Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows was my favorite childhood read. It’s a story of anthropomorphized animals in pastoral England of the early Twentieth Century. Boating enthusiasts know the famous passage where Rat tells his friend Mole, “believe me, my young friend, there is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”
Later in the story we encounter a passage, less known but deeply meaningful, that speaks to the soul of all who take to the sea. Here the old adventurer, the Sea Rat, encourages the Water Rat to follow him on one last sailing trip:
I take to the road again… till at last I reach the little grey sea town I know so well… There, sooner or later, the ships of all seafaring nations arrive; and there, at its destined hour, the ship of my choice will let go its anchor. I shall take my time, I shall tarry and bide, till at last the right one lies waiting for me, warped out into midstream, loaded low, her bowsprit pointing down harbor. I shall slip on board, by boat or along hawser; and then one morning I shall wake to the song and tramp of the sailors, the clink of the capstan, and the rattle of the anchor-chain coming merrily in. We shall break out the jib and the foresail, the white houses on the harbour side will glide slowly past us as she gathers steering-way, and the voyage will have begun! As she forges towards the headland she will clothe herself with canvas; and then, once outside, the sounding slap of great green seas as she heels to the wind, point South!
And you, you will come too, young brother; for the days pass, and never return, and the South still waits for you. Take the Adventure, heed the call, now ere the irrevocable moment passes! ‘Tis but a banging of the door behind you, a blithesome step forward, and you are out of the old life and into the new! Then some day, some day long hence, jog home here if you will, when the cup has been drained and the play has been played, and sit down by your quiet river with a store of goodly memories for company. You can easily overtake me on the road, for you are young; and at last I will surely see you coming, eager and light-hearted, with all the South in your face!from the chapter “Wayfarers All”
And now, more than forty years after I first read those words, we are heeding the call of the Sea Rat to seize the day and begin our seafaring adventure before it’s too late!
(The painting is Nancy Barnhart’s 1922 illustration of the Sea Rat.)