There is a transition between Christmas and New Year’s Eve that is special. The old year has all but passed, and everyone around the world looks forward to the promise that the coming year brings. I hope this special week gives you a chance to relax while renewing your spirit. It’s time to wrap up loose ends while laying out your plans for the New Year.
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This is Christmas Island in the United States Virgin Islands. If you look closely, you’ll see the pine trees decorated with Christmas balls.
It’s my kind of island, a place where you can have Christmas every day of the year while basking in the warm tropical sun. Santa Claus should be so lucky.
Once in a while, you see a pirate ship laying at anchor. Nobody pays it any mind perhaps because residents and guests there are pirates at heart.
It’s surprising this isn’t the only Christmas Island in the world. There’s a Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean, 220 miles south of Java.
It’s called Christmas Island because it was named by Captain William Mynors on Christmas Day 1643. It’s a territory of Australia, though I don’t think any country should have a monopoly on any island honoring Christmas.
Moreover, I think everyone should have their own Christmas Island where they can be free of the worries and turmoil that seems to be everywhere in the world today.
Albert Einstein once said, “How I wish somewhere there existed an island for those who are wise and of good will.” That’s my wish for you.
In this coming year I hope you find your own island to retreat to when life presses down on you. Maybe it’s as close as your own backyard or a quiet corner of your home.
Wherever you voyage this holiday season, I wish you the merriest of Christmases and smooth sailing into the New Year.
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Mermaids have appeared in the oral and written traditions of cultures for thousands of years. According to a Syrian myth, 3,000 years old, the beautiful goddess, Atargatis, dove into the sea to become a fish. Smitten with her beauty, the gods intervened and let only the bottom half of her body transform itself.
A thousand years later, Pliny the Elder, a well-educated Roman philosopher and naturalist, not only believed in the existence of mermaids but described them in what was the prototype of the modern encyclopedia.
And though most people are familiar with mermaids, I bet many aren’t familiar with their close relatives, water sprites or naiads. The difference is that mermaids are physical beings like humans whereas naiads are less physical and more spirit. Most will not harm you unless disturbed. I know a lot of women today who are like that.
People who dismiss mermaids as a fairy tale are making a big mistake. Throughout history, quite a few intelligent people have sworn to sighting mermaids. Christopher Columbus in his journal noted that he and his men spotted three mermaids in the Caribbean just off Haiti though he was not impressed with them. In fact, he thought they were downright ugly.
I can’t help but wonder what the mermaids thought of him. The native peoples whom he brutalized weren’t particularly impressed with him either. Then there’s the explorer Henry Hudson who, with his men, spotted a mermaid and described her in detail in his log.
“She had the tail of a porpoise and was speckled like a mackerel…” When she turned over, his men discovered “From the navel up, her back and breasts were like a woman’s, her body as big as one of us; her skin very white with long black hair…”
If someone as sober and serious as the great explorer Henry Hudson is so certain of what he saw, it becomes difficult to reject the notion that these lovely aquatic creatures exist.
A few mermaids have the reputation of being downright dangerous. Some have been accused of dragging unsuspecting sailors off their ships and drowning them. Homer tells how Odysseus, on his journey home from war, encountered sirens. These seductive, mermaidlike creatures sang so beautifully that sailors, unable to resist steering their ship towards them, ended up dying on the rocky shore.
Odysseus was clever though. He had his men tie him to the mainmast of the ship with orders not to pay attention to him when they sailed past the sirens. Next, he had his men put wax in their ears. When they passed the sirens, only Odysseus was able to hear their seductive songs and howled for his men to steer towards them. More people should be as wise as Odysseus. I think the world would be in much better shape.
Another story recounts a young man taken by a mermaid below the sea where he fathered a family with her. I bet she was a lot prettier than the mermaids Columbus spotted. In fact, for him to father many children, she must have been a knockout.
In Medieval times, mermaids, with their voluptuous breasts exposed, appeared as figureheads at the end of church pews to remind friars to be ever vigilant to the temptations of the flesh. I don’t know about those monks, but if I were in that pew, I would have been meditating on all the fun we would have after a day at the beach.
But who knows? Maybe those carvings increased the religious fervor of the monks. I, for one, would be showing up at chapel early, knowing I had one of God’s beautiful creatures to meditate on. At the very least, I’d be praying that she’d come alive.
Some people are surprised to learn that when mermaids come ashore, they can grow legs, though it becomes extremely painful for them to walk. Hans Christen Anderson was following tradition when he had his mermaid walking with great pain in The Little Mermaid.
Throughout history, there have been accounts of mermaids who were captured by men. Eventually, they escaped, but not without great consternation and pain. And I think that’s a shame. No creature should be taken from the sea and be treated as a pet or an oddity. Not mermaids, not dolphins, and certainly not whales That’s why the folks at SeaWorld and those who visit them should be filled with shame. How would you like it if dolphins captured you and made you do stupid tricks for the amusement of their friends when all you want is to be free and with your family?
I’ve always been fascinated with mermaids, and I guess that’s why I’ve been married to one for forty-five years. And before you think I’ve been drinking too much of Blackbeard’s rum, let me point out my wife has all the traits of a mermaid. She’s beautiful, mysterious, seductive, charming, and enchanting. Her long, red hair, streaming in the wind or the sea, always confirms my suspicions.
And if that’s not enough to convince you, you should know that mermaids also have the power to grant someone their wishes. I can’t tell you how many wishes my mermaid has granted me over the years. And I’m not revealing what they were either.
