The Sea is My Sister

When I think of home I think of the sea, of the waves breaking against the rocks and the frothing remainder meeting the land in a head-on rush to embrace it.  I remember the time as a child when I was caught on a sandbar between the incoming tide and a deepening pool of seawater between the beach and I, making the pool a barricade that I had nearly lost the will, resolve and confidence to overcome.  I was scared of the things that could be lurking in the water, of the large flat jellyfish waiting with their tentacles outstretched and the crabs poised with their claws open, ready to snap at a moment’s hesitation on my part.

My feet were lost to the cold depths at this point and I could feel only the rush of water around my torso even though the bright intense sun hovered overhead, warming each body laid out on the beach in front of me, as if to mock my situation and to suggest that life went on no matter what happened to me.  With my cries of worry and my arms waving feebly I was eventually noticed and saved by an older brother who guided me by hand across the treacherous water that had so frightened and paralysed me.

I’d wanted the safety of the land, of something solid under my feet where I could look to the sea unmolested by creatures of the deep.  I’d become trapped because I was not paying attention to what was happening around me as I was too busy splashing in the water, resting on the sandbar and admiring the view of family and friends relaxing by the sea.

The journey to get to that beach had felt like a holiday in itself, not a fifteen minute drive from my family home.  Packed in the car, almost as tightly as sardines, we would be wearing our swimming trunks clasping plastic spades and buckets.  Sometimes a store box, packed with frozen ice packs, accompanied us and was filled full of cool and refreshing snacks that we’d eat after an hour or two of heating up in the fresh salt tinged air.  The North Sea would sometimes bring winds that had rallied and rolled across the water coming from as far away as Holland or Denmark, maybe even Norway at a push, or so I had hoped.  It was naive to think such things perhaps but I liked the thought of being connected with the countries that we had visited on holidays in the past.

After our little swim and exploration of the sand the two families would trudge back to the parked car, heading through a sandy beach that morphed into a half-hearted shingle before giving way once more to sand dunes, where shark sticks of dried grass would prick your feet and legs as you hobbled over them.  It was customary to then shake our clothes free of sand, shaking our bodies in union as we did so, and then push on to purchase an ice cream in a cone and try to all fit into the car once again.  We’d had a day at the beach and the sun had tired us out, we needed food and drink to replenish the physical and mental energy that we had lost exploring for shells, oddly shaped stones, the dried out remains of crabs and the dodging of the rubbish that protruded through the sand itself.

I had thought about these summer family trips to the beach years later as I relaxed in the back garden of my university house during my undergraduate years of study.  I had gotten lucky with this house so close to the university campus and the local parade of shops – French doors, from my room, led directly into our fairly big back garden where, during the summer, autumn and spring seasons, my house mates and I could relax unencumbered by walls.  We read in the sun, drank beer and burnt meat during numerous BBQ’s, we solidified our relationships here too.  It was the ideal relaxation area late on a Friday after a week full of lectures, research and writing, where we could gather with a few of our friends and get a mild buzz from drinking beers in the evening sun.  Music accompanied those gatherings, music that hung in the cooling air and permeated our bodies to slowly drift off out into the night once we had taken our fill.

The grass under my feet and the fact that I often took off my T-shirt as I lay on the grass meant that I felt truly rooted to the ground and I could stare at the sky freely, my eyes wandering from cloud to cloud or bird to bird as they popped into view.  It felt good being partially clothed, to feel the heat of the sun on my own skin or the coldness of the northern breeze against my chest.  It was different from sitting in a cool lecture theatre absorbing the information like a sponge, making notes on what I wanted to research and to write about for the next essay or presentation that popped up regularly, like ships on the horizon that appear in a pleasingly timely manner.  I wouldn’t admit it to myself, but I enjoyed the peace and the quiet away from the others that came with being down in the back garden by myself.  It had a timeless quality, that it felt like I could be a student forever and never truly grow up.

But still, I missed the sea.  The waves that broke, that swelled, that seemed to bore ceaselessly on against the land that I called home.

Advertisements

Surrounded by the Seas

‘They had plenty of talent and some success, but this was England after all, where no one – least of all a good painter – was really rewarded or punished; in England, whatever your profession, you made your own life.’

