Sea of Faith

Sea of Faith
by John Brehm

Once when I was teaching “Dover Beach”

to a class of freshmen, a young woman

raised her hand and said, “I’m confused

about this ‘Sea of Faith.'” “Well,” I said,

“let’s talk about it. We probably need

to talk a bit about figurative language.

What confuses you about it?”

“I mean, is it a real sea?” she asked.

“You mean, is it a real body of water

that you could point to on a map

or visit on a vacation?”

“Yes,” she said. “Is it a real sea?”

Oh Christ, I thought, is this where we are?

Next year I’ll be teaching them the alphabet

and how to sound words out.

I’ll have to teach them geography, apparently,

before we can move on to poetry.

I’ll have to teach them history, too-

a few weeks on the Dark Ages might be instructive.

“Yes,” I wanted to say, “it is.

It is a real sea. In fact it flows

right into the Sea of Ignorance


Let me throw you a Rope of Salvation

before the Sharks of Desire gobble you up.

Let me hoist you back up onto this Ship of Fools

so that we might continue our search

for the Fountain of Youth. Here, take a drink

of this. It’s fresh from the River of Forgetfulness.”

But of course I didn’t say any of that.

I tried to explain in such a way

as to protect her from humiliation,

tried to explain that poets

often speak of things that don’t exist.

It was only much later that I wished

I could have answered differently,

only after I’d betrayed myself

and been betrayed that I wished

it was true, wished there really was a Sea of Faith

that you could wade out into,

dive under its blue and magic waters,

hold your breath, swim like a fish

down to the bottom, and then emerge again

able to believe in everything, faithful

and unafraid to ask even the simplest of questions,

happy to have them simply answered.

Hope > Fear

Fallen Light

It has been a dark, obsessive month, so I went to the well and read the poets I can read over and over not just to take pleasure in their language but more so in what they have to say. “Captain Fiction” Gordon Lish once said a short story must mean something to a reader, it must grab the reader by the shirt and say you have to read me to understand how to live. The same applies to poetry, even more so. Last week, late at night, in the midst of unmet deadlines, overwork, the politics of fear, shortening days, uncertainty, exhaustion, and a sinking pessimism, I picked up Neruda’s The Sea and the Bells because I wanted to read something that would remind me how to live. I found this:

If each day falls
inside each night,
there exists a well
where clarity is imprisoned.

We need to sit on the edge
of the well of darkness
and fish for fallen light
with patience.


Winter Wildlands Alliance

I’ll be speaking on the media panel at the Winter Wildlands Alliance Grassroots Advocacy Conference tonight. The topic will be how local non-motorized advocates can pitch travel plan issues to the media, bringing together my experiences both as a writer and working for the Forest Service. Though it does not sound sexy, it’s a critical issue, as forest plans are created on the district level and local advocates can have a big say in the process, especially if they have media exposure. Each forest and district can create its own travel regulations within national designations. For example, an area may not be designated wilderness or roadless but an individual forest can still make it off limits to, say, snowmobiles. Many travel plans were written before snowmobiles became as powerful as they are today and updating the plans should take into account newer bigger machines. Beyond all that, I like the Winter Wildlands Alliance’s tag line: “Giving Solitude a Voice.” All too often arguments over land use come down to economics, science, or recreation use. The value of the place does not always have to be based on those measurements. The ability to experience a place so that we experience our deepest self has inestimable value. As Byron noted solitude is the state “where we are least alone.”

Lou Dawson Likes Me…

… or at least he respected the opinions I espoused on the future of mountain bikes, roadless areas, and wilderness:

It’s about time someone on the enviro side said out loud that the Roadless Rule has an element of bogosity. In that vein, Doug concludes that we perhaps need “a complete rethinking of the concept of wild lands.”

While Doug’s “rethinking” appears to involve typical my-recreation-is-holier-than-yours thinking (as in muscle vs motor ), at least he’s busting the issue open.

Here’s the LINK to Dawson’s commentary.

And here’s the full story in Mountain Gazette.

Travel Writing Tips

I’ll be speaking on the “Top 10 Tips for Making a Living as a Freelance Travel Writer” at the Magazine Conference here in Boulder, September 12–14. Let me know if any of you current/former freelancers out there have any stories I can add to the presentation.

What’s Up?

Base Camp Communications was generous enough to document the insanity of my life as a freelancer… LINK

photo courtesy Chris Thompson