by Ray Jason
It’s early morning down here in the Banana Latitudes, and I am savoring the languor of the Tropics. Sitting in the shade, with my back against the mast, I notice a small cayuco emerge from a nearby creek and steer directly towards me. Suddenly it feels like I have been swept back to the era of Captain Cook when the natives would row out to the visiting ships to trade with the sailors.
However, this local trader turns out to be a seven year old boy - with a cargo of coconuts and chickens. I happily purchase four green “drinking nuts.” When he offers me a fine hen, I pantomime what a hilarious ordeal it would be for me to control an unhappy chicken aboard a small sailing boat. He laughs vigorously, flashing beautiful white teeth undamaged by sugar and civilization. It pleases me to know that when he returns from school later today he will not vicariously butcher hundreds of “bad guys” on some video game screen. Instead, he will fish for supper with some line coiled around a stick.
He notices a cable attached to my boat that is dangling in the water and asks me what it is for. I tell him that it is protection against “relampago,” which is the Spanish word for lightning. I try to explain the principle that if the lightning hit my mast it would travel down this wire and back into the water instead of inside the boat where it could destroy my electrical equipment. With an innocence born of living in the authentic, natural world, he asks, “But what would that do to the nearby fish?” Nice priorities, I think to myself – living creatures more precious than radars and radios.
His reverence for the real world – for the non-human built world – touches me, and so I go below and grab a bottle of cooking oil from my own trade goods stash. I pass it down to him so that he can give it to his mother when he returns from school. He smiles and thanks me and rows away.
This sweet, fleeting encounter penetrated to some deep region of my core being that I suspect I had been avoiding for a good while. After slicing open one of the coconuts with my machete, I return to my spot beside the mast and sip my Tarzan Tea. Meanwhile, my mind tries to identify what I had been so rigorously ignoring for the last few months.
The answer does not emerge while I drink the sweet coconut water, nor does it appear during my breakfast of scrambled eggs and papaya. But it does reveal itself during my morning row. About 50 yards away from AVENTURA, it jolts me so dramatically that I put down my oars and drift. Seeing my lovely boat in this exquisite lagoon with the sparsely-peopled jungle behind her, reminds me of how extraordinarily different my sea gypsy life is now.
In 1992, when I first sailed away from it all to wander the Wide Waters, my desire was to seek experiences just like this one with the young Indio boy and his floating chicken-vending operation. Back then, the so-called “real world” did not feel at all “real” or authentic to me. It seemed artificial and empty and vapid. I thirsted for Life in its more elemental and almost feral essence. To cast my fate to the wind and visit lovely out-of-the-way places and befriend the exotic people who lived there, seemed like the ultimate expression of free and joyous living.
The days passed happily during those early sea gypsy years. Along the way, I shared many of my adventures with readers in the sailing magazines. This led to my first book, Tales of a Sea Gypsy, (Amazon link here) which is a light-hearted collection of stories about the misadventures of sailors and locals that I met in my wanderings. Had my life continued in that bliss-rich manner until my final anchorage hove into sight, I would have appraised it as a life well spent.
But about ten years ago, everything seemed to change. There was no single moment of epiphany, but a gradual awareness of a massive looming darkness enshrouding the planet. I had grown up with the nuclear war Doomsday Clock ticking malevolently in the background, but fortunately the fall of the USSR had diminished that apocalyptic prospect.
However, even though this new foreboding was less distinct, it was equally disturbing. The emergence of the Internet in the New Millennium allowed almost everyone to observe global trends that were previously hidden by those in power, whom I refer to as The Malignant Overlords. My conclusion was that there were three cataclysmic vectors that were accelerating and that could cause horrific societal ruptures. I dubbed these The Big Bad “E”s. They are Energy, Economy and Ecology.
Energy. The insatiable needs of the modern techno-industrial society require an ever increasing flow of liquid petroleum. But because oil is a non-renewable, one dividend only resource, much of what is perceived as normal living will be swiftly destroyed when the fuel flow becomes too unreliable or too expensive – or both.
Economy. Globalization has fostered such profound inter-connectedness in the realms of commerce and banking that the entire planet is vulnerable if one economy collapses. The amount of un-payable debt sloshing around the world’s banking systems and the seemingly insane faith in fiat currencies, are only two examples of the dangers that threaten the stability of the house of cards that the global economy has become.
Ecology. A stunning number of influential people still believe that there can be infinite growth on a finite planet. They delude themselves with the assurance that somehow technology will rescue us and offset the metastasizing increase in population, resource extraction and pollution. Gaia is showing dozens of symptoms of terminal illness, but these are largely being ignored.
And as if these three are not severe enough, a fourth “E” has recently arisen which is possibly even more suicidal. That would be Empire. The U.S. foreign policy geniuses have decided to reignite the Cold War by their proxy revolution and civil war in the Ukraine. These insane “diplomats” are scratching and clawing to retain their imperialistic fantasies of the United States ruling the world. Tragically, through their efforts to demonize Russia and China, they are playing with fire – thermonuclear fire – end of the human species fire!
As I increasingly recognized how desperate the human existential situation was becoming, it no longer felt appropriate for me to use whatever writing talent I may have by merely spinning whimsical tales from my eccentric travels. That’s because I am
blessed with that strange genome that wants to help make the world a slightly
better place. And so I have dedicated my
recent years to writing these essays in order to alert people to the dire
possibilities that may lie ahead. Certainly,
I hope that my cautionary advice is misguided; and that it will just be a
source of amusement to me in my final days.
But I still feel compelled to share my message as powerfully and
poetically as possible.
However, that does not mean I have to live a gloomy, morose daily existence. Today’s encounter with the seven year old poultry entrepreneur reminded me of what a delight this sea gypsy life truly is. And perhaps next time he offers me a hen, I will buy one. Watching its antics on a sailing boat should certainly distract me from Armageddon!