While a passion for scuba diving would ultimately guide me down the path my life would take, my desire to write has always been an interesting companion along the way. In the pursuit of one I would find the other, often in places I didn’t go looking, and in ways that I hadn’t expected. Perhaps there are just certain currents that we are moved by throughout life, that swirl together at certain times and places in the world.
The world is not a very big place really, and if you travel much you’re bound to pass through some of the same places as others with similar interests. If those people leave a footprint, you’re likely to walk in it; if you are lucky you might see a bit of the world through their eyes. If you’re patient enough, you might even draw inspiration from some of the same things they did!
It should come as no surprise, then, when you would find yourself in such a place that you will strain to hear the echoes of those who have passed that way ahead of you. Just a year ago I was in the Oakland Bay area, attending a product knowledge seminar at American Underwater Products. Over dinner one evening, as we were getting to know fellow attendees, I mentioned my interest in writing, and that I had been blessed with some recent successes getting published. One of our hosts leaned across the table to squeeze my arm and to tell me “I’ve got someplace I want to take you…”
Five of us piled into Audrey’s car, and made our way through a cold drizzle to the waterfront, and from there we walked a short distance to Jack London Square. We approached a small wooden cabin, a century old relic sitting in the middle of an otherwise modern looking area, and as I walked up to it Audrey told me that this had been London’s house. It had been moved there in tribute, but wasn’t really the place she wanted me to see. A few yards further on took us to Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon, a very tiny looking building that also seemed to have firmly remained from an era long past.
To enter the saloon you must step down into the doorway, and while it appeared small from outside, inside it was positively tiny. The interior looked as if it hadn’t been touched since Heinold had opened the doors in the late 1800’s, and has an eclectic blend of a hundred and forty years of continuous operation. The old wooden bar was slanted from the earthquake in 1906, and the walls were covered with old photographs and memorabilia. Audrey pointed to a table and chair in a corner near the door, close enough to touch as you entered. “That’s where Jack London used to sit and work. He worked on The Sea Wolf and Call of the Wild here…”
The table was now occupied with a group enjoying a drink and some quiet conversation, but it wasn’t hard to picture Jack sitting at the table, pen in hand, and paper scattered about. My attention was drawn around the room by all the items and pictures, but my mind was dwelling on how once again my diving path had crossed with that of writing.
Those paths had crossed on my very first dive trip, even before diving became my profession. We had moored at the Bahamian island of Bimini, and after an early supper meal at the Red Lion I had made my way to one of the island’s most famous sites, the Compleat Angler. The Angler was famous for having been Ernest Hemmingway’s home for a couple of years in the late 1930’s, and was now a museum/bar/hotel.
It was still early when I made my way in carrying my slightly damp dive log/journal. I was largely ignored by the bartender and three others playing dominos at the bar, and took my time looking around the dark wooden walls covered with pictures of expensive yachts, big game fish, and Papa Hemmingway sixty years before. I finally made my way to a table near the bar, ordered a glass of water with lemon, and began writing.
I knew I wasn’t writing the next Old Man and the Sea, but there was just something special about sitting in Papa’s house after the biggest adventure of my own life, and describing what I had seen and felt that week. I was still at it two hours later when members of my dive group began filtering in, and the private moment passed. Sadly, the Angler burned to the ground in 2006, and I’ll never be able to pause and reflect at this way place ever again.
There’s something about location that drives a writer, the need to immerse in the sights, sounds, spices, and flavors that make up our world. I’ve walked past John Steinbeck’s 1958 home, The Pink Un, dozens of times over the last decade or so. The house sits right along Bay Street, not far from the Nassau Harbour Club, where one of my favorite dive charter boats is moored. Paradise Bridge didn’t exist back then, and Makenzies wasn’t open for a fabulous plate of cracked conch, but I’ve often wondered if John didn’t make his way the short distance down to Potter’s Cay for a bite to eat, or a cold drink in the heat of the day, or even to slap bones with the old men that sit under the fishing shack awnings during his time in Nassau, the Bahamas.
None of these places had been an intended destination, or even planned goals of visiting; they were simply places where I crossed paths years and decades behind others like me who had enjoyed traveling and writing. How many more adventurous souls had been there before, or would follow after? How many more times would life’s currents and eddies swirl to bring me to places like these? Impossible to say, but I’ll keep a pen and a damp dive log along just in case…