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.

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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.