The impending ocean announces itself in a way that lakes do not. I’ve seen more lakes than I’ve cared to count lately; mountain lakes and manmade lakes and reservoirs and the always strange and briny Mono Lake. Rarely do these still and scentless bodies of water give you a heads up that they are there (particularly if you’re not a map watcher). You often must come within sight of their waters before you think, “Look at that, there’s a lake here.”
But the ocean is for the devout, in that you do not have to see or hear it to know it is there. Our body senses its existence. The atmosphere changes, the wind blows a new way through the car window and the air weighs more heavily around your being. It begins to smell like water—powerful, unconstrained saltwater—from many miles away. It speaks to us.
Be wild here, says the Northern ocean, and I am bundled up and unruly, flipping shells and jumping rocks and peering into every tide pool.
Relax, says the Southern ocean, and I am under the sun and into a book, my purple-patterned towel spread across hot sand.
Somewhere between these two cultures a wooden pier juts out and divides north from south. Once used for shipping, a bait shop now draws in a steady population of quiet fisherman who, in turn, pull a population of gulls who keep a close eye on the day’s catch.
I keep a close eye on the ocean. I am a girl who grew up near water, a girl who took many childhood trips to the marina with her parents, and whose father owned a sailboat, a power boat and a handful of smaller boats – not all of which I can recall, but I’m sure I counted at least two canoes sitting in our yard before I’d turned 21. I know this as I sold them after my father passed away. A man of Native American descent named Tomas came to buy them one afternoon, carrying them away from the grassy slope where they rested upside down, and that is as far as my memory goes as it has been many years – and because the mind is funny about what it chooses to remember.
And as I am a girl raised near water, one day after weeks in the deserts and mountains of inland states the ocean was a welcome sight and sound and smell. There I stood at the shore knowing that a handful of hours south these same waters were breaking against San Diego, and three days north they would filter into the Puget Sound and swell much more gently alongside my hometown, Seattle. This realization is akin to looking up at the moon at night to know that you and someone you miss and maybe love are both under the same sky, except we are both—we are all—not only under a moon, but along this shore. Connected by currents, all types of them, both water and human.
(written summer 2014; revised for ColetteKay.com)