Solo Around the World, Josh!

Again, I offer a half-hearted disclaimer. The following is not an entirely fictional or non-fictional account. Jeb (my alter ego) and Joshua Slocum met in a kind of dream, one summer morning, in 2011. The Josh specter (ghost) was not the biblical Joshua— a spy in ancient Canaan and Moses’ guy to go to during the Great Exodus.

But there was that biblical thread again, always jingling Jeb’s nerves when his guard wasn’t up.

No, in this dream of Jeb’s there arose the ghost of another more contemporary personality whom he admired. It was Joshua Slocum.

Slocum, a sailor by disposition, began an epic sea journey out of Boston in the year 1895. The book that Josh wrote after his return 3 years later – titled, Sailing Alone Around the World – had been a best-seller in his day, and today even is considered by some to be a literary classic of the seafaring brand. Slocum had become the first person to sail all by himself around the world.

In my dream, a sketchy conversation began:

“Are you Slocum?” Jeb queried thoughtfully. “I am,” Josh answered faintly in the hazy thought light. “Where are thou?” pressed Jeb “I am here with you, after exploring the deep and other places,” answered Josh. “Alone. Are you alone?” Jeb questioned him further. Slocum responded, “Of course not. I am never alone. But I am a solo traveler. On your own journey, you can compare notes with me, if you wish. Time isn’t a fixed thing.”

Josh, the phantom, faded from view and vanished. Jeb awoke fully, and pondered. The lives of Jeb and Josh were a century apart, if time is more than a mere invention.

During the latter half of the 20th century, the Elison family (Jeb’s relatives) had flourished half-heartedly in a small community in the Black River Valley near Lake Ontario in New York State, located far upstream of the great St. Lawrence river’s mouth. Here, Mennonite farmers and Catholic merchants congregated to till the soil and milk cows and transport agricultural products to cities in the south.

Joshua Slocum, by contrast, was born downriver (far to the east) at the family's farmhouse in Mount Hanley, Nova Scotia, on February 20, 1844. He learned to read and write at the nearby Mount Hanley school. His earliest ventures as a young adult were made on coastal schooners operating out of the small ports like Port George and Cottage Cove along the Bay of Fundy.

The Slocum home actually was on North Mountain, which formed a high ridge barrier between the Bay of Fundy and the Annapolis Valley, east of the Bay. Weather in the valley in the summertime was practically ideal, with vast masses of water surrounding the almost-island of Scotia. The valley rarely was ensconced in the fogs that would roll into the harbors scattered along the Atlantic. The interior’s winter, however, deposited the characteristic snows and sometimes sub-zero temperatures.

When Joshua was eight, the Slocum family moved from Hanley Mountain to Brier Island in Digby County, at the mouth of Fundy. Slocum's maternal grandfather was the keeper of the lighthouse at Southwest Point there. The boy helped his father, a stern disciplinarian according to acquaintances, at a shop on the wharf making leather boots for the local fishermen.

However, he found the scent of salt air much more alluring than the smell of shoe leather. He yearned for a life of adventure at sea, away from his demanding life at home among 10 brothers and sisters.