Saturday, September 8, 2012

Chain Of Friends
By Michael

Angus, Joan, and the girls.
Fifteen years ago Windy took me to the emergency room in the middle of the night. The eye pain I’d felt during the previous couple days had worsened to the point that I couldn’t take it anymore. I told Windy it felt like both a teaspoon of sand under my eye lid and someone repeatedly poking my eye with a pencil. I wrapped a towel around my head to avoid even the dimmest light and she helped me dress and walked me to the car like a newly blind person.
There was little the ER folks could do but to reassure me that I probably wouldn’t lose my sight and to give me the address of an ophthalmologist to see first thing in the morning.

We lived in a small, coastal California town five hours north of San Francisco. It is a place not spoiled by population growth and home to the tallest, most magnificent trees in the world. A local state university ensures a diverse population and enriches the culture of this place, isolated as it is from the richness of a large population center. The twin cities of Arcata and Eureka were our home for two years following our first sailboat cruise that ended in Florida.
Dr. Angus Stewart is a fixture of the area, a local practitioner for decades. Once he diagnosed the disease that caused my iris muscle to inflame, he put some drops in that allowed me to focus on the certificates hanging on the walls around me.

“You practiced in Panama?”
I told him about our then-recent sailing voyage, our Canal transit, and the time we spent in Panama City. He shared a love of boats and talked about a Cheoy Lee he’d owned and a delivery he crewed from Hawaii. He gave me sensible advice about managing the iritis, told me about the latest medical information related to the disease, and loaned me a Patrick O’Brian book he’d finished and thought I might enjoy.

Before leaving, I mentioned to his receptionist that this was the best doctor visit I’d ever had, that I never felt rushed. She nodded and said that Dr. Stewart didn’t allow her to book too many appointments each day, that he enjoyed giving time to his patients.
Ultimately, I was his last patient. He was a couple weeks from retirement when I first saw him and my final visit was his last in-office appointment. But our friendship endured. We shared dinners with Angus and his wife, Joan. They came to our wedding and when we packed up and moved to D.C., a nice couch they no longer used came with us. We returned to visit over the years, first as a young married couple and later with infant Eleanor, then with both girls as they’ve grown.

On a visit half-a-decade ago, we told them about our new cruising plans. We talked then about the possibility of tying up whatever boat we were on to the dock behind their guest home. They seemed to take us seriously, but I suspect like all sane people we know they considered dubious the chances that we would actually follow through with our radical, far-off plan to upend our lives.
The Stewarts are another link in a chain of family and friends along this coast. Like most of our California landfalls these past few months, tying up in Eureka, California—behind the Stewarts’ guest home—was both a reunion and another culmination of a plan made, a reminder that we're doing what we set out to do.

Despite a need to make timely progress up the coast, weather kept us in Eureka for more than a week. But in that time we wrapped up boat projects and enjoyed the company and hospitality of dear friends.


Frances and Joan 
Del Viento at the Stewarts' dock in King Salmon. By all
accounts, Del Viento is the largest vessel in the history of this
unincorporated area of Eureka to make it into these canals. Even
at high tide, our 6-foot draft allowed us only inches between our
keel and the bottom at the entrance. This tiny part of Humboldt
Bay is home to harbor seals and otters--Eleanor and I even
surprised playful otters on our dock a couple times.

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