Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Rainbow Connection

Our "Welcome to Manchester" rainbow

The first sight that greeted my husband and I when we pulled up alongside our rental house early this May was a rainbow. We’d loaded my minivan and our moving van in the pouring rain with the help of two friends. The rain pelted so hard on the freeway I couldn’t see the car in front of me with my windshield wipers on high. But the weather cleared as we entered Port Orchard and crested Mile Hill Road, and as we parked outside our new home, the expansive water view was crowned with a rainbow.

I’m with Kermit (the Frog): I love rainbows and songs about rainbows. I remember singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in elementary school choir and sitting in my bedroom with the sheet music, practicing over and over until I could sing the verses by heart.

Then, there was “The Rainbow Connection,” sung by Kermit in The Muppet Movie, which was released just weeks after I graduated from high school. “Rainbow Connection” became a favorite of mine when Kenny Loggins recorded it on his lullaby album Return to Pooh Corner in 1994. My children were three and six at the time, and we listened to that album most every night for years as we wound down for sleep.

In the midst of my life as a wife and mother some of the words spoke quietly to me:

Have you been half asleep
and have you heard voices?
I’ve heard them calling my name…

I’ve heard it too many times to ignore it
it’s something that I’m supposed to be

Over time that voice grew more insistent, and like Kermit, I couldn’t ignore it. It was time to leave the swamp for Hollywood; I mean it was time to follow what felt like God calling me (in a wordless way) to write and also into ministry.

In my ministry, I came across the music of Dan Damon, a United Methodist pastor, music minister at one of our Conference’s largest churches. One of my favorites, “I will set my bow in the clouds” begins with this stanza:

I will set my bow in the clouds
as I sign of my love for you;
as a sign of my promise
to all the earth,
Visible where gray sky meets blue.

Much as a thrill to rainbows and songs about them, I hadn’t seen many of them in my life. Maybe as I kid I was always inside on rainy days, entertaining myself with Kiddle dolls and books, not interested in looking at the windows, of scanning the sky for its stories.

Even in the rainforest of the Santa Cruz Mountains where I lived twenty-five years, and where there was plenty of rain, I didn’t see rainbows. Maybe the storms were too intense for there to be breaks in the clouds, maybe we were too hemmed in by hills and valleys, maybe there were too many trees, so that when I looked out, all I saw was branches.
First rainbow sighting in Washington on the Long Beach Peninsula

I saw a rainbow or two in our two years on Bainbridge Island as my husband and I leaned closer to the voices that had called us out of California to discover what our new life in Washington would bring.

My writer’s studio was the first early dream, and when a traditional job didn’t come for my husband, a new vocation formed as we listened to those small voices: If you could do anything, what would it be?

We moved, sold our house, and are using the proceeds to fund our project house. We have no salary, no income, no investments other than in ourselves. My younger self would’ve been racked with fear and worry, and truthfully, my younger self never would’ve taken the risk. She didn’t know how to trust.

This time thirty-four years ago I met Kevin in a Rhetoric class and broke up with my fiancĂ© to date him. I was that certain we had a future. And here we are, married thirty-two years, having lived through better and worse, sickness and health, richer, and poorer. (We wrote our own vows, but I appreciate the acknowledgment in traditional vows that married life isn’t all kittens, flowers, and rainbows--just mostly.)

Right now we’re on the side of risk that can look like free fall if you don’t know what it feels like to fly. So we fly, navigating the unknown, certain only in our faith in each other and the leading of those small voices that call us to something we are supposed to be.

Lately, it seems all I have to do is look up from pruning the hedges, or lift my gaze from the magazine on the dining room table, or out my office window, and there are rainbows in the sunbreaks. Full rainbows and double rainbows, some brilliantly hued, others muted.
Full rainbow seen from our yard while pruning trees

Double rainbow from our deck

Another double rainbow, second is faint & coming out from behind tree on right.

Today's full rainbow, spotted from my office window.

Sunday shortly after I’d spotted the fin of an endangered killer whale in the distance a bald eagle flew through a rainbow. All that incredibleness without leaving the house!

A Bald Eagle flew through the rainbow on the left. The one on the right appeared shortly afterward.

Quick moving clouds, open space, water—clearly I’ve moved to an environment ripe with the meteorological conditions rainbows enjoy. But I prefer the prescientific and Biblical explanation of the prisms gracing my view.

Rainbow over Seattle.

Signs, symbols, promises. My life is rich with them.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Ship Happens

I never considered myself a rubber necker, slowing down to ogle cars stalled alongside freeways, but I've always been a curious neighbor, speculating about the activities of those around me. Now that we live in view of shipping lanes and a Navy fuel dock, I find myself grabbing my camera and binoculars to get a better look at the ship traffic outside my window.

Thanks to the marine traffic website, I can pull up the name and type of the commercial and naval ships I see, find out their previous ports and their next. But of course, there's more I want to know. And what I've found out, I'm sharing here. Why? Well, why not? I took some great photos, and have amassed a storehouse of trivia.

Here's some of it:

On weekends, pleasure boaters set sail for Blake Island or the southern boot of Bainbridge Island, and then sail back to Seattle. There were also a number of cruise ships heading to Alaska from Seattle this summer, which is a great way to see Southeast Alaska, most of it only accessible by boat or plane.

Sailboats nearing the southern boot of Bainbridge Island. 
The Bainbridge Island ferry heading past cruise ships docked in Seattle.

