and members long gone, trophies, white
table linens, and red-brocade furniture.
An island skinnier than six football
fields at its fattest, and less than a mile long,
Useppa serves up a story of the earth itself
and a nuanced cultural history of the
United States. Useppa was once part of
the continental mass, visited by Paleo-
Indians at least 10,000 years ago. By 3,000
B.C., when rising seawater had rendered
it a ridge of an island, Calusa Indians
came from the mainland in spring and
summer. They used this land well into
the 1700s, when, historian William H.
Marquardt says, “they succumbed to slav-
ery, warfare, and disease.”
By the late 1700s, Useppa was a Cuban
fishing camp, and Union troops camped
here during the American Civil War.
Just before World War I, the industrial-
ist Barron Collier bought the island and
turned it into an enclave for the wealthy.
In an ironic full circle, during the 1960s
the CIA used Useppa for training soldiers
to invade Cuba. This island has survived
rising seas, tectonic shifts, continental
reorganization, disease, slavery, avarice,
war, and hurricanes. Useppa is not only
beautiful; she’s tough and resilient. Layer
by layer, this is our country.
Dance of the boat mates
Having John and Angie aboard for several days was a treat. We’ve shared boats
before. John and I have been close friends
since childhood and tolerate each other’s
idiosyncrasies with amusement. We’ve
known Angie for decades, too – one of
the world’s most naturally gracious people.
These are the kind of folks you want on
a boat, where there are long hours uninterrupted by the demands of familiar routine,
where you catch up on all the little things.
How IS your cousin Elaine? Did your
sister sell her house? Whatever happened
to old so-and-so? Sprinkled through ram-
bling conversations, these details piece
together a richer picture of where each of
us is, chats occasionally interrupted by the
delight of seeing pods of fat little dolphins,
which reminded me of the marshmallows
my grandmother kept in a covered bowl
near her reading chair.
Somehow, traveling on a boat inspires
us to a more thoughtful day in which
the unexpected becomes the adventure.
There’s something about breaking away
and toddling around a new place on a
boat that makes it easier every evening
to grin and think, “Wow, today was a
good day in my life.” On board, boat life
encourages a kinder give-and-take.
When moving between levels, for
instance, one is likely to sashay aside to
make way for the other – a moment of
mutual civility and respect for space often
missing in our daily lives. We slide into
the shadow to allow another the space to
pass in the light. When I noticed Angie
and Bernadette both step aside to let the
other proceed up or down the companionway, what struck me were their silent
smiles. But I also thought about the word
“companionway,” that not-quite-here and
not-quite-there space between levels of
one’s world – “com” and “pan” combine
to give us “one who breaks bread with
another.” Seems right to me.
For Bernadette and me, our last day
of breaking bread aboard was in Ding
Darling Harbor. We still hadn’t seen a
green flash – a sighting for another day,
perhaps, or another trip. We anchored
early so we had time to swim, clean the
boat, take in the peaceful mangrove scene,
and still get NautiGator back home on
time. We conjured a feast from what was
left in the fridge. That day it was omelets
with salmon, cherry tomatoes, Brussels
sprouts, feta cheese – and, of course, bread
we could break together.
Douglas Bernon is a Rhode Island psychologist and psychoanalyst. He and Bernadette
lived aboard their 39-foot sailboat, Ithaka.
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