Wednesday, September 5, 2012

"Wild-ocean born, and wild-ocean nurtured..."

One more Chicago-inspired post. 

On Saturday we made the hike out along the Lakefront Trail to the Adler Planetarium (and the best views of the Chicago skyline, by the way.) The weather was turning, there was plenty of spray coming off the seawall, and lots of whitecaps out on the Lake. Having finished Moby Dick  so recently, the scene brought to mind the following passage, where Ishmael tells a group of Peruvian sailors about that special breed of sailor known as a ‘Lakeman.’ (The paragraph breaks are mine- I just put them in where Melville should have:)
“Now, gentlemen, in square-sail brigs and three-masted ships, well nigh as large and stout as any that ever sailed out of your old Callao to far Manilla, this Lakeman, in the land-locked heart of our America, had yet been nurtured by all those agrarian freebooting impressions popularly connected with the open ocean. 
"For in their interflowing aggregate, those grand fresh-water seas of ours,-Erie, and Ontario, and Huron, and Superior, and Michigan,- possess an ocean-like expansiveness, with many of the ocean’s noblest traits; with many of its rimmed varieties of races and of climes.   
"They contain round archipelagoes of romantic isles, even as the Polynesian waters do; in large part, are shored by two great contrasting nations, as the Atlantic is; they furnish long maritime approaches to our numerous territorial colonies in the East, dotted all round their banks; here and there are frowned upon by batteries, and by the goat-like craggy guns of lofty Mackinaw; they have yet heard the fleet thundering of naval victories; at intervals, they yield their beaches to wild barbarians, whose red painted faces flash from out their peltry wigwams; for leagues and leagues are flanked by ancient and unentered forests, where the gaunt pines stand like serried lines of kings in gothic genealogies; those same woods harboring wild Afric beasts of prey, and silken creatures whose exported furs give robes to Tartar Emperors; they mirror the paved capital of Buffalo and Cleveland, as well as Winnebago villages; they float alike the full-rigged merchant ship, and the beech canoe; they are swept by Borean and dismasting blasts as direful as any that lash the salted wave; they know what shipwrecks are, for out of sight of land, however inland, they have drowned full many a midnight ship with all its shrieking crew. 
"Thus gentlemen, though an inlander, Steelkilt was wild-ocean born, and wild-ocean nurtured; as much of an audacious mariner as any.”

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