish, another creature had established its territory.

Soon, these miniature creatures began appearing throughout the house, like a Zootopia version of Elf on the Shelf. I went to wash my hands and a duck stared back at me. I turned the corner and there on the the ledge before the living room, a Meerkat stood guard. When I asked jokingly if this meerkat had a name, Tim didn’t miss a beat. “Juan”.

As I have wandered the house these last few days discovering more of the zoo, it has hit me: In this, his 70th year, Tim is learning to let miniature moments of joy escape from deep within. His little boy spirit is somehow receiving permission to take these tiny, tender steps towards spontaneity and freedom of expression. He has moved from the empty landscape of his childhood not just physically, but emotionally as well, and somehow I think there will be no going back from this journey. He gets to live a “yes” life here in this sparse Sonoran desert landscape.

This is not a “tippy, skippy” noisy joy that claps its hands and stomps its feet in loud declaration.

This is a quiet joy that has left the privacy of a closed off room and begun to explore the world.

This is a careful joy dipping its feet into the waters of life.

This is a miniature joy in its inception,but, like the drops of rain that fall in a monsoon, my prayer is that they become a mighty flood to drench the parched land of his childhood soul and set him free…

  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

I have lived my life in the deep comfort of black and gray. Perhaps that is what spoke to my

spirit about the Pacific Northwest. There was a strange sense of belonging that emerged when embraced by thick blankets of fog or rain which perhaps mimicked my own inner landscape.

That landscape was formed in the Salinas Valley where I was bussed from the proverbial “wrong side of the tracks” to the high school populated by the sons and daughters of the small town movers and shakers. To further alienate myself, I wore some version of gray and black my whole freshman year.

Even now, over five decades later, on the rare occasion I actually go clothing shopping, I often announce to helpful clerks, “Do not let me purchase anything in black or gray,” as it litters my meager closet in many forms.

But we are leaving the Northwest now for a desert climate, having sold our home of thirty five years. This had led to scanning homes daily until one showed up worthy of an offer, which was recently accepted.

I loved everything we saw in the pictures of our soon to be new home except one thing… the orange accent wall in the kitchen- an accent wall to further highlight a small row of equally orange and lime green trim tiles in the open design kitchen.

A real estate agent explained that perhaps the effect of the tiles could be mitigated by painting over the orange wall with a tan or beige, minimizing the visual impact. And yet, as I further studied the pictures, I began to wonder if there was a lesson to be learned in keeping the orange wall.

All my life, I have embraced colors that blend well in the background. While blacks and grays can symbolize elegance and mystery, for me these tones have reflected the bleakness and lifelong low level of depression that have colored my inner landscape all these decades.

Black and gray…colors that avoid attention.

But now, the orange loomed on the horizon. What to do? Paint over the wall ? Replace the row of accent tiles?

Or, what if I simply let myself be open to the unfamiliar and unsettling orange.

Curious, I looked up the symbolism of color and was surprised to discover this:

Orange is the color of enthusiasm and emotion.

Orange exudes warmth and joy providing emotional strength.

Orange is optimistic and uplifting and adds spontaneity and positivity. Orange encourages social communication and creativity.

Orange is youthful and energetic.

Looking at the list, I began to wonder: What if, in making peace with the orange wall, I would be embracing my truer self?

In my heart, I knew the answer.

I want to be the orange girl…

Not the girl who hides in the shadows…

Not the girl trying to be small and unseen so as not to be hurt again.

Not the girl with the constant inner voice of despair and retreat.

No…I want to be the orange girl…

The one who steps fearlessly into the bright light of a desert sun.

The one who views the sparse desert landscape and calls it beautiful.

The one willing to slough off her shadowed self and, grow, like the desert inhabitants, into life in a new skin.

I want to be the orange girl…

  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

In July of 1974, the Adventuress greeted me at the dock at Shilshole Marina, along with a troop of Girl Scouts with whom I had traveled by bus from Colorado for a weeklong sail from Seattle to Victoria. She was then a 60 year old, 133 foot double masted schooner, whose claim to fame was having the tallest mast on a schooner in the United States.

Had it not been for leading music at an event at my Colorado hometown I would not have been there, being a broke college graduate, but the sponsor of the event paid my way if I agreed to bring my guitar. And so, I found myself boarding her gleaming wood decks and settling in with the scouts to be her crew on the open Salish Sea.

One week later, we returned to the dock and within two weeks, I had quit my job and moved to Seattle with no job and no place to stay, accompanied by my immigrant mother who celebrated busting into new adventures. She left me with an old car and about $200 to get me started on my new life.

I had been thinking about The Adventuress these last five days as I walked the marina near our hotel in Everett, where we have been staying while potential buyers perused our home to see if they could imagine themselves there.

The first morning, a particular ship caught my attention. Her name was emblazoned on her vintage hull: Arabesque. I must admit when I first noticed the giant capital A on the hull, my heart skipped a beat as I imagined this was the ship that lured me here. I dismissed the thought, though, for if the Adventuress were still sea worthy, she would be in Seattle or on Lake Washington.

But it did not keep me from my hope

oh, that I could see her one more time.

On our last day before returning home, my husband accompanied me on my morning walk in the brisk air. As we neared the waterfront mall about a mile from our hotel, the sidewalk was blocked by construction. We had gone far enough, I thought, and then felt compelled to go around the blockage and head a different way to where the ships floated against the docks.

We rounded the corner. There she was…the Arabesque.

And then I noticed a gaggle of teenagers on the deck of a new ship moored behind the Arabesque - one that was larger, double masted, with a majestic bow sprit.

Could it be?

We approached and tears started to flow. On the hull, in its original writing, was the ship’s name: The Adventuress. She was here. She had come to say goodbye.

I approached one of the crew members who introduced me to Peter, the director, after she heard my story. “She sailed this ship in ‘74,” she called out.

I told Peter, as some teens eavesdropped, that a week on that ship had caused me to return home, quit my job, and move to Seattle to be near that sea we had sailed. He turned to address the teenagers near him.

“The Adventuress changes people,” he said.

That schooner embraced me 48 years ago and trapped me in her spell. I sat on her deck in the evening and learned to tie knots that would hold against pressure. I slept under the stars on the deck serenaded by the lull of the waves and the whispers of night skies. I sang my sorrows into the sea, and I survived jumping off the ship into the frigid waters just to prove I could. And in the rolling seas, I sat on that bow sprit and became a wave cowgirl, hoping the net beneath me would hold if I were bucked off.

The Adventuress embraced me and changed my life’s course that summer in 1974. And these last five days as I wandered the marina, my heart’s cry had become to see her one more time… without knowing why.

And then today, in ways that defy reason, she found a way to say goodbye. She was placed in this slip, on this marina, in this unexpected place, on this day, at this precise time, as she was being readied to set sail.

She was waiting for me.

This now 109 year old sailing schooner could not let me leave these shores without giving me one last gift…the gift of letting go…of saying goodbye and doing what all adventurers must do…

…leave a certain shore and plunge headlong into unknown waters.


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