It was, as I have said, a fine autumnal day; the sky was clear and serene, and nature wore that rich and golden livery which we always associate with the idea of abundance. The forests had put on their sober brown and yellow, while some trees of the tenderer kind had been nipped by the frosts into brilliant dyes of orange, purple, and scarlet.... As Ichabod jogged slowly on his way, his eye... ranged with delight over the treasures of jolly autumn. ~Washington Irving, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"
Monday, June 6, 2011
The Beach at Linda Mar
As if you woke up from a scary dream and realized that the fear in the dream was gone and the reality of being awake was beautiful?
Beaches always bring me thoughts of mortality.
It happen one summer. I was on vacation with my aunt and cousin, in the late 50's, in southern Calilfornia. There was a diving platform that was held by a rope out beyond the surf at the La Jolla Beach and Country Club that some wealthy relative belonged to. It was a hot day and the water looked so good. My cousin, being older and a much stronger swimmer decided that we should swim out to this platform so that we could mingle with the rich kids.
She reached the platform before I did. I was swimming slowly out over the waves and into the depths of the Pacific Ocean, knowing full well that I shouldn't be out there. I had never swam in the ocean before and was not a good swimmer at all. I was a floater in swimming pools, a pretender... a dive down and swim under the water, with goggles on, and see the bottom of the pool kind of swimmer. I didn't know how to breath properly or use the right kind of strokes. I should not have been swimming in the ocean.
This was not a swimming pool and there was no "bottom" that I could see or feel. My mind played this game of watery vertigo with me. The warm and cold currents clutched my fear like fish touching my body as I tried to keep swimming into the waves of water that would sometimes block my view of the platform ahead.
Then I saw my cousin swimming past me in the opposite direction toward the beach. She said something about a dead seagull floating in the water, blood and the attraction of sharks for that sort of thing. I froze.
I knew, at any moment, a shark was going to find me flailing about like that dead bird and I would feel this huge monster grab my leg.
I turned around and with all the effort that my thirteen year old body could muster, I swam for shore but my breathing was impaired and my strokes were immature. I was "in over my head". The old saying finally took on an urgent and stark reality I had never understood before.
As I tried to swim.. as my face went into the water and filled my nose with salty liquid, I noticed, for the first time, that I was swimming right next to the heavy rope that was tethering the diving platform. I grabbed the rope and pulled myself into shore with the certainty that if that rope had not been there I would have been eaten by this unseen shark or drowned from fear alone.
I will never forget the feeling of sand under my feet and the warmth of the sun when I reached the beach and lay there shaking from panic and the horror of being so hopelessly left to fend for myself in an ocean so vast that there was no hope of anyone finding my body until it was swepted onto a distant beach and someone would be running to me screaming "Oh my God!".... Flipping me over, as in the movies, they would find me missing a leg and covered with seaweed. The awful phone call that would have been made to my parents... the cousin who would have been blamed for letting me swim out there.. because she was older... because she was suppose to be with me. It was a tragedy that never happen, of course, because of a ROPE.... but the memory has never left me.
I NEVER WENT INTO THE OCEAN AGAIN.
So when, on this beach, last week, I watched my sister pick up a stranded crab
I looked at the delicate flowers that grow in the sand dunes...
I have never been close enough to see my reflection in the wet sand. It's a reflection of life that I hope to see someday. Maybe I will stand there the next time I'm at the beach and see my own likeness in the mirrored sand.... and maybe I will let the white foam move over my bare feet and once again feel that strange sensation I remember as a child, of going backwards and forward at the same time.... being pulled into and away from the shore....and have no fear.
I'm still afraid of the ocean.... but I'm learning that not all monsters are bad. Some are just misunderstood. If you watch someone who loves something long enough, as my sister loves the ocean, you understand what William Wordsworth said when he wrote....
"...Thanks to the Human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears."
Ode~intimations of immortality from recollections of early childhood~