Saturday, November 22, 2014


seascape: smell of gray

They are visible, completely outlined by their lights, two ships anchored offshore overnight. On the horizon. Couple miles out? it's hard to judge distances at sea. Merchant ships. They were there when I went to bed and they are there now. The sunsets are beautiful, sometimes magnificent, but what I like best about being here and so high up and able to see so far may be the sea, its sound in the dark with the sliding door cracked, and its ships. Even the best Navy years were the ships. 

A warship not only is but feels very different from a cruise ship. It’s no nonsense. Gray. And the smell. The smell: a Navy ship has a smell that comes back to me in this darkness. What was it? Paint? I don’t remember, paint? oil? the oil in the paint? steel, does steel have a smell? It’s not the salt sea, what then, I don’t remember, but passageways, storerooms, when you go inside, below decks, every space, every void has that smell. Best was the destroyer, fifty-five years ago, everything about it, steel, sailors and smell. 

Someone who served in her years ago wrote online that from where he lives he can see the USS TRIPOLI tied up at her dock. I can see her too, but she's at sea. At sea I used to check every one of my spaces every evening after supper. Took a couple hours. That was forty-five years ago and I don’t recall how many spaces, several dozen or more, up and down ladders, deep in the ship, some interior spaces and some against the skin of the ship where you could hear the sea rushing by, and feel it if you touched the steel. Outside your stateroom and the wardroom you wore your hat if only because coming up a ladder into the wheel of a closed hatch it gave you protection; but the smell, I remember the smell. You get used to it, but you never don’t smell it. 

It makes the rest of the world smell strange. 

Eventually it leaves your nostrils. It left me that 1971 morning as I drove out of San Diego for the last time. I wonder if those merchant ships offshore have it. If they’re as clean as a U. S. Navy warship I bet they do. It must be paint then, eh? What? The smell of gray.

Coffee this early morning, a soft chair that leans back comfortably, a warm light blanket over legs and lap, sound of the sea and lights: two ships on the horizon.

Do the ships give me wanderlust? No, not wanderlust: memories, but no longing. They complete the scene. What’s the sea without ships?


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