Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The one that got away

I've been thinking this morning about the ocean. I have always loved the ocean (any ocean really). But it's been a conflicted affection, since I also seem to have an innate fear of it. For my friends, vacation consisted of hiking and camping trips and weeks spent in Europe visiting family and sight-seeing, which seemed entirely foreign and exotic to my family of beach bums. For as long as I can remember, Summer vacation consisted of a lengthy migration to the coast - Florida, Alabama, even Hawaii once - and spending as many hours of the day for at least a week right on the water. I remember vcation in California, too, with my aunt, uncle and cousins; Disneyland and bonfires in the sand on chilly nights. I can see us from a distance as though I was a stranger passing by the tableau. I remember coming home - humid and familiar, unexciting - with a deep tan and sand in my shoes, and wishing for more dinners at waterfront restaurants with the glow of the lights on the wet sand. I remember wishing I was alone, that no family or familiar face was there to draw me in and distract me from ... myself. There is something wonderful and spiritually sparkling about being alone with the ocean.

There is something magical about the ocean, primordial maybe. Something that draws me to it, but warns me not to get too comfortable. I love the crystal blue of the water, tainted only by the shimmering gold sand caught up in the swirling, foamy waves. The salty air and burnishing sun. And the tiny sand crabs that wiggle between my fingers. I love standing in the sand, just at the edge of the water, and seeing how long it takes for the waves to bury my feet in the drippy, saturated sand.

At the same time, I have an in-born aversion to water that's too deep for me to see through (for this perhaps-not-entirely-justified reason, I will never enjoy rivers or lakes). The farther I go out, the blacker the water gets; I can't quite handle that, as though some mysterious predator waits for me just beyond the ledge of sand that takes you from happy Summer vacation to Jaws. Once, while innocently belly boarding near the shore, I saw one of these just below my feet:

One year in Florida, my parents rented a red plastic kayak and my eager brother decided to row the two of us out as far as possible, while commentating our trip with "Wow!" and "This is awesome!" and "Isn't this amazing, Nat?" ("Um, no as a matter of fact") while I'm practicing relaxing breathing techniques in an attempt at warding off a panic attack. I kept asking for him to stop rowing (my paddle dipped in and held still in an effort to slow us down was a pointless exersion). We kept getting farther and farther out; blacker and blacker water. Eventually, I saw several even blacker forms under the opaque water, with wet black fins cutting the surface and gliding past, literally a couple of feet from our small plastic craft. NOTE: Kayaks are likely one of the least reassuring watercrafts; thin, easy-to-capsize plastic boats don't do much to allay my fears as we cut through solid black water.

The fins, I realized, belonged to a couple of porpoises ...

Back at last on comforting sand, I vowed never to get in a kayak again.

Despite some low points in our relationship, I still can't get enough of the ocean. I keep going back, and every time I do, there is something enchanting about it; it never gets old, it never disappoints. The only disappointment is having to eventually leave. I saw a photo recently of someone camping on the beach: a tent piched against the dunes, and the waves mere yards away. How wonderful. Can you imagine the dreams you'd have while sleeping to that soundtrack?

Gulls and surfers on Manhattan Beach - Cali., 7/2010

How many waves til they're buried? - Manhattan Beach - Cali., 7/2010

Santa Monica Pier - Cali., 7/2010

Sometimes, my mind reminds me of the misty-filtered sunshine, the fog on my glasses and salty-sticky skin. And the feeling that the ocean is the one that got away.

Driving the PCH - Cali., 7/2010

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