“It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen” said a young woman who had come from Denver to visit the ocean. “I don’t want to leave.”
In the middle of winter far away from any shore, I used to try to imagine the ocean places I only saw in summer. I knew the waves were continuously coming onshore even though I could not see or hear them. I could feel I was missing out on something important.
Now, in fairly frequent conversations, I hear similar longings expressed by vacationers sharing their desire to continue to experience the sights and sounds of the ocean, wanting to take the experience home with them, imagining the ocean always being able to lull them into peace with its primal rhythms.
It’s nearly 2 a.m. and that primacy is keeping me awake. There’s a storm out there, far away, not a threat to this particular shore, but distance only lightly hinders wave energy and the whomps and crashes of fierce water meeting rocks in the middle of a dark night is far from soothing.
My body tenses, staying vigilant for perceived threats. Tide chart consultations, marine forecasts with highly accurate wave heights, all assure me that, for now, the ocean is staying within non-threatening parameters yet the voice of the sea suggests other possibilities.
In our imaginings or memories our ocean visits are usually peaceful even though most of us thrill to the fury of storms, responding to proximity to pure power when riled water meets land. New to my awareness is how the constancy of power can tire, perhaps exhaust. What had soothed can also drain. It is endlessly loud. The perception of menace was not imagined in my far distant longings for what might have been something other than the power of constantly moving water.
For years I thought of myself as a night owl. Staying up late meant sleeping in and it was not unusual to still be in bed at eleven on any day that I was not working.
Now I wake to dawn’s light and sometimes to first light, the margin before the sun breaks the horizon. First light is often more interesting, more subtle, than watching the big red ball rise over the ocean’s edge. The hours of light beckon. They are not to be missed. This show happens every day and you can watch it for free; it’s an art gallery opening, only quiet, with an attendance by one. Nature—the painter, sculptor, collage maker—assembles waves and clouds and occasional birds and the light changes minute by minute. It never gets boring and it rarely repeats. When the sun tucks under, slipping below the horizon bringing darkness, sleep is welcome. There are no lamp poles or street lights to artificially extend the day. Only a full moon, reflecting the sun’s light, illuminates the house at night and, sometimes, bright stars and planets–red orange Mars and brilliant Venus–dance in proximity or balance it across the dome of black sky. The starry night can be lovely but, for me, the dark skies mean only short moments of awe and gaze. My preference always leans to the grand daytime show.
In my half-asleep, half-awake state with the windows open in the very early morning, the calls of raucous gulls sounded like children playing. Gulls should not be equated with children, they are serious and seriously strong birds. In late winter I had watched a lone gull hunt for food with 40-50 mph sustained winds blowing directly into the small nearby cove. There were no other birds in sight as I watched a Great Black-Back, the largest of the gulls, swoop and dive, riding the winds searching the riled waters for displaced fish and shellfish being churned from the sea. It was hard for an adult human to stand upright in that wind yet this winged creature was taking advantage of the conditions, a total-body workout with bonus lunch. I was watching power coupled with determination.
The image of parking lot scavenger gulls does not match that storm gull’s flight and thinking about the starkly different “lifestyles” of this species I realized that the parking lot gulls, the city roof dwellers, the beach food grabbers all demonstrate the same highly effective survival mechanisms, yet another form of strength.
A lone gull flying over waves is a familiar presence in seascapes and a common fodder image on greeting cards sold in coastal gift shops, yet watching these gulls live their lives on the margins of sea and land is watching pure beauty, their presence iconic, a testament and metaphor of survival, of resilience and strength.
Assurance. Reassurance. Insurance.
Solid ground, that’s the basic metaphor of assurance.
Reassurance is the attempt to return to that after the solid ground sense has been lost.
Insurance is what’s needed if that solid ground has moved into disaster, so assurance can be restored.
Meteorology in a costal environment is different from what I knew inland. Lines of fairly strong thunderstorms moved through at mid-day and now, hours later in the middle of the night, big surf is pounding the rocks. These waves are much larger than those prior to the storm. There is a delay between a storm’s passing and the resulting growth of the size of the waves. A March nor’easter produced day-after heights reaching 20-25 feet and those waves came under a bright sun, the better to scare you with, my dear. Assurance, that day and for quite a few days after, was lacking. The storm had come on a full moon along with astronomical high tides resulting in white torrents of rushing water racing towards the house leaving all sizes of shale deposits on the lawn. Sand beaches along the coast had great gouges as if giants had been playing with their pails and shovels. Many needed their insurance to repair the storm damage.
Months later I have returned to loving the sounds of the night surf, the irregular rhythms and soft roars. Beach lovers think of lapping waves in soothing repetition but open ocean and a rocky shore rarely has either, no assurance but the constant awareness of power. Perhaps this is a different form of assurance, one that reminds us that nature is in control not we humans. The ears stay tuned in the night, monitors always on, but now back to reveling in the proximity of the ocean.
Is it possible to embrace uncertainty, leaving assurance behind?