It started when I was young, growing up in a small town with direct access to the ocean, in the upper left corner of the United States. My family had a small boat, and we'd spend weekends in the summer together out at sea. We'd drop crab traps in the water and head towards our favorite spot on Lummi Island, lovingly referred to in my family as "Magic Island". There, we set up camp. A small fire, paper plates and other picnic supplies. As my father got the fire going, he'd send my sister and I off to explore the island in search of firewood. Sometimes we'd find ourselves up near the cliff that overlooked the ocean, it had a steep drop, but the risk was worth the reward, as the view was so spectacular that I can still remember how it took my breath away. The sheer vastness of the water, as it spread farther than my eyes could see. I can still hear my father warning us not to get too close to the edge, as he pulls us away from the water and closer towards him.
I always noticed how happy my dad was as he looked at the water, and it made me happy too. We'd all sit there quietly, my sister, my father and I, staring out and admiring the ocean. With the implicit understanding that ocean time was quiet time, a moment allowing for a brief pause in conversation. A time for us to all collectively appreciate what nature had provided us with. I don't know what he was thinking about but it doesn't really matter, because he was stoic and silent and strong, just like the ocean. When it was time for lunch we'd roast hot dogs over the open fire and then move on to s'mores. Competing with each other to see who could roast the perfect marshmallow. The goal was a marshmallow just lightly kissed with a golden color. Not too much, so that it was burnt, and not too little, for fear of leaving it cold and flavorless.
And finally, as the afternoon winds died down, we'd pack up our supplies into the small boat and head towards home. We'd stop to collect our crab traps and I'd sit in terror at the back of the boat, remembering the time a crab got loose and crawled its way towards me as I screamed and cried. We'd head back to shore, and my sister would fall asleep to the gentle sound of the waves while I looked out at them. Sometimes I'd picture the ocean full of mermaids, and the waves representing their hands pressing up against the barrier between sea and sky. Other times I would look behind me, see the wake of our boat and picture we were the zipper on a large blue jacket. Eventually I'd join my sister in sleep, with my head slowly nodding along to the rhythm of the sea.
Now, after so many years have past, the family boat sits in the garage. It's used as a catch-all, storage for christmas presents, empty boxes that might come in handy later and a plethora of camping supplies. It's not forgotten, but rather, waiting for the perfect moment. Waiting for the business to die down, for the perfect combination of a summer day with mild winds, for the whole family to join up again. So it was a long time before I was able to join up with ocean.
But there are other ways to connect with the water. Marinas and harbors, beaches and hiking trails. So I explored those, and the bond between the girl and the ocean grew stronger.
Sometimes when I'm sad or disconnected or confused, I head towards the ocean. Bringing a book and my camera, maybe a ginger ale or a hot tea. I sit by the water, my feet in the sand, and I close my eyes. I don't think about anything as I sit there in silence the way I remember my father used to, stoic and silent and strong. Listening to the sound of the waves as they splash against the shore, and waiting until my heartbeat matches their rhythm. There's comfort in the complexity, peace in the understanding that the sea is all knowing and all powerful. It was created out of nothing, existing independent of human creation, it's something so beautiful, so magical, and it began before everything I know was even a possibility.
I was always taught to respect the ocean. To understand that it was something much more powerful than myself. To never swim alone, and to never venture out too deep. The water isn't the same everywhere. It's cold and green in the northwest, pale and murky in southern California, a dark navy near Alaska, and a bright, unrelenting blue in the Caribbean. But somehow, despite all the differences, it's still the same.
The ocean shows its heart. A deep, tormented sea is wild. And you can tell when it's angry by the size of the waves. It's uncontrollable, and the only way to to survive is by waiting it out. But a calm sea is more beautiful than anything, with small waves that move at a leisurely pace and sunlight kissing the tips of the water.
That's how I fell in love. Knowing what to expect. Knowing that even though the water might change colors it will still be able to take my breath away. Knowing that if I close my eyes I can still hear the waves as they crash onto the sand. And knowing that if the sea can calm itself, than so can I.