Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A month of gifts, day 16: The Gift of the Ocean

(The view from Windswept Point, South Harpswell, Maine.)

My friend Lynn and I bonded over living in the Buffalo area after growing up in Maine. “I miss the ocean,” Lynn told me, and I nodded agreement. “When I moved here, someone said, ‘Just go to Lake Erie. It’s the same.’ So I did. And I just stood on the shore and cried.”

I knew what she meant. Oh, the Great Lakes are nice, even impressive at times. But, no, they aren’t ‘the same’ as the sea. The ocean feels and tastes and sounds different. Tides measure out the days, storms cast up treasure, seals and lobster buoys bob off the rocks.

I think everyone has a certain kind of wildness they’re drawn to, and while I love the forests of my childhood home, and I’ve learned to love mountains and deserts and the sere high plains in my life’s journey, there’s something about the sea that always calls to me. I come from sea people, and I feel the tide the way I can feel the pulse of my own blood in my neck.

My dad’s family settled in Maine a few hundred years ago. There used to be a Bibber Island in Casco Bay—it’s known as Little Whaleboat now, and you can see it if you stand at the end of the point where my grandmother’s house stands. Shale breaks apart like the leaves of a giant book, slabs taller than me falling every year to the storms. Seaweed squelches underfoot, and barnacles will cut your feet and knees as you clamber along the low cliffs. Little green crabs, quahog clams with their royal purple lips, gulls shrilling overhead, slow starfish and darting seals. I even love that rich, rank low-tide smell.

(The house at Harpswell.)

That’s the sea I grew up with, cold and stern like a Pilgrim preacher on the northern Atlantic coast. And when I grew older and moved west, I learned to love the Pacific, too. There’s Point Reyes State Shore just north of San Francisco, and Coos Bay on the Oregon coast, where the rocky cliffs are gentled by a warmer sun and soft sand. My sister tells me I bring good weather luck with me when I visit, because it’s always sunny and warm enough to visit the beach. (Apparently it’s not always cheery and bright in Oregon?)

When I was a little girl, I would give offerings to the sea. In my mind, she was a powerful woman, capable of great rages and yet full of playfulness. I felt her presence, her majesty, and I would toss the best seashells and stones I found back into the water as a gift. Maybe, in that little act of worship, I linked myself to something larger than I knew, something impossible to ever escape.

(Some of the treasures I picked up while beachcombing in Bandon.)

Not that I want to escape, unless you mean a little vacation spot by the sea.

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