Nautical Terms

Nautical
Michael Ellis

Having just spent three weeks on a ship sailing in the South Atlantic I’ve become very interested in the abundance of nautical terms that have entered the English language. On my trip there was only one really overbearing person. Overbearing is to sail downwind directly at another ship therefore “stealing” the wind from its sails, pretty obnoxious. The conversation would drone on and on at dinner and only a few polite people would stay to the bitter end. The Bitter end is the very end of the anchor chain that is wrapped around the bitts that hold it to the ships bow. Nearly every night this same person would get Three Sheets to the Wind. On a two-sail sloop there are three sheets, one for the mainsail and two for the jib. If these three sheets are loose and slack in the wind, the vessel wanders aimlessly, like a drunk. But most of us toed the line. When called for inspection sailors would line up with their toes touching a seam in the deck planking.

The path of our voyage was not exactly As the Crow Flies. When a ship was unsure of their position in coastal waters, they would release a caged crow that would fly directly towards the land. The tallest lookout platform on a ship is therefore the crow’s nest. We didn’t have a crow’s nest on our ship but that was No Great Shakes. When casks became empty they were taken apart into shakes which could be stored in a small space. Now empty of water or food shakes had very little value. Most of us did pretty well in the seas but a few people were Under the Weather. If a crewman is standing watch on the side of the ship where the weather is coming from, he will take a beating from the sea and spray. He will be definitely be under the weather. Though we did get into some rough seas our ship was never Overwhelmed. Thank goodness because this Old English word means to capsize.

So that’s the scuttlebutt on my recent trip. Scuttlebutt refers to the area where the fresh, drinking water was kept. Sailors would linger there, drink and of course, gossip. And this is only the beginning now you look up – caboose, slush fund, rummage sale, above board and bumpkin.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

Mr. Rogers

Mr. Rogers
Michael Ellis

When my son was born 17 years ago one thing his mother and I decided early on was to not allow television in the house. We had a TV but only for watching videos. I have never once regretted that decision. But as all parents of young children know sometimes you just gotta have a break. So we had a half dozen shows of Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. In desperation we would put on one of these tapes just to have 30 minutes to wash the dishes, hang up clothes, vacuum or just collapse into a much needed nap.

The poor kid must have watched these same tapes quite a few times.

When he was nine years old his mother and I began the process of separating. Our major concern was helping our young son deal with this major change in his life. Many children feel somehow they are to blame for their parent’s problems. So we sat down with him to explain the whole thing, wanting to reassure him of his faultlessness. Before we can get too far, he blurts out “– yes, yes I know! Mr. Rogers told me that it is not my fault that these things between parents just happen.”

OK fine then. But after a couple of weeks I sit him down to revisit the subject wanting him to understand it has nothing to do with him. “Dad..” he groans “I already told you Mr. Rogers said it wasn’t my fault.”

About six months later I tried one more time and he responded with the same exasperation with his clueless dad. Sorry, sorry I brought it up again.

But I really want to thank Mr. Rogers for that episode on divorce and at least for this one little boy, it made a huge difference in coping with a momentous change in his young life. At least so far, when he gets in therapy later then we shall see. But this is my little story and I know there are a thousand more about this kind and generous man, who was everything he appeared to be in real life. We miss you Mr. Rogers………

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

Moss

Moss
Michael Ellis

Recently I was on a California Native Plant Society field trip, the wildflower display was striking. There was much ohing and ahing and photographing of all the vibrant shimmering colors. I watched a fellow hiker – Ron – staring intently at a rock so I asked what was he looking at? “Moss” he said abashedly, “I like moss.”

Moss may very well be the Rodney Dangerfield of the green plant world. They get no respect. On this particular day all the attention was going to wildflowers with only a passing glance at the soft, vibrant carpets of moss. We do not eat moss, mosses have few medicinal properties, mosses are rarely used in landscaping, and they are usually trampled underfoot without a thought. In fact when I googled MOSS the only commercial link that popped up screamed STOP UNWANTED MOSS GROWTH!