 Paul Theroux in The Kingdom by the Sea (1983).

~

I’m currently reading one of Theroux’s travel books that I have not read before, a now rare occurrence.  I’m a big fan of travel literature, especially of Theroux’s (why yes, I have read his latest on the American South).  Partly I think because it means I can travel in my mind when my body cannot.  Reading does this to a person though, regardless of circumstance.  It lifts you above what you know and what you think you know, it forces you to don someone else’s view point to discover the world, and the people in it, anew.

I haven’t swam in the sea this year and I haven’t swam in fresh water either.  This saddens me as long term readers of this site may remember that I love swimming; I love the feel of the body gliding through the blue, the grey, the swirling torrents of frothing waves.  I miss the sun above my head, the all too often grey clouds amassing in the distance as my arms brush against seaweed, a mini chloroform power station floating in the middle of the brine.  I miss the shouts and the giggles as the bracing waves slap against puckered skin in early autumn, of two brave and lost souls powering through content in a cold embrace.

The sea, the sea, my soul cries for its limitless horizons and its unknowable depths.

The Swimmers Paradise

You may have gathered from a previous post that I love swimming (or even just floating) in bodies of water, in both seas and lakes and man-made pools; that I love the feeling of being immersed so completely that you forget what it is like being tied to the land for life.  I am a lucky person as I live near the sea but, unfortunately, I haven’t swam in it for nearly 8 months now.  I remember the last time as if it were yesterday: the last rays of a summer sun that shimmered on the golden empty sands, of the waves that towered over my friend and me, those same waves that crashed onto our bodies and carried us along on the surf towards the shore, of being able to stare into the empty sky from a free floating position further out at sea, away from the swells and broils of the surf.  It was a fantastic experience and one well worth the arduous mini-trek down to the front.  I cannot wait until I am in the sea again, ensconced in that liquid love of two parts hydrogen covalently bonding with one part oxygen, and I hope against hope that it will be soon.

I see ships coming into the hometown port all the time, the cable layers and dredgers, along with the bigger container ships and oil tankers lining up to enter the bigger port that lies to the south of my town.  Often I spy the dredgers that go between the two, keeping the sea lanes free of silt.  I’d love to hop on an ocean going vessel again, to be taken away to see the world from the vantage point of a porthole.  Although the ships rarely spend long at port these days, the days of having wild nights in port cities long gone having been shunted aside by the necessity of the commercial world of shipping, I’d still get to float on the beautiful body of water that surrounds our ground bound forms.  I dream every night of being a part of a crew that rides the waves of the ocean, drifting between continents and between lives, not walking but gliding gracefully through the water.

CNV00041

A sea shot of a dredging ship, altered with some basic colour mixing via media player. Taken by me with a Pentax S1a on cheap colour film, please use CC if reproduced.

Swimming Deep

There is a certain something as you dive deep into any body of water, of being submerged and engulfed by the liquid, that feels quite alright by me.  It is refreshing,  liberating even.  It is nice to arch the back, take one last gulp of fresh air and then push down deep into the water, to feel that last kick of your legs in the air as you descend near vertical as the water embraces you in a tight fluid hug.  If I get chance I will happily swim anywhere I can, though as of late the sea and the local swimming pool have been my areas of contentment.

The German Lake.

Almost a year and a half ago I had the opportunity to swim in the German lakes, SW of Berlin, and it was a chance I took often, and with great relish.  Half way around the lake I discovered that there was a patch of secluded sandy soil, where the grasses fed into the water with reeds swaying lightly either side of this little enclave.  It was perfect, it was heavenly.  Away from the main ‘commercial’ area of the busy lake, it was a nest of shelter and calm.  It was to be there that I swam naked for the first time in public, clear under the midday sun.  It was pure bliss.  On busier days it was where I swam with an old couple, out into the open water, where I saw young couples in the full bloom of love snuggle and hug in the warm shallows, and where I saw young families enjoying the company of each other, of brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers.

It is not just the inherent beauty of swimming in water that I find relaxing and comforting, rather it is the pure escape, of experiencing a wholly different environment  from which we are used to spending our time in.  It is bliss, pure and simple.