Children of the Sea

I was born to live near the sea.  I’m not sure when I realized this, but I know it to be true.  The reality is that I grew up in Western Massachusetts and the closest thing to water near my parents’ house was the Chicopee Brook.  However, my grandparents owned a cottage a short walk from the ocean in New Hampshire and it is there that I learned where my heart belongs.

One of my earliest recollections is dancing through the waves of Cable Road Beach while singing “June is Bustin’ Out All Over.”  I was around six years old and remember splashing wildly, singing at the top of my lungs, until I noticed people on the beach staring at me.  I couldn’t help it- the day was bright and sunny, the waves were crashing and it just seemed to me that Oscar Hammerstein must have been thinking of a day such as this when he wrote the song.  It never occurred to me that Oklahoma is land locked, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway.  The spirit of the song captured my heart and was reflected in the sun-dappled brine.

There is something magical about the salt water. There is, of course, the scientific evidence that salt acts as a mild antiseptic, so it should come as no surprise that soaking in the sea heals poison ivy, stubbed toes and athlete’s foot.  However, I am a believer that it also remedies anxiety, strained muscles and broken hearts.  There is nothing as soothing as throwing myself into the curl of a crashing breaker and riding it to shore.  When I ride a wave, I clear my thoughts of everything except what is happening at that exact moment.  I open my eyes, white foam surrounding me, the gurgle and sputter of the froth filling my ears.   Bubbles massage my tense shoulders and I relax, allowing the strength of the wave to carry me where it will.  Again and again, I hurl myself into the surf, until shivering and exhausted, nose dripping and hair tangled, I must leave the water to warm awhile in the sun. 

My children share my love for the sea. Indeed, Gabe was only two weeks old the first time I dipped his toes into the Atlantic.  They, like generations before them, played in the water until their lips turned blue, rolled in the sand until they were warm, and then again threw themselves into the churning sea.  They learned that the ocean held countless treasures- green and blue sea glass, star fish, and smooth bits of wood bleached white by the sun and salt.  They saw that the edge of a waning ripple forms wedding veil lace, and when the wind blows, white caps play hide and seek with the sun.   They learned that by wading from Jenness Beach to Straw’s Point they could think more clearly and talk more honestly.    They came to know, like I do, that the sea would cool their anger, order their thoughts and inspire their spirits.

I dream of having a home at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.  I want to take grandchildren swimming- to tell them how my mother would float parallel to the shore and let the surf crash over her head. I want to teach them to ride waves, the way I taught my children, the way my father taught me.   I want them to know the strength of an undertow the day after a storm and the serenity of gentle ripples that lap the gray and silver silt.  I want to hear them squeal when an icy wave slaps their backs and wonder if it’s possible to swim to the Isles of Shoals.   I have visions of walking the beach after everyone goes home to fix dinner, when only the seagulls remain and the sand turns cool.   Such dreams will not become realities- homes by the sea are not within my reach- but I will be content to rise early in the morning and drive to my beloved coast.

I tell my children that when I die I want my ashes scattered in the Atlantic.  They don’t want to discuss such things and try to change the subject.  I know this is because they are young and do not yet want to imagine the beach without me splashing by their sides.  But to me, it would be going full circle. We are born from water and it makes sense that I should return to it.  They have time to come around- I have no intention of passing from this life to the next anytime soon.   But someday, the winter of my life will close in and I would like the cool green arms of the sea to be my final resting place. 

Soon September will bring cooler winds and paler skies.  But right now, sun is shining and the waters are warm.  There are still days to float in the brine and watch for rolls of churning liquid thunder to carry me once again to the shore.   Surf’s up- let’s go for a swim!


The Beach

I love winter.  I love the starkness of barren trees against alabaster fields.  I love the way snow sparkles like diamonds when it blows against the street lights.  I love the way ice crystals trace fairy paths across my car’s windshield.  Frigid temperatures, moaning winds and climbing piles of snow thrill me.  Every snowfall of the season delights me. 


But this year was different.  Winter was hard.  Coworkers were strained and impatient.  Family members became ill.  I was called to serve on a jury for a murder trial.  The never ending snow, usually a white comforter to soften the world, became an ashen reminder of how cold and harsh life can be.


This morning as we drove to work, my son remarked, “I can’t wait for the beach!” 

Ah… the beach.  Just the sound of it warms my bones and relaxes my shoulders.  As much as I love winter, I love summer even more, because of the beach. 


For me, the beach is a mile-long expanse of grey sand on the rocky coast of New Hampshire.  It is totally unadulterated.  No boardwalk.  No ice cream stands.  No souvenir shops or Tiki huts. Just sand and water.


The beach has always been a gathering place for my family.  When I was a kid, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and all flocked to the beach when the summer sun was high.  The “old people” (parents and grandparents) sat in the fine, cool sand closest to the water, umbrellas raised and small children nearby.  Teenagers opted for the hot, coarse sand closest to the rocks.  We slathered ourselves with baby oil, turned up the transistor radio and played endless games of poker.  


It was at the beach that I rode waves with my father the day after a hurricane.  Giant swells tossed me upside down, skinning my face and knees on the sand.  Foolishly determined to keep up with him, I swam beside him, diving when he did, swimming when he did.  It was exhilarating and terrifying.  I was, quite literally, in over my head.  I thought I might die.  I loved it.


It was at the beach that I fell in love for the first time.  Like summer, the romance faded much too quickly.  Like summer, it carved a spot in my heart that even still remains warm and golden.


It was at the beach that my siblings and I gathered days after my father died.  Memories of him riding the surf were soothing balm to our broken hearts.


When I had children, I took them to the beach when their first summer arrived.  They too grew up in the cool sand by the water, and graduated to their own spots in the hot sand by the rocks.  They learned to ride the waves like my father, although he was not there to teach them.  They came to know their cousins, aunts and uncles at the beach.


At the beach, all barriers are down, and everyone is seventeen again.  Walls between youth and adult are razed by the waves.  We become the same, forged by the excitement of riding the surf until the bubbles carry us to where our tummies graze the sand.  We think more clearly. We talk more openly.  We listen with open ears and open hearts.  The rolling repetition of the surf calms our souls.


So, now that the last of the snow has melted, and the warm breezes and afternoon sun promises that summer is nearby, it is time for the beach once again.  It is time for my mind to calm, my heart to heal, and to play in the sun and the surf again.  All are welcome to join me.  I’ll be in the blue beach chair in the cool sand.

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