Several times this summer and into September huge container ships have anchored in the water between Manchester and Blake Island, a half-mile or so dead east of our house, and barges have pulled alongside them, unloading and loading cargo in the dark of night, lights ablaze, the beep-beep of forklifts moving in reverse audible from our bedroom.

Container ship anchored near our house one afternoon.

At sunrise the next morning the ship had been unloaded, and had also spun with the tide.

I've watched an otherwise empty ship pour dirt from its hold onto a waiting barge, wondering if it's ballast, though my Internet research has revealed that ballast is usually water—and its discharge is the most common and difficult to control reason invasive species are introduced into new marine environments. I speculate the dirt is a way to keep foreign water critters out of Puget Sound, but I have no way of knowing if that's true.

Notice the barge filled with dirt near the stern, and a tug near the bow

If the dirt's not ballast, there's a market for Chinese soil somewhere in North America. I haven't been able to figure it out.

Most days dozens of industrial sized ships ply the east side of the Sound, bringing with them cheap toys, clothes, and trinkets that line the shelves of The Dollar Tree, WalMart, and Target. The ships, headed to and from port in Seattle and Tacoma, are often stacked with colorful containers, the contents of which—my research has revealed—are not usually weighed both directly before and after loading at the docks, so that when cargo is lost at sea, and it often is in rough weather, it is impossible to know the specific items and value of what has gone overboard. Additionally, containers that are insulated do not fully sink, and float just under water, becoming a hazard to other ships.

Container ship as seen from the Bremerton Ferry approaching Seattle.
We were very close, and slowed down and changed course to avoid a collision.

Currently there are no standardized regulations for international shipping, and it appears, that our ocean floors are littered with our manufactured debris, just like our freeways, riverbanks, and outer space.

Despite that, it's hard not to marvel at the sheer size and scope of our industry; the way we have circumnavigated our globe, connecting humanity to one other, if not through faith and goodwill, then through commerce.


In July, the day before my birthday, I saw a submarine—it wasn't listed on the marine traffic website—but it was unmistakable, and using my telescope, I could even see an American flag flying from the bridge (my husband wondered if they'd pop the hatch to bring the flag in before submerging).

To the west of us, inside the Hood Canal, there's a Naval nuclear submarine station, and closer by, in Bremerton, a naval shipyard. It seems that the submarine came from the shipyard, through the Sinclair Inlet from Bremerton through the Strait of Port Orchard and Rich Passage into the Sound near the Naval dock before it headed North past Seattle for points unknown.

Submarine in the Sound.

I have seen a Navy operations vessel and two different heavy lift naval vessels at the fuel dock. With a large flat expanse between the bow and stern, the lift vessels are able to partially submerge and lift smaller vessels up out of the water at sea. One, the John Glenn, was docked here nearly a month before it set sail. It's now stationed along the Columbia River east of Portland.

From our perch a half-mile away, the ships at 389 meters (a standard length it seems for tankers) seem big, especially when a Washington State Ferry (that holds 144 cars plus passengers) travels nearby to add perspective.

Navy operations vessel.

Heavy lift vessel at dock. Smoke stacks on the bow.
Black tower is the stern. Ferry traveling in the background.

Being on the water, though, even at a distance, the ships tower like behemoths, dwarfing kayakers and pleasure boaters alike.

My dear friends kayaking to nearby Blake Island with the John Glenn in the background.

The U.S.S. Constellation, or "Connie" as she's known to locals, is an aircraft carrier built in 1961 (the year I was born) that served in the Viet Nam war, and had been languishing, mothballed (like the ones in the Strait of Carquinez off I-680 for my California readers) at the Naval shipyard in Bremerton, until she was sold for scrap metal.

The recycler is getting a penny a pound to transport her to Brownsville, Texas, where she will be dismantled. In August she began her journey, slowly maneuvered by tugs from the inlet through the strait. Retired navy men and curious onlookers, lined the road to watch her progress, and she spent more than an hour in full view of our deck, where we had wine and cheese to mark the historic occasion.

The Constellation exiting the Strait of Port Orchard and Rich Passage into the Sound.
Three tugs engaged in the maneuver. Washington State Ferry to the rear.

Our happy hour view of the massive aircraft carrier.

Too wide to fit through the Panama Canal, and unable to sail under her own power since she's been decommissioned, Connie is being pulled to her destination, around the southern tip of South America and into Texas by the tug Corbin Foss. The vessels left Bremerton on August 8, and are currently sheltering in Argentina, after repairs to correct listing to port. They're now waiting for weather to clear before the journey around Cape Horn resumes.

Tugs turning Connie 180 degrees.
The Corbin Foss is pulling Connie to her destination. 

The U.S.S. Constellation led by the Corbin Foss into her new life as recycled scrap metal.

The tugs are amazing to watch. I saw a trio of them spin a heavy lift vessel 180 degrees mid-channel, then push it to the Navy fuel dock: patient, powerful, skillful, precise. It took over an hour to dock. They remind me—on days when I feel small and doubt that my contributions have any impact on the world—that commitment to purpose makes positive change possible, even when it seems imperceptible in the moment.

And the tugs are everywhere, day and night, often working two to three against the side of ship. And so I leave you with them: agents of change, harbingers of hope.

Tugs maneuvering a heavy lift vessel to the Navy fuel dock