But moss has played a major role in the evolution of plant life on land. We owe much to these overlooked plants. They are descendents of aquatic green algae that were able to grow on land, albeit damp land. From this tenuous foothold the rest of the land plants evolved – ferns, pines and true flowering plants. Moss colonies may cover 20% of the Earths surface and are very important in many ecosystems from the harsh world of the arctic to the lush tropics. They are pioneer plants often growing on rock or bare earth and contribute to soil formation, they absorb water and nutrients, they provide habitat for other plants and small animals and they are bio-indicators of pollution.

Mosses have stems and leaves but no true roots. They are totally dependent upon moisture for reproduction and survival, but they can survive long periods without water too. The only time I ever use the word “happy” in association with plants is looking at moss that has finally gotten rain after a long dry spell.

Ron it turns out is an avid amateur moss sleuth and even has one named for him. He knows it is a grand and diverse world out there. Try to give those subtle green mosses more than a passing glance on your way to the next wildflower.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

June Moon

JUNE MOON
Michael Ellis

Many years ago I was complaining to a friend that I never could see that so-called man in the moon. He pointed out to me that it wasn’t really a man, it was a rabbit holding a basketball and since that moment I have been unable to see anything else. And indeed most cultures don’t see a face, they see figures — rabbits mainly, but also toads, mice, cats, lions, bears, and foxes. On Saturday the moon is full, this one is called the Rose moon also known as the Honeymoon. The latter name according to the Dictionary because “The first month of marriage being thought of as the sweetest.” There is a second full moon in June, a rare event which we know as a blue moon. In July we’ll have the Thunder moon. And of course everyone knows the Harvest Moon, the one nearest to the fall equinox which gives additional light to those laboring in the fields.

Unfortunately in our modern age we tend to ignore the waxing and waning of the moon and think that it doesn’t really affect us. But really don’t you think it is kind of weird that we pay our PG and E bill according the cycle of the moon, on a “moonthly schedule.” The oceans rise and fall corresponding to the relative position of the earth, sun and moon. Even solid land bulges in response to the gravitational force from the moon. Human female menstrual (derived from the Greek for monthly) rhythms were perhaps once set by the periodical cycle of the full moon. Some people claim that more babies are born and more crimes are committed during a full moon (sorry but statistics do not support this). But we still strongly believe that human behavior is influenced by moonlight so we have werewolves and lunatics. And until a brief moment ago when Mr. Edison brought us the electric light, it was mostly moonshine that lit up what little nocturnal activities humans had.

The moon appears to be full to us for about 2 1/2 days. But I recently watched the movie, Moonstruck, I noticed that there seemed to be a full moon for an entire week! Hollywood has never let facts get in the way of entertainment.

Check out that rabbit, it is a silhouette with the long ears swept back to the right and the rabbit facing left. You really can’t miss it, though the basketball may be a bit indistinct.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

Men's Group 20 Years

Men’s Group 20 Years
Michael Ellis

Twenty years ago this month I invited nine men to meet with me. I needed some male support. I was a new dad and completely overwhelmed by that responsibility. I also worked mostly at home by myself and was feeling very isolated. They were enthusiastic. And so for the last two decades we have been meeting once a month.

A whole lot happens through the years. One guy soon dropped out; it was way too intimate for him. One fellow moved away. And though many men have asked to join, we have only added Harrison to our group in all these years. We are exclusive. Not one of us lives in the same house and five of us have gotten divorced. Besides divorce we have dealt collectively with marriages, births of kids and grandchildren, loss of parents, failed businesses, career changes, lawsuits, affairs, prostate cancer, Alzheimer’s, autism, and depression. Bill nearly died of a heart attack. But the most painful for us was the loss of not one, but two newborn babies by our dear friend Mike.

We have cried as hard as we have laughed. All through these things we have been holding each other. We have created a safe place to be vulnerable and honest. None of us are New Age male wimps; the testosterone drips from the wall when we meet. We tolerate little BS from one another and everyone speaks their mind.

When I mention my men’s group it invariably elicits a sarcastic comment about drumming. Well I confess we have drummed several times. But what we do not do is play poker, smoke cigars, drink beer and complain about women. We are perplexed, intrigued, amused, and totally committed to understanding the women in our lives. Mothers, daughters, wives and girlfriends are a continual topic of conversation. But we have also dedicated meetings to politics, children, money, and poetry. For us nothing is taboo. Thanks guys, I look forward to another twenty years of honesty and friendship.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.