Avalon


Avalon is a large craft! Today we consider a sailing vessel this size to be an extremely challenging proposition. It’s not just what it takes to handle such a vessel. The cost and complexity of construction makes a boat like this a precarious investment even for a state or municipal government or a large non-profit institution to take on. A few similar craft do exist, but they are always on the edge of fiscal disaster.

One hundred years ago and more there were hundreds of these schooners along the coast of New England and in the Maritime Provinces. Provincetown, where I grew up, had a fleet with fifty or more this size and larger. In Boston, T-wharf on market day was two schooners deep all around its perimeter! On the banks in the middle of the week it was like a festival, hundreds of schooners breasting the rolling swells.

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Economies are the result of choices. Not the other way around. We get what we value as a society. No point in trying to blame it on some mythical invisible hand. The choices we make, the things we value, come together to form a culture. A living culture is not what’s stored in a museum. It is evident in what occupies our time and makes up the built-surroundings of our day-to-day lives.

We can’t just wish ourselves into a different economy. Well we can. We have. We’ve wished ourselves into an economy that does not value human fulfillment. An economy that only values destruction carried out in the throes of an orgy of dismemberment so that a few can feel they are in control for just a little while longer. As a result, all of our efforts add up to further destruction. We are left impoverished in a world that has lost its abundance. Lost the resiliency abundance alone can afford.

Those schooners a hundred years ago relied on abundance. They were built from prime lumber. They fished seas brimming with life. They did their part in the ongoing destruction, increasing at an exponential rate, bringing us so many “hockey-stick” graphs….

Of course today the pace of destruction, its scope, boggles the mind! This rush to scrape out the bottom of the barrel, acting in the only way homo-economicus knows how to relate to the fabric of a living planet. Today forests are bulldozed for burgers, candy snacks, and cosmetics. The sea not only stripped of life but choked with plastics. Again, for the most part so that we may carry on with inane practices, drinking poison from plastic cups through plastic straws….

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A schooner like this one would take a lot of trees. But its builders would be intimately connected to the trees they were utilizing. There would be no distance, no somebody-else, between source and use to blame frivolous waste on. Such a schooner would be hard-pressed to “pay its way” on the banks. It cannot compete with the strip miners of the sea. And, of course, somehow competition has become the prime, even sacred value for this cult we find ourselves kidnapped by….

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If fishing was carried out – not “sustainably” – a term with no meaning beyond propaganda. If fishing valued effort and did not commodify both its workers and its catch, as is done today; then it might be possible that vessels like these took in a realistic catch. A much more modest haul than is pulled from the sea today. Much less than they were able to bring in their day. But a catch that might allow the sea to recover without furthering the race-to-the-finish we are currently embarked upon.

This catch would need to be consumed locally. Whisked away to grace the tables of those who would pay the highest price, flown overnight half-way around the world, any benefits would go up in smoke.

There could be other uses for a vessel like this. The sea is the best teacher…. Those who apprentice themselves to its lessons can have valuable insights to pass on to those of us left on shore.

I keep returning to this possibility. That a vessel of some size and power carrying a crew of some size and with varying strengths, skills, and talents, can be of tremendous value to our world. Such a vessel of transformation could transport not only a physical but a spiritual cargo.

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Avalon’s hold is thirty-two feet long. Some twenty feet wide and eight feet deep. Her fo’c’sle can house a dozen hardy young people brimming with energy and willing to learn. Six older folks can live aft, bringing back an elder-guard sense to the term “after-guard….”

Avalon can cross an ocean. Avalon can sail to windward with power and sureness in heavy seas. Avalon’s hold can carry a massive cargo – not large to those who think it reasonable to pack super-tankers and gigantic container ships with poison and trinkets – but a sufficient amount of something valued for its qualities and how it enters the lives of its users.

We might react to such a vessel today as an extravagance. I’m making a claim that it could be something else entirely. it could show us the difference between dangerous, deadly extravagance, like what surrounds us today, and a life lived within a sense of sufficiency and measure.

Either what we value justifies our efforts or we are fooling ourselves, devaluing our selves, pursuing fantasies of something-for-nothing. Avalon would require tremendous effort. Perhaps the greatest effort needed would be to change our attitude concerning what pays….

In this Avalon would be both a guide and a reward for our efforts….

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