- by Carol Standish
Afloat and Ashore
Roger F. Duncan
(Blackberry Books, 212pp, $16.95)
Probably most widely recognized as the chief compiler of the dynastic enterprise, Cruising Guide to the New England Coast for seven of the last eight editions (the 2000 guide was the 12th edition), Roger F. Duncan is regionally treasured for several volumes of non-fiction relating to his much-loved the New England coast. Titles include Eastward: A Maine Cruise in a Friendship Sloop, Coastal Maine: A Maritime History, Sailing in the Fog and Dorothy Elizabeth: Building a Traditional Wooden Schooner.
In recent years he has contributed a column to “Working Waterfront” a monthly newspaper published by Island Institute in Rockland, Maine. Afloat and Ashore, a collection of personal essays, contains many of those columns. It is one kind of experience to casually read a Duncan essay once a month, sandwiched among more fractious items of news and opinion. It is entirely another to sit down of a snowy evening and share Mr. Duncan’s love of life and the world around him. The essence of the man is revealed and relished in the accumulated ideas and impressions.
The book is divided into several sections which reflect the well-retired secondary school teacher/author’s spheres of interest and expertise. The largest section, “Along the Coast” contains 26 short pieces on subjects ranging from fog to being a passenger on the buoy tender. In one essay, barely a page in length Duncan recounts the full range of weather in a single summer day, including experiencing a violent squall while sailing. He concludes, “Dawn, midday and sunset; beauty, humor, terror and peace. Let not creation play to an empty house.”
In a section called “Seasons” Duncan infuses his interpretations of several Bible stories with a humorous yet respectful relevance for the ordinary person of today. (The Christmas story, for instance, is told from the point of view of a very harried innkeeper.) Of January he writes, “Christmas, like a beacon in midchannel, is behind us and the blessed month of January lies unspoiled ahead…thoughts that have been humming in our head, bumping the pane to get out…January, when the year rests for a few days on dead-center, is the quiet time, the unhurried time, the time to be open in eye and ear, open in memory and anticipation, open in heart and mind.” Duncan’s wife, Mary chimes in at this point with, “On the faded side of Christmas/I feel I have need/For paper-white narcissus/And a catalog of seed.”
Roger Duncan has long been appreciated as “a gentleman and a scholar” not to mention a keen sailor. In this collection he reveals himself as all of that and much more—wise and humble, generous, thoughtful and, erudite, contemplative and analytical, deeply reverent, slyly humorous. In a world where sleaze seems to be overtaking decency at a dizzying rate, this volume helps us feel proud to be human. Thank you, Mr. Duncan.