I'm on a 34-foot sailboat in Monterey Bay. It's Christmas Eve day. I'm at the wheel, my friend Steve coaching me, gentle course corrections. A curl of his long white hair is caught in a spiraling current of air, a finger of the breeze that bellies out the sails. I almost convince myself that I can feel it, can feel when the wind takes her, yeah maybe I'm starting to get it, rolling the wheel by instinct, so what if I come from the desert, so what if I don't know enough to call them lines instead of ropes, I've got this.
"It's starting to luff," says Steve. Damn. He's right, the sail clapping sarcastically. I'm not even sure which way to steer to fix it.
It doesn't matter. I get us close enough to the buoy to see seals lounging around its base in the sun. Closer still and they're not even conscious enough to lounge, they're out, kay-o'ed, not one of them gives enough of a shit about us to even lift an eyelid. The buoy makes its call, skipper Eric says the light is solar-powered, the horn sounding from the motion of the buoy in the water.
"It sounds rather depressing," says Steve.
"Whonk," says Eric.
"Mom," says Dan. I hear its voice calling out over the waves: Mom....Mom...Mom....
Sun shines off the water like a gemstone spill. How can I write about a perfect day? About the sea otter kicking backward through the water on its back, wind taking the boat, the feel of her speeding beneath me to meet it when I get it just right, homemade baklava. Dan hands me a brimming cup of water, not a drop spilled, he laughs at his running attempts to pour from the bottle, but success in the end.
I start to feel the cold, the only reason I'm happy to turn back toward shore. We approach the harbor and tell stories, the stories turning grim, sad, until we get to the one of the woman who tried to kill herself with a knife and all her pills. Steve was her social services person, found her just in time, her bloody footprints all over the room, "She was a pacer," says Steve.
We're quiet. A long minute before Steve refreshes his voice, asks why talk about this when we're here? Maybe because we want to remember: this is a gift, this is rare.
Eric makes a neat three-point turn to bring her into the slip. "No blood, no gel paint," he says.
That's how you know it's a good day.