06 August 2009


A 16-year old girl, niece of a colleague, arrived for a week’s vacation with an equally adorable South Dakota friend in tow, and when I asked if they had ever been to California they replied no, they’ve never even seen an ocean.

I cannot imagine a landlocked life. Growing up in NYC, the Atlantic Ocean was never far. Although I had to take long hot subway train rides to Coney Island or Jones Beach in Brooklyn, or occasionally the family drove to Orchard Beach in the south Bronx, the Atlantic Ocean always beckoned. Summer was beach season. We never had access to a pool and when, as an older child, I spent summers at a camp upstate, I discovered the pleasures of boating and swimming on a lake, but the ocean remained my touchpoint for summer living. The only other water source in summer was a hydrant unplugged, a city kids version of waves.

We visited my aunt every summer in Virginia or we met half-way in Rehoboth Beach, Maryland. And when I grew up and moved to Connecticut, I picked a town on the Long Island Sound, an extension of the Atlantic as deep and profound as the ocean itself, but with gentler waves, and began regular sojourns to Cape Cod or the Rhode Island and Jersey shores, as the Atlantic held its sway up and down the coast and always welcomed visitors longing for the soothing steady rush of waves rolling to shore.

I cannot imagine life without the ocean, although I rarely go into the water these days. The Pacific is always colder and the riptide [which a friend recently explained is different from the undertow we were warned to watch for by our ever-protective parents] is often at a powerful pitch and I no longer feel quite so brave as when I was a girl, jumping giant waves and waiting with great expectation to crash within and come up gasping for air, a water-logged roller coaster.

But wait. What if one grew up with giant trees and forest terrain bordered by creeks or rivers, or flat lands punctuated by lakes or ponds suitable for swimming? Perhaps the ocean might seem too vast, monotone and oppressive. Waves unsettling. Is the ocean uniformly embraced by virtue of its majesty?

Apparently so. The mid-western girls flung themselves into rolling churning froth and loved every minute of it. As if the ocean is home to us all, home to the amoeba’s that gave birth to us and thus a collective womb.

Swimming in the ocean is only one of its pleasures. I regularly walk along the beach and dig my toes into the moist sand at water’s edge. I sit in a striped beach chair and read, distracted pleasantly by children and dogs and families enjoying Oceanside life. On a sunset walk early in my life in Laguna Beach, I stood at the edge of one of the many streets that end at the beach, watching surfers catch the swell, when all of a sudden they all stopped and sat on the boards facing the sun as if sculptures of themselves, and I thought it might be some sort of homage to the end of day, when a school of Dolphins passed by and I realized the surfers were giving them right of way. One of the many wonderful moments only found at the ocean.

When friends remind me that I could live ever so much more cheaply inland, I am reminded that the ocean is my ballast and today, I am also reminded of how blessed I have been to be so close all the days of my life, a blessing never to be taken for granted, and always top of mind in this place where the Pacific is southwestern wallpaper, always there for the taking for anyone and everyone, including teenagers from South Dakota on a holiday they will likely never forget.

A note from Wikipedia. The Pacific Ocean is the largest of the Earth's oceanic divisions. Its name is derived from the Latin name Mare Pacificum, "peaceful sea", bestowed upon it by the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan. It extends from the Arctic in the north to Antarctica in the south, bounded by Asia and Australia in the west, and the Americas in the east. At 169.2 million square kilometres (65.3 million square miles) in area, this largest division of the World Ocean – and, in turn, the hydrosphere – covers about 46% of the Earth's water surface and about 32% of its total surface area, making it larger than all of the Earth's land area combined.[1] The equator subdivides it into the North Pacific Ocean and South Pacific Ocean, with two exceptions: the Gal├ípagos and Gilbert Islands are deemed wholly within the South Pacific.[2] The Mariana Trench in the western North Pacific is the deepest point in the Pacific and in the world, reaching a depth of 10,911 metres (35,798 ft).[3]

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