I step tentatively from the edge of moist sand into the cold shock of the ocean. Slowly wading in up to my waist, I cringe slightly as waves lap higher up my body, each one a sharp new chill. Staring at the deep green water, shattered into tiny glinting mirrors, doesn’t alleviate my trepidation. My limbs tense as I make a shallow and hurried dive into swaying frigidity. Surface. That wasn’t so bad.
Today I am out wave-catching. Or, rather, I have simply let go of the sand shifting fluidly in-between my toes and instead let the immense, briny force ensnare me. Legs go limp as I let the water pull my shoulders back to coolly cradle me between the large and lazily rolling ripples. Mother Ocean rocks me up and down, as she does all her children across the horizon. In these moments I am able to suspend fears of sharks and deep-sea monsters imagined. There is a sort of trust, a short period of time in which the ocean and I are the only beings in existence.
Today is my birthday. At approximately 5:45 this morning nineteen years ago I was brought into the world through the water of birth. Even before that, before my eyes had seen the light of the world, I had been curled up, cradled in the dark ocean of my mother’s womb. Complete. Now I am apart somehow, never completely whole. Some people are given a god or a goddess to love when they come into the world, a way to fill the void, I guess. Prayers and psalms to patch up and hold together the pieces of their existence.
Instead, I find myself revisiting the water on the anniversary of my journey into the world, the day that I became apart from the ocean of my mother. And when I die, when I am returned to the Earth, the water will come again to slowly carry away the elements of my body and restore them into another life. Perhaps I will become the soft petal of a tulip or the sharp tip of a buck’s antler. Over the years I will percolate through the soils, swim through streams to make it back to the ocean, home. All roads lead to the sea. But for now, and I hope for many years, my encounters with water will be such as this. Fleeting but rejuvenating reunions, a reaffirmation of my eternal bond to the familiar and yet mysterious elixir of life.
A stray bit of chop catches me off guard, splashing and spraying over my face just as I have given the water my complete trust, closing my eyes. I roll instinctively out of my precarious back float to spit out the briny water. The tide has cradled and carried me half-way down the beach, and I wade slowly towards the shore and my dry towel.
The seabreeze blows gently up into the dunes, enveloping me in its silky smoothness, its warmth an extension of my own. I welcome its soft bursts, licking over my body they lift the salty wetness from my skin and brush the sticky sand away. Baby-clean and fresh. The lacey patterns of dried salt on my arms that a swim leaves behind will be the only remains of my beach visit. I do not mind them. Delicate tattoo markings Mother Ocean has left on me, claiming me as one forever bound within her power. I feel a touch of disappointment whenever they dissolve and slip away in the showers that always follow beach visits; the warm, familiar and fresh water washing away the tangible reminders of those more rare and exhilarating encounters.
Black clouds. They grow like smoke from a heavenly fire behind the dunes. The delicate grasses are wavering. They know the Storm is coming. Dark shadows stretch farther across the translucently gray sky, reaching for the ocean, as waves race higher up the shore. Heaven and ocean fingertips meet. The rolling, grumbling and guttural thunder calls out and the sharpening crashes of waves onto the beach return the ancient greeting. Piping plovers hunker down under the dunes’ quivering blanket of dusty miller and grass. Trees sober to a darker shade of green.
The people leave. Parents coax their young families hurriedly back through the dunes and are followed reluctantly by the teenagers and couples. Mass exodus. Somehow we cannot take part in this sacred ritual. We are afraid.
Slowly packing up my towel and notebook, I sling my bag over my shoulder and join the retreat into the near-deserted parking lot. Despite the intrigue and excitement a storm stirs in me, I cannot silence the common sense that warns me against standing in the open amidst strikes of lightning. Nestling myself deep into the warm driver’s seat of the old Jeep, I am meek and mild under the storm’s dark, foreboding omnipresence. I can feel the shaking of the charged air and the anticipating ground; the car and I quiver silently with it.
Pitterpatter pitterpatter. Bangity-ping bang bam! The rain gets louder, its voice rising harshly, and I cannot tell if it is a chant of celebration or of rage. Thundersong accentuates the steady rhythm of the kamikaze raindrops. Hitting the ground, they go:
Flash, crack, boom! Our song to you, light of life and roaring blow of death.
I feel the heat. Surging through the darkness, every lighting strike is a searing brutal gash in the coal-colored sky, healed back suddenly into the dark, foreboding clouds from which it ignited. Light out of the darkness, light swallowed and reclaimed by the dark. Like an ancient dance it goes. Like so many timeless moments we do not understand. Here, now, electrons, and positive and negative charges do not exist, only raw power and beauty.
The rain levels off and rumbles become distant whispers. I check my salt-stiffened hair in the rear-view mirror and turn the key. Warm whirr of pistons, rock beat raging through the radio. And I leave.
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