I toss around a little bit in my sleep, I’m dreaming about a scorpion running across my arm.
My consciousness rises through the fog layer of sleep like a hot air balloon carrying me skyward until suddenly, my brain can interpret palpable, physical footsteps on my arm. Six tiny feet, dance a thousand steps per second, dragging tuxedo coat tails along my arm.
I start screaming before I am entirely jolted awake. I take my hand along my arm and brush it downward to fling the creature away from me. The skittering grows more frenzied and faster; he takes a circuitous path around my hand trying to shove him away.
I scream again and my wild hand-brushing makes contact. I push the creature away from me, but instead of flying, his low center of gravity allows him to slide quickly from my arm to my leg. He runs frantically toward my foot. I kick, I fling, I brush my hands on my skin, but again this Thing evades me. There’s only one thing this Thing could be.
Andrew jolts awake to my screams. “What?! What is…?” But before he can finish his sentence, I successfully sling the Thing off my body into the ether, only to have the Thing land on Andrew. For a split second, the brown, winged body with many legs flashes across my line of sight.
“IT’S. A. COCKROACH!!!!!”
Now, Andrew is kicking, swatting, squirming. In a tangle of arms, legs, bedsheets, pillows, I try to climb over Andrew and peel myself away from ground zero. Andrew tries to get his reflexes under control to focus on trapping the little gremlin.
Safely out in the salon, I scan the whole of Sonrisa expecting a swarm of cockroaches covering every surface, scattering to avoid my sight. “Where there is one, there is many.” I hear my mother say. This must be especially true if the one I see has become so bold as to climb across my sleeping body. He must be acting on a dare.
“I don’t see you, but I know you are here.” I say, narrowing my eyes to slits and creeping around in the galley, looking in cupboards, lifting cleaning solutions beneath the sink. Nothing. They must have evacuated their posts when they heard my screaming. I hear thumping from the bedroom, Andrew trying to trap the Thing with his hands against the wooden shelving. “Thump!… skitter… skitter… “Thump!”
Andrew backs away from the bedroom like a hunter trying to get a bigger view of the scenery.
“Did you get him!?” I ask.
“No. I lost him.” Andrew gets the roach spray from under the sink and lays in wait.
I look at the clock. 4:30 a.m., Thanksgiving morning on the American side of the dateline.
With my pounding heart, I’m certain I’m not going back to bed. I grab my computer and settle in to start writing. “Well,” I said to Andrew, “I did say I wanted to get an early start this morning. Thank you, cockroach.”
Just then, Andrew jumps and pounces, spraying with all his mite. The cockroach, ends its life in a bath of poison. Andrew goes back to sleep.
“Okay for him,” I think, expecting at any moment for the roach brigade to crawl across Andrew’s face.
I check in with family at home. “Happy Thanksgiving! Happy Thanksgiving! Happy Thanksgiving!” If it weren’t Thanksgiving, I might be down about being so far away on a holiday, but Thanksgiving is all about gratitude, and it is very difficult to be down when you are grateful.
We don’t have a solid plan for a celebration, though. Somehow, we are off the track with other sailors, and we are the only sailboat out and about in these parts. We are hoping to meet up with some friends in Komodo soon. We also didn’t plan ahead with regard to a menu. We didn’t find a turkey. Cranberries do not grow in the tropics, and apparently, they don’t ship them here either. I think back on the excellent grocery opportunities we had in Dili and kick myself for not buying more while we were there. What were we thinking? Actually, I wasn’t thinking. I have been in denial about the approaching holidays the closer they get. First, because I cannot understand how another year has flown by since we put Sonrisa up in Tonga. Second, because I cannot think too much about the fact that I am away from home for my first holiday season ever. Roots. Tradition. Family. I do not know holidays any other way.
I had abandoned Osmond back in the war-zone, each man/woman/comfort owl for himself/herself. Maybe he was helping Andrew fend off attack. Knowing he couldn’t leave me alone for long today, Osmond enlists Andrew to move his perch over by my writing station. The Kiwi joins, declaring that if Osmond is the Comfort Owl, she wants to be the Focus Kiwi. Each time I get off task, she screeches at me and gives me a kick. We spend the morning writing blog posts, communicating with family and friends back home.
“I think we got him.” Andrew says. If it were any day but Thanksgiving, Andrew would be in so much trouble. How many times have I nagged him about bringing cockroaches aboard? He likes to bring bananas and crates of beer into Sonrisa without properly cleaning the bananas and without removing the cardboard from the beer crate. Sometimes he sneaks the beer crates in and hides them from my view. When I find them, my response is always the same.
