“Why are there two bottles of rum in the cockpit?” I ask, pausing in the midst of vigorously scrubbing the boat.
Rubin is strolling leisurely down our pier, hands in his coat pockets, blue eyes sparkling, a good-natured smile stretched across his face. I can tell, even without asking, he’s been wandering about the marina kibitzing with everyone he knows. Which is everyone.
“I’m not sure.”
“I didn’t think you’d be back from running this soon,” he says, stepping from the dock to the boat. “I would have cleaned it.”
“Hmmm.” I swallow my skepticism. The white fiberglass is splattered with tiny specks of blue spider droppings and splats of brown-crusted white bird poop. It is not the kind of filth easily erased by the expensive, environmentally friendly cleaners I insist we use. Rubin’s solution is to use tire spray, bleach mixed with a commercial boat wash, Soft Scrub, and toilet bowl cleaner.
“You can’t use those! All that toxic stuff goes straight into the lake!”
“Find me something else that works, and I’ll use it.”
When it comes to the environment, we are often on a collision course.
“I love nature provided it doesn’t invade my castle,” he says frequently. And whether his castle is on land or water, he is equally as passionate when it involves insects. On the boat, it starts with spiders. At the first hint of dusk they emerge, weaving misty webs dangling from all corners of the boat. Rubin’s solution is to go on “spider patrol,” a nightly ritual in which he grabs a flashlight and a giant can of insecticide and sprays anything that moves on the stanchions, lifelines, boom, side stays, dock lines, pier or electrical box. If he has enough poison, he sprays the neighbors’ docks and electrical boxes as well, creating a long death march to our boat.
A 2in perimeter around our house is treated in a similar fashion. I’m lucky it’s only 2in.
“You must have been buried alive in a prior life,” I joke, trying to be empathetic, to add humor. But the more I learn about ecosystems, about nature’s way of providing balance, the more I realize insects are a vital part of life. And while I would prefer they live elsewhere, spiders, in particular, seem to have a strong affinity toward docks, lines and boats.
It is the poison I most abhor. And so on mornings like this one, I search for the live, balled-up spiders and bugs above the droppings, squishing them before rinsing their bodies into the lake. Fish food, I tell myself. Not the perfect compromise, but a beginning.
Often bugs escape Rubin, me, and the spiders, but drown in the heavy dew of morning. Barn swallows flit about the boat scooping up the leftover bugs for breakfast, reminding those paying attention, like me, that nature does provide its own clean up. Unfortunately, the swallows tend to perch on the boat’s lifelines, digesting their meal and pooping leftover remnants all over the fiberglass. Rubin tries to deter the birds by tooling about in our dinghy when I’m not around, destroying the first hint of any nest under nearby docks.
“There are plenty of places they can build their nest,” he tells me. “Just not here.” The birds don’t seem to care. Like insects, they are relentless, partying on any boat with bugs. And occasionally, that includes ours.
This morning’s scrubbing is a ploy. If I want to spend hours hunched over a brush trying to clean the boat with environmentally friendly cleaners, I can do so. He has better ways to spend his time.
“So what’s with the rum?” I ask again.
“I think they might be gifts.”
“For using the slingshot to chase the cormorants off our neighbors’ boats.”
“Are you kidding?”
“Those birds consume copious amounts of fish during the day. If they perch on your mast during the night, the boom is covered with a thick, brownish poop-soup. You can’t get it off.”
“Anyway, you’d be proud of me.”
“Why is that?”
“I used acorns to hit them. Environmentally friendly.”
Avid sailor Mary McKSchmidt describes herself as a passionate Lake Michigan advocate. She and her husband, Rubin, have sailed extensively around the U.S. coasts and in the Caribbean