When I close my eyes and listen hard, I can hear the ocean.
It has been three years since I last lived by the sea, but it’s kind of my earth. Rather than being grounded, I prefer to float. I guess being born and raised on an Island where we could run to the salt water in ten minutes makes it inevitable I would have salt water in my veins. It makes me laugh now that when I was away at university in Fredericton I fretted about being so terribly landlocked. It was two hours away from the coast. Now, I am not sure if we could actually get any further away from an ocean. Pacific Ocean, about 1700 km away. My sea, the Atlantic, more like 4000 km away.
The prairie has its charm, and second to the ocean I like the roll of the open land best, mostly because the horizon is always visible. When we are driving out on the prairie I squint my eyes just so and pretend the grain fields are the ocean. It really works. Large lakes also do the trick for a quick fix. Lake Diefenbaker is a huge manmade lake with something like 250 km of coastline surrounded by sand dunes so I also go there and squint it into a pretend ocean. The sun glinting off the lake gives me some satisfaction even though it smells wrong and there aren’t enough seagulls or shells or rotting kelp. But if I focus hard, I can conjure the smell of the sea in my head.
When I meditate, I hear the waves and the wind in the pines behind the dunes. In the dentist chair, the happy place I go to is always the same. The hot sand whispering through my fingers, the sun on closed eyelids, the sound of the waves crashing on the shore and the gulls crying overhead. But it is the smell I miss most, that incomparable tang of sweet salty air rolling in from the sea and filling my lungs with a sense of all that is right and comforting and wild and dangerous and timeless all at once. It has a power, an irresistible pull on all of us who grow up beside it and watch the tides go in and out.
If I am away from it too long, I start to wilt like a plant deprived of rain. It is weird, I know, and lots of coastal people live inland and barely bat an eyelash but frankly I never was much like everyone else. The Pacific will do nicely as well for recharging my sea legs, although it smells different and there is a weird absence of lobsters. It does give me joy even without the lobsters. But still, the lobster would add to the joy quite substantially. And no, I have no problem dropping them live into boiling water. Such is the destiny of a lobster.
It makes me happy that our children are part selkie as well, and as both were born near the sea they are also destined to have salt water in their veins. Like me, they are happy to dive into the depths, knowing that they will pop back up like corks to the surface. Some people sink like stones, some people float. It’s quite a good analogy for humans. But somehow I think that if everyone spent some time by the sea, they would realize they too can float. Humans may not have the wings to fly but next best is to lie on your back in the ocean, ears under water listening only to the peace of the depths, face up to the sun and the blinding blue sky, letting the waves carry you into shore. Watch out for the undertow. Make sure the tide is coming in. And just float.
*All photos by Daniel Wall. He’s not from the coast but he takes darn good pictures of it.