Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Curve of Time

I feel like a high school student writing a book report. Back then, the objective was to please the teacher and get a good grade. But now, my objective is for this to inspire you to find a copy of this book and to read it.  I don't know if I can make that transition...

The book is The Curve of Time, by M. Wylie Blanchet (ISBN 1-58005-072-7). If you cruise the Pacific Northwest waters on your own boat, or if you do it vicariously from your armchair, or if you would just like to look thru a window into this region as it existed in the 1920's and 1930's, you want this book.

The book is autobiographical; it describes the adventures Ms. Blanchet (Capi) experienced while cruising with her 5 children and a dog aboard Caprice, their 26 foot powerboat.  That is it, in brief.  It is a lyrical and yet detailed view of a storyland world.

But that is too succinct.  I mentioned lyrical - here is a short quote from the forward to tempt you:

"Time did not exist; or if it did it did not matter.  Our world then was both wide and narrow - wide in the immensity of the sea and mountain; narrow in that the boat was very small, and we lived and camped, explored and swam in a little realm of our own making..."

In 1926, Capi's husband, Geoffrey Blanchet, went out on a day trip on the boat.  He did not return.  Caprice was later recovered. But rather than sell the boat, which had to be a constant reminder of the tragedy, Capi instead made it her summer residence.  That says a lot about the woman.  She was courageous, with a will of iron.  Those would lead you to picture a "Rosie the riviter" kind of woman - and you would be wrong.   Capi was not by any means "rough"  -  instead she was by many measures a most civilized person.  She brought an artist's eye to what she did, how she viewed it, and how she recorded it.

The Curve of Time was recommended to us by David and Linda aboard Northern Explorer.  They had a dog-eared copy aboard that they pulled out when they were cruising up north in Desolation Sound, reading from it to each other the passages and chapters relevant to their current locale.

You would not think that a woman who would repair a broken distributor with a hairpin would write like this (randomly chosen passage from page 54, writing about an abandoned Indian village):

We stayed three days in that village; anchored three nights beneath the trees-of-the-dead.  After all, if it were the whispers and echoes of the past we wanted - here they were.

But we left on the fourth day on account of a dog - or rather a kind of dog.  There is always the same kind of peculiar silence about all these old villages - it is hard to explain unless you have felt it.  After wandering and sketching there for three days, without seeing a sign of anything living except the ravens and owls, a little brown dog suddently and silently appeared at my feet.  There is only one way of getting into the village - from the water by the beach.  The forest behind has no trails and is practically impenetrable.  Yet, one minute the dog was not, and then, there it was.  I blinked several times and looked awkwardly the other way...  but when I looked back it was still there.

I spoke to it - but not a sound or movement did it make - it was just softly there.  I coaxed, but there was no sign that it had heard.  I had a feeling that if I tried to touch it, my hand might pass right through.

Finally, with a horrible prickling sensation in my spine, I left it and went down to the beach.  As I reached the dinghy, I glanced over my shoulder to where I had left the dog - it was gone!  But as I turned to undo the rope, it was on the beach beside me.
Later in the morning I said to John [her young son] - John had been waiting for me in the dinghy at the time -

"John, about that dog..."
"What dog?" interrupted John, busy with a fish-hook.
"That little brown dog that was on the beach."
"Oh that!" said John, still very busy.  "That wasn't a usual dog."

I left it at that - that was what I had wanted to know.
OK, I admit that choosing that one passage cost me a lot of time - I might have read a quarter of the book in doing so.  It really pulls you in.

I will leave you with one final passage to savor - the first words of the first chapter.  Get the book.  It is wonderful. Reading a chapter out loud, at anchor, in the evening is like a dessert - rich and fulfilling. Get the book.

On board our boat one summer we had a book by Maurice Maeterlinck called The Fourth Dimension, the fourth dimension being Time - which, according to Dunne, doesn't exist in itself, but is always relative to a person who has the idea of Time.  Maeterlinck used a curve to illustrate Dunne's theory.  Standing in the Present, on the highest point of the curve, you can look back and see the Past, or forward and see the Future, all in the same instant.  Or, if you stand off to one side of the curve, as I am doing, your eye wanders from one to the other without any distinction.



Cathy said...

There are a bunch of used copies available via amazon.com. I just ordered one!


bob said...


I don't think you'll be disappointed. Try not to read it all at once - make it last as long as you can!


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