The skeptics, no doubt, think I’ve gone off the deep end. But if you want to live with a mermaid, you have to go into the deep where they live. Besides you know what they say. If it looks like a mermaid, sings like a mermaid, and swims like a mermaid, it must be a mermaid.
Christmas and Hanukah will soon be upon us, and I want to wish all the mariners and mermaids out on the sea and those who journey no farther than their living room chair, a wonderful holiday season.
I invite you to let me know if you suspect you’re a mermaid or know a mermaid personally.
The Uncommon Mariner
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It’s amazing how many different kinds of postage stamps you can buy at the post office this time of year. There’s the Madonna and Child, Saint Nick, and a lamb proclaiming, “All is calm and bright.” Of course, there’s also one celebrating Hanukkah, another Kwanzaa, plus quite a few more. And that’s on top of some pretty amazing stamps commemorating people and events from America’s past.
One of my favorites is a black and white stamp of John Kennedy. It captures a very handsome man displaying an air of leadership and dignity, something lacking in the presidency these days. I remember when he first became president. I was only 14, but even a callow youth like me sensed the feeling of hope that pervaded the country. Anything seemed possible then, so much so that Kennedy promised the United States would put a man on the moon in a decade. He beat his own timeline.
Coming from any other politician, the prediction would have been preposterous dribble, like a slimy politician promising to build a wall to keep Mexicans out of the country. But when a man like John Kennedy shared the vision of a New Frontier, most Americans believed that it was not only possible but probable.
I don’t think we should put the picture of politicians on postage stamps today. It seems most are obnoxious and deceitful, many millionaires who buy their position with the family inheritance or with obscene amounts of money from lobbyists. And that’s a disgrace. Who wants to mail a letter with a politician’s picture on it who robs from the poor to give to the rich?
It’s not that people don’t expect you to bend the rules when you ’re president, but they do expect you to play fairly and not be mean-spirited or vengeful. Which brings me back to postage stamps and an interesting character from America’s past. Blackbeard.
I can’t help but think he would have made a great president, looking great on a postage stamp. He was clever, manipulative, strong, focused, and a great motivator. If you served with him, you might not always agree with his methods or his goals, but life couldn’t have been fairer on his ship. He wouldn’t have had to tweet for you to know what he was thinking or to exert his authority.
As I mull over this whole postage stamp thing, I can’t help but think what one would look like with Blackbeard’s picture on it. He’s usually portrayed with a black, straggly beard and a full head of hair. His eyes didn’t twinkle like Santa Claus’. Rather they were dark and piercing, quick to root out malingerers.
I don’t know if Donald Trump’s likeness will ever appear on a postage stamp. One reason is just practicality. How can you get a picture of someone with all that hair into such a small space? The other reason is more ethical. Is it really a good idea to extol someone who thinks it okay to grab a woman by her genitals without even asking? I’d like to see Donald Trump do that around Blackbeard.
Another figure that deserves a place on a postage stamp is Captain William Kidd. Kidd’s gotten a pretty bad rap over the years, but many historians are revising their view of Kidd as a ruthless, blood-thirsty murderer. The fact is, when Kidd set sail from New York, he did so with the explicit approval of some very influential politicians. His fortunes turned bad when his crew grew mutinous after failing to capture any ships on a list pre-approved by the King and politicians.
Kidd struggled to control his crew, all the while attempting to satisfy the demands of his well-connected investors. If Kidd had a flaw, it was that he was naïve and trusting. After returning to the Caribbean, he discovered he was a wanted man, yet opted to willingly return to New York, certain he would find support from those who hired him.
Politicians, realizing they were about to be embarrassed, disassociated themselves from Kidd, and even went so far as to hide two tickets that would have exonerated him. Upon his arrival in New York, he was jailed and shipped to England to be tried for murder and piracy. Forbidden to present an adequate defense, he was found guilty and condemned to hang. Kidd’s picture on a postage stamp? He earned it after dealing with cutthroats at home and at sea.
And not to slight the ladies, I think Ann Bonny is another pirate who deserves to be on a postage stamp. At an age when women on ships were taboo, Ann broke the glass ceiling or at least the crow’s nest on the mainmast. It took a lot of courage for a woman to pass herself off as a man, rubbing elbows and God knows what else with a ship filled with lusty sailors. Just going to the bathroom took a lot finesse and cleverness so as not to expose her identity as well as other things.
Eventually, Bonny’s sex was discovered, but she earned the crew’s approval when she showed she could fight as well as any man. Surprisingly, Ann and her cohort Mary Read proved more valorous than the men who cowered below deck when the ship was under attack. When captured, she was tried and sentenced to death. The only reason the sentence wasn’t carried out was because she was pregnant.
I could suggest other pirates whose faces deserve to be on postage stamps, but I’d be happy with just these three. Like the typical politician today, they were resourceful, clever, and master manipulators. Unlike today’s politicians with their aristocratic attitudes, pirates had a strong sense of fair play and democracy. On a pirate ship, no one was privileged. Not the rich; not the well-connected; and certainly not the blood-sucking lobbyists.
The motto of pirates could be summed up in a familiar phrase: “All for one. One for all.” If Blackbeard and his ilk were alive today, they might even adopt the motto of the Carnival Cruise Line: “Fun for all, All for Fun.” Though they would probably insist on changing it to: “Rum for all. All for Rum.” Rather than argue with them, I figure why not join them.
It’s almost 4:30, and I have to close this piece. My wife needs a book of stamps at the post office. I don’t know what kind she wants, but if I had my way, I know which ones I’d buy.
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