On our recent trip to Maine, the waves were pounding the coast and it was chilly to the bone. It rained on us. Then the rain turned to sleet. Our fingers froze through our soaked gloves. But still we persisted in watching the waves heaving themselves against the rocky coast. Massive sprays of water were hurled up. Pulverized bits of water and white foam were thrown high into the air, sometimes even reaching us, high upon the bluff. We could have stayed watching for hours. Predicting which swells would produce the best displays. Timing the distance between when we could no longer see the wave and when the water actually hit the rocks below us. Breathing in wonder as yet another spray of water defied gravity for a brief moment.
Bird recently opined that she didn't think I should or could live far from the ocean. At the time I thought to myself, how silly, I can live anywhere. But as I've thought about it more, I've come to realize that it's an intriguing idea. That something in me is tied to the ocean, any ocean.
I spent a lot of my childhood watching the ocean change colors in time and space, listening to waves drag pebbles in their wake, first surging forward, then back again, smelling the rich aroma of kelp, tasting salt as the ocean water mixed with the fog.
I watched surfers ever-patiently waiting for the next perfect wave. I would carefully watch pelicans diving for fish. And every time another one dove I would be impressed all over again at how such an ungainly bird became immensely graceful in the last seconds before it hit the water, its neck stretched out as it would get to the fish just that much quicker.
Hours were spent body surfing or boogie boarding during the summer, free from parental interference or negative sibling interactions. Sometimes parents or Bear, my brother, would be out there with me but it didn't matter. Aside from avoiding running into each other or brief, excited comments about the greatness of this next wave, I was alone in that matrix.
The creatures of tide pools were worth a good deal of investigation. I had a kind of love-hate relationship with sea anemones. They were so pretty, with their tentacles waving gently in the water as if a breeze was passing them by. But I was afraid they would close themselves on my fingers if I attempted to stroke them and find out if they were as soft as they seemed. In our late teens Bear once suggested that I should smoke pot since when he and his friends did they would sit and look at the ocean for hours and imagine what wonderful creatures might be in there. I just stared back at him, mildly befuddled. I'd been doing that my whole life without assistance from inhaled or ingested substances.
As I grew up my observations of the ocean became more nerdy. I would time the periodicity of waves and determine the origin direction of the waves. I took field guides with me to the tidepools. Chitons became my favorite tidepool denizens, they are definitely among the most subtly beautiful organisms to be found there.
When I went away to college across the US, I missed the ocean like it was a person I loved. My heartsickness was so profound I would weep. A girlfriend even surprised me by taking me to the beach so I could walk along the wintery, blustery coast of Long Island Sound. Going to "the beach" in the middle of winter never occurred to me back in California. I gained a new perspective on beaches when I began visiting east coast beaches in the fall and winter. The quiet that wasn't quiet at all but filled small noises that were covered up when the tourists come to town. The sense of desolation and loneliness. That gray melancholy of a deserted beach. How you felt the wind blowing by your ears as much as you heard it.
It may make giggly girl (and all those rooting for the mid-west as the location of our next settling) sad, but Bird might be on to something.