A short story from: Coastal Maine in Words and Art: Gallery Fukurou’s Reflections by Maine Writers, 2019.

© Lynn Smith, 2019

Tree Sails, photographic art by Ramona du Houx

The sun was just rising over the harbor as Rob adjusted the rigging, preparing to go out for an early morning sail. Sunlight shimmered on the water and whitecaps rolled gently, slapping the sides of the boat. As he attached the jib halyard, Rob looked up and scanned the horizon. Yes—it was a perfect morning to go out.

It was Memorial Day weekend. His wife, Susan, was still asleep. She would get up later and drive into town to get groceries, before their daughter Kiera arrived. They were planning to have a cookout. The deck chairs were set out, and there was dry kindling in the fire pit. They would all go out for a sail tomorrow—but today Rob wanted to go out on his own.

The wind was shifting. Rob untied the deck lines and used a paddle to steer the sloop into the open water. He’d raise the sail and the jib once he was well out of the slip. He’d learned how to sail when he was young; his older brother Rick had taken him out on the Zipper and had taught him everything he knew. The Zipper. It was a simple fiberglass boat they’d had when they were kids. He and Rick had saved their allowance money and bought it secondhand. They’d been popular when they were teenagers, because they were Rick and Rob—the brothers who owned a boat.

Rick had been lean and athletic. Blond, with straight white teeth and an easy smile. Everything had come easily to Rick. He had gotten a book from the library—Introductory Sailing—and he had taught himself how to sail. He and Rob had set out on Saturday mornings—two boys in cutoff shorts and aviator sunglasses. They’d kick their shoes off on the deck and set sail, peanut butter sandwiches and cans of Coke tucked into an old backpack. Rob marveled now that their parents had let them go out alone—times had been different! Rick would take command of the boat, and Rob was always his first mate. As Rob pulled in the deck lines and tidied up the sheets, Rick would raise the mainsail and the jib. The Zipper would glide out into the open water—rocking gently, as the sails billowed overhead. The motion of the boat always made Rob a little bit queasy, and he would crouch in the cockpit until they were further out. Rick loved to antagonize his younger brother. Just as Rob was getting his bearings, Rick would shout, “Ready to tack?” and he’d trim in the jib. He’d adjust the sails and make the boat dip and sway, laughing as the spray drenched them.

“We’re flying!” he’d yell, his voice echoing in the harbor.

Rob would brace his feet as he tightened the winch. He’d look up and see Rick standing on the deck, silhouetted against the sail, and he’d think that there wasn’t anything Rick couldn’t do. Time seemed to stand still when they were on the Zipper—and Rob remembered wishing that those days would never end.

Everything had changed his senior year in college. He’d gotten the call late one night, while he was studying for an exam. Rick, who was piloting a single-engine Cessna in Belize, had flown into a squall shortly after takeoff. The plane had crashed. Rick hadn’t survived.

Rob tucked the paddle into the bottom of the boat. The sloop bobbed gently in the water. He leaned back against the mast and gazed up at the sky. Sometimes, he thought back to his teenage years, and they seemed to be from another person’s lifetime. That lanky brown-haired boy . . . had that been him? Here he was now—a balding, middle-aged man with a wife, a grown daughter, and a pension plan. He bore no resemblance to that young boy. It was astounding that so many years had passed. Susan and Kiera had never met Rick—they only knew him from photographs. Rob sometimes wondered what Rick would look like now—couldn’t picture him as a middle-aged man. He had no idea what sort of a man Rick would have been. He seemed so far away.

Except when he was sailing.

When he was on the water, Rick was still there.

Rob felt the wind pick up. He jumped to his feet and hoisted the main. The sail billowed and the boat lurched forward into the waves. As he braced his feet and grasped the tiller, the boat dipped and the spray splashed his face. Rob tipped his head back and laughed out loud.

He was flying.


Coastal Maine in Words and Art: Gallery Fukurou’s Reflections by Maine Writers, 2019 was published after a contest for writers to create stories to accompany art photography that depicted Rockland and the coast in its myriad situations, moods and emotions. This story was published in the book along with 27 others.

An overwhelming 88 stories were submitted for the contest. In the end seventeen writers were chosen. Their stories are told with depth, insight, candor, irony, wit and humor. Anyone who has every visited Maine’s coast will be able to relate to them. They’ve put humankind’s instinctive emotional connection with the sea into words.

A gallery exhibit/booksigning was held at Gallery Fukurou in September 2019. The contest was held by Polar Bear and Company, of the Solon Center for Research and Publishing.

The Maine Humanities Council provided a grant for our project that enabled the Solon Center to donate books to libraries across Maine. MHC is a statewide non-profit organization that uses the humanities, “as a tool for positive change in Maine communities.”

Please ask your local bookstore to order it in for you or, if need be, purchase it HERE. All photographic art is available through Gallery Fukurou at info(at)soloncenter.org.