Out of the Fog — a Seagoing Cowboy Tale for Our Time

Ever feel like your life is in a heavy fog? Personally? Collectively? Can’t see where you’re headed individually? Where we’re headed as a country? As a world? As I reread this recollection of seagoing cowboy Les Messamer, it came across to me as an allegory for our times.

Messamer served on the S. S. Lindenwood Victory delivering heifers to China for UNRRA and the Heifer Project. In early 1947, after the heifers were unloaded in Shanghai, UNRRA sent the ship on down to New Zealand to pick up a load of sheep for China. Messamer remembers that part of the voyage well:

“It is doubtful if there is a more melancholy sound in the world than that of the fog horn of a ship sounding at regular intervals day and night. If memory is accurate, the fog horn was heard every eight minutes. It was a low, non-melodious toot that lasted for several seconds. For more than three days that sound was part of the S. S. Lindenwood Victory ship as it was approaching New Zealand. . . .

“Heavy fog on the ocean provides no sights to be seen. The gray stuff envelopes everything and everyone and becomes increasingly oppressive. The sound of the fog horn is necessary (or was at that time) to warn other ships of one’s location. That did not keep it from adding to the dismal situation. The fog horn is necessarily loud and interrupted naps and sleep time. It interrupted thoughts. It was always there – predictably and regularly – always.

“Other factors helped to make the time less than desirable. The cattle and feed had been unloaded in Shanghai and the work of cleaning the stalls to be ready for the next load was complete. There was nothing to do. The changes in the time of day were barely noticeable as there was no visible sunshine but instead there was the continuous gray – and the fog horn. Counting the number of times the fog horn sounded was one way to determine how many minutes had elapsed. Chess and checkers helped to while away the time. A trapeze built in one of the holds provided some exercise option, but that did not take up too many minutes out of a day. Everyone actually did a good job of handling the situation, but it was still obviously a depressive time for all.

“A difference in the feel of the waves signaled that we were approaching land, as the return of the waves, called land swells, rolled under the vessel. The captain sent word that we were approaching New Zealand, and many of us (seagoing cowboys and ‘regular’ sailors) lined the rail hoping for a glimpse of land. There was little conversation. There was nothing to see except fog. There were no flying fish, no whales, no dolphins, no turtles, no clouds, no sun, not even waves were visible. Not a thing was happening, except the normal rolling of the ship. The fog – and the fog horn – always the fog horn – continued.

“Then it happened! A portion of the sky cleared and in the clearing was the upper thousand feet of the snow capped mountain named after the explorer who is credited with first visiting the islands. It was bathed in sunshine and was instantly recognized as a sign from the Creator that all was well. No one spoke as each individual felt the reverence of the moment. The sight of Mt. Cook in the sunshine above the fog was instantly etched into the minds of those of us fortunate enough to be there.”

May the fog in your/our life/lives dissipate as we enter 2019.

Photo from publicdomainpictures.net.

Blessings to all of my readers for a bright and shiny New Year.

Peggy

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