“You are going to bring cockroaches on board!” Among my list of horrors, this one has to at least go on the first page. I read once that cockroaches like to eat human toenails at night. Andrew doesn’t seem to care, though. I’m not sure why. Is it because he doesn’t believe cockroaches live in cardboard and banana bunches? Is it because he doesn’t care if cockroaches swarm his face or eat his toenails? I cannot understand his logic. If it were any other day but Thanksgiving, I would impress upon him how right I have been and how wrong he was to breach the no-cardboard-aboard rule. But, it is Thanksgiving, and it’s hard to be angry while you are grateful.
So instead of nagging, I just forward my mother’s rule of thumb: “Where there is one, there is many.” Andrew blinks at me. “You killed the uppity one, but they are like Aspen trees.”
“Aspen trees?” Andrew says, failing to see the connection.
“You know, they spread underground en masse and pop up here and there as single individuals. You might have won this battle, but now we are at war. What’s the Utah Aspen grove’s name? I forget…” (For those who may not know this fun fact: aspen trees are not a typical grove of trees, but one giant, interconnected organism. The root network spreads across hillsides and even whole mountain ranges sending up trees to catch the light from the sun, but all of those trees are one body, one root system.)
We google the name: Pando. “Yes. Yes. I think I will name our roach-network Pando. It will remind me of home.” I say. Naming yucky things always makes them better to live with. Then I groan. “What are we going to do now? Where the hell are all those Geckos? We need to go find another gecko, a bigger one. Maybe we need to install a Komodo Dragon to eat the cockroaches.” My misery is getting a bit out of hand, so I remember: It’s Thanksgiving. You can’t be grossed out while being grateful.
We head into town and find a little restaurant serving local food. My Thanksgiving Lunch Feast includes squid, rice with squid sauce, vegetables, and two glasses of sweet ice tea: $1.75 US.
While at lunch, we look at the status of rain clouds and decide we have plenty of time to sail away to our next anchorage, eight miles away. We say goodbye to the town of Lewaleba and up anchor into a boiling mass of swirling currents. We had no wind, but what this trip lacked for in wind, it more than made up for in beneficial current. Sonrisa flew across her eight miles going nine knots at times!
We put anchor down at 4:30 p.m. At 5, Grin and Kitty escorted us over to the “Sand Bar” for a beer. We declare this the Best Sandbar of 2017!
We return to Sonrisa and enjoy a Thanksgiving Manhattan in the cockpit as the sun set and the stars appeared. 2 oz Bourbon, 1 oz. Sweet Vermouth, 5 drops of Orange Bitters (we didn’t have Angostura), and five delicious Amarena Cherries we picked up in Vanuatu at the French market.
I make fresh mashed potatoes, green beans and spring onions in condensed cream of chicken soup, and caramelized onions in a red wine reduction. Andrew grills two steaks we had in the freezer (from Vanuatu). I dig out our bottle of Balsamic Vinegar we acquired on our honeymoon in Modena, Italy in 2006. (Vinegar can’t go bad! It wasn’t even bottled until it was 25 years old.) The Balsamic is perfect drizzled atop the perfectly grilled steaks. We pair dinner with a glass of Cabernet Merlot from Australia (also acquired in Vanuatu.)
Osmond, Tasman and Lenny the Crocodile join us for dinner, carrying Sonrisa’s Christmas tree with them. “Time to put it up!” They declare.
We enjoy our dinner. It’s not all traditional Thanksgiving food, but it’s delicious and it feels like a feast. Even if our family and friends aren’t with us out here, my mind and heart are full of good feelings for them as we celebrate. I know if I laid my list of things to be grateful for end to end, it would easily stretch 13,000 miles across the globe back to the epicenter of my childhood. The list would encompass all of the beauty, friendship, experience, sailing, career, schooling, health, home, family, love, Earth that I have walked starting from Tooele, Utah all the way to wherever the heck I am now - uninhabited Kroko Atoll, Flores Island Indonesia. The list would include the smallest things, like safe and clean running water and the fact that in the United States, we never “run out of eggs” for a month. And Vanuatu’s grocery stores; clearly I must be thankful for Vanuatu’s grocery stores.
As we tuck into bed, I look up through the hatch above my head and see stars. Flashes of heat lighting in the distance brighten the sky, then go dark, making the stars seem all the brighter. We had a great Thanksgiving.
“Want me to set Pando the Roach Alarm Network to wake us at 4:30 a.m. again? We have lots to do tomorrow.” Andrew offers.