“But the sea
which no one tends
is also a garden”
― William Carlos Williams
The sea looms large in my psyche, as if I had emerged from it instead of from a human’s womb, and felt myself landing, soggy and salty, dazzled by the sun, on gritty warm sand in the middle of the day.
You didn’t come into this world. You came out of it, like a wave from the ocean. You are not a stranger here. — Alan Watts
There is something so primordial about the wave crash, the salt taste, the rhythmic back and forth of water washing onto the shore and off, returning from the land, returning from the coldest dark depths where blind creatures thrive, existing in a place that’s neither here nor there and both.
At a women’s new moon circle a week or two ago, we sang a round:
The ocean is the beginning of the Earth /
All life comes from the sea.
By overlapping the parts, we could mimic the lapping of waves on the shore, a feeling both lulling and powerful. (You can hear it here.)
I’m not the only one who feels this way. Why our brains love the ocean by Wallace J. Nichols in Slate, July 2014) offers some hypotheses for humans’ desire for bodies of water — “80 percent of the world’s population lives within sixty miles of the coastline of an ocean, lake, or river” — and says “Several years ago I came up with a name for this human–water connection: Blue Mind, a mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment. It is inspired by water and elements associated with water, from the color blue to the words we use to describe the sensations associated with immersion. It takes advantage of neurological connections formed over millennia, many such brain patterns and preferences being discovered only now, thanks to innovative scientists and cutting-edge technology.”
Yet for me, seeing or being immersed in a lake or pond, a bathtub or jacuzzi, a stream, or a hot tub (God forbid), don’t have the same effect at all as the sight, smell, sound, or feel of ocean. And the shoreline. And the marshes often found nearby.
The ocean and shoreline are the settings of some of my favourite books and poems, including May Sarton’s The House by the Sea, Alice Koller’s An Unknown Woman, and ee cummings’ poem “maggy and milly and molly and may went down to the beach(to play one day).” Some favourite films, too, such as Woody Allen’s Interiors, Something’s Gotta Give with Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson, even parts of The Beaches of Agnes.
All seaside beaches call me, perhaps especially Jekyll Island’s off the coast of Georgia, but also Myrtle Beach, SC, so expansive, Rehoboth Beach in Delaware as it runs into the wilder Cape Henlopen, and Pine Point Beach in Scarborough, Maine. I lived a block from that beach one winter and spring, and I return to visit when I can, which happily was the case last week.
Life on the beach:
“The three great elemental sounds in nature are the sound of rain, the sound of wind in a primeval wood, and the sound of outer ocean on a beach. I have heard them all, and of the three elemental voices, that of ocean is the most awesome, beautiful and varied.” ― Henry Beston, The Outermost House: A Year of Life On The Great Beach of Cape Cod