What You Need

The Friday before Mother’s Day we had planned to take Luna out for the first long weekend of the season, but a feisty northeaster barreled up the coast and NOAA called for cold rain and 25- to 30-knot winds. It made more sense to wait and leave the next morning, after the storm had moved up the coast to pound New England. I sighed, thinking about how March seemed to be lasting a long time this spring—well into May—and started packing anyway.

We hadn’t taken much off the boat for winter; the list of what we’d left onboard was longer. I gathered up blankets, pillows, music, books and sleeping bags for the kids. Going through my daughter’s drawers to pack her bag, I noticed the caterpillars she’d been growing in a jar on her shelf. For several weeks now they had done little but eat and get long and woolly. But that morning they had all climbed to the top of the jar and were hanging there, preparing to transform themselves into painted lady butterflies. One had already formed a chrysalis, completely yielding its caterpillar shape to make something new.

I threw a sweatshirt, some socks, pj’s and undies into the bag, then did the same for myself and my son. And I started thinking about what it is we really need. Luna is 34 feet long and about 12 feet wide. In that almond-shaped space, she gives us a place to cook, a warm place to sleep, a way to move about in the world, a place to dream. So what if the bathroom is smaller than a closet and the shower’s in the cockpit. The sky is our ceiling.

Most of us go through winter, or a nine-to-five week, surrounded by walls of our own making. Our lives get cluttered, like the basements and garages we never seem to clean out, and it seems like all these things piled up inside us and around us are necessary. They’re not.

Blankets. Pillows. Books. Music. Some good wine and food are always nice, but a can of ravioli and a mug of Swiss Miss with mini-marshmallows can taste like Thanksgiving dinner when you get right down to it. Some good foulies in case it gets wet, warm clothes in case it gets cold, a nice-looking bikini or, in a pinch, an old T-shirt with holes near the shoulders and that stain at the hem that always begs a story.

What we need isn’t complicated. It is life distilled. As I turned away from my house and carried the bags to the boat, I felt a little like those quiet, purposeful caterpillars on my daughter’s shelf, shedding their former selves to become something brighter, something lively and vibrant.

That Saturday evening in early May, we anchored off a long half-moon of beach along the Rhode River. Dogwood blossoms hung over its edge and set off the fresh green leaves of spring. The wind darkened the water in little patches, as if it was laying its hand there. Ospreys fished and keened, and a bald eagle floated overhead in that artful stillness they have, making it look easy to soar. The sky to the east grew as dark as unpolished pewter, and just before the sun went down it cleared the overcast and shot gold light across the sky like an aria. I’m not sure what else you need.