Rödhamn: Remembering a (not so) distant past

Caption: The "6" on the red tag is the number of bread loaves that we'll get delivered tomorrow morning here in Rödhamn.

I got inspired today by reading old journal entries. I happened to bring along the logbook that we keep on Arcturus – the journal logbook, the one with stories in, not the official navigation one – on a short walk Mia and I took this afternoon, and started from the beginning when I stopped to have a seat in the outhouse (these are everywhere in the archipelago I’m learning. Some nicer than others…).

The entry I turned to talked about our first trip on the boat to Florida. How we’d left Fishing Bay in Deltaville with my parents standing on the dock waving us goodbye, “for too long,” I wrote, meaning that the small twinge in my heart from leaving home lingered a little longer than I would have liked it to. I’ve left home many, many times over the past ten years, always to return (even now), but for some reason that one felt more permanent. Maybe because of the transition from life as a kid living with my parents to life as an (almost) adult, living with my partner, but that’s probably reading in a little too much psychology. For whatever reason, I recall that day being sad, and reading that entry today brought back that memory.

I also started re-reading the book that I published in 2010. Yes, I published a book (email me for a copy). Not so much a book as a collection of essays I wrote while traveling, but in book form nonetheless. I’m more proud of this now than I was at the time. It’s rough around the edges – I deliberately did not edit it, so there are loads of grammatical and punctuation errors throughout – because I wanted it to be ‘pure’ (or maybe was just too lazy to actually do the work). 

I can’t write like that anymore. Which is why the further away that time gets, the more important it feels to me. The better it feels to me in hindsight. Both the writing and the memories. I suppose this is true with any passion that turns into a paying job, but once I started writing professionally, I’ve felt I’ve lost some sort of creativity. It’s not often anymore that I just sit down and write what’s on my mind. There is always a reason behind writing now, always an audience in mind beyond myself. So I feel limited in a way, despite having the freedom now to write for a greater purpose.

Interestingly, the memories about which I have written also change in a way. There are several ‘chapters’ (read: ‘essays’) in my book that deal with the month I lived in Prague (my favorite of which is titled ‘All Aboard for Bohemia’ – which ironically I later turned into a paid article for the online travel magazine Transitions Abroad – a title I ‘borrowed’ (read: stole) from my friend Michael, who has used that as an email subject to introduce himself to his fellow expats before we all arrived. Michael and I ended up traveling to Ireland together after the TEFL course, and climbed the nation’s highest peak, in February, in the snow. Another of my favorite essays in fact). ANYHOW, at the time, I know I did not entirely enjoy that stay in Prague. I was living alone in a decrepit apartment far outside the city (the second to last stop on the subway line), Mia was back in Sweden, it was winter and I had no idea how to find my way around the city or how to speak the language (and nobody spoke English – one reason I was there for a TEFL course). 

But in reading the essays I wrote about that time, I’m rather nostalgic. I almost wrote ‘oddly nostalgic,’ but then again I don’t think it’s odd. I think it’s quite normal, if not interesting. Why, and how, do we take memories that at the time, we know felt uncomfortable and distasteful, and turn them into some of the fondest recollections of our lives?

Precisely because they were uncomfortable, I say. In the very first chapter of my ‘book’, I write about how I’m at my best when I’m outside my comfort zone. When experiences are new and fresh, and life is slightly scary. At the time I had no job, no boat, no debt, no expectations, nothing. Just Mia (whom I had only met a few months before), and my dreams. That’s a scary feeling, but it’s what makes you. Without that discomfort, what is there to learn about yourself?

And so it is that I’m writing tonight about these uncomfortable memories, for they are the ones that are going to stick. Tonight, I’ll admit, there is little discomfort, but I think this one will stick anyway. 

We sailed the ten miles down from Mariehamn, the capital of Åland, earlier this afternoon, and arrived in this idyllic little harbor they call Rödhamn, a harbor full of maritime history and overflowing with natural beauty and the warm hospitality of friendly strangers. We walked out to the old radio station, which is now a museum (situated on the eastern side of the island on the red granite cliffs overlooking the sea), and came back to the small cabin for a bottle of wine and a game of cards. The couple that runs the place – Annette and Christian, who have a small wooden café/office/boathouse, where they keep the little open wooden launch that brings them fresh supplies every couple days, and who have no electricity or running water – is bringing us fresh baked bread tomorrow morning, and has invited us for a sauna before we leave tomorrow afternoon, ‘the prettiest sauna in Finland,’ we’re told, on the rocks to the north. There are perhaps half a dozen other sailing boats here, and we’re all moored to the rocks stern to the sea, with lines tied off to morning balls behind us, and sheltered by the neighboring islands to the north, south and west. 

Mia just went to bed, and the sun has only just set behind the hills to west. I’m content.