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Eternal Lure of the Ocean

January 31, 2015

The ocean fascinates me. Occasionally I am lucky enough to get to take a course at the Wooden Boat School in Brooklin, Maine and I love the classes, I am just as happy to sit down on their dock at admire the boats or listen to real sailors talk ships in the dinning hall. It could be my ancestry, with a sea captain or two amidst the branches of the family tree. It could be the enormous ship model that once belonged to one of said captain’s and graced my grandparents’ living room when I was a boy. It could be the stories I read and continue to read or the movies I watched and continue to watch. It could be the Jacque Cousteau documentaries that amazed me as a child. Regardless, I love watching the ocean. I love its endless moods. I love its smells and tides. And I can see why, despite the immense danger, humans have gone down to the sea in ships since time immemorial. They have gone for sustenance, escape, fame, fortune, transport, even fun.
The sea is elemental. It bore us all. It can nurture and heal. It can maim and destroy. It is worthy of its own god if not many gods, goddesses, and all manner of god-lets. From earliest times, humans have taken to the waters on logs, rats, dugouts, kayaks, canoes, wherries, dorries, dhows, junks, sloops, shalloops, barks, brigantines, clippers, man-o-wars, frigates, catamarans, whalers, tankers, destroyers, and absurd cruise ships. The names evoke and the sea rolls on – sometimes caressing and soothing, sometimes grasping, terrifying, dragging, devouring, engulfing – always indifferent to our plight.

The past few weeks’ procession of winter storms coming of the ocean has resulted in some noteworthy seas. On my trip down to the farm today, as I turned on to Jerusalem Road in Cohasset, I was greeted by a roiling scene. Under pale blue gray sky the waves were crashing over the great granite rocks of that town’s coast like water slopping from an over full bucket carried by an under sized child. The white caps extended to the outer limits of visibility. Breakers crashed and the spray exploded icing the exposed rocks. And all the while the gulls and sea ducks bobbed improbably on the swells. The road was strewn with oceanic detritus. The ocean was not blue, nor is it often. Today it was a pale green, reminiscent of frothy pea soup – very cold frothy green soup. It was the sort of sea that reminds of the unnumbered hazards of a life at sea. There were waves, rocks, winds, and ice –those plagues to sailors of any era. One could see Minot’s light stalwart and erect in the misty distance.

Oddly, when I worked on the farm I rarely visited the beach a quarter mile away. It was always colder than I liked, even on the hottest day. And I loved being on the farm. In fact I was often taken aback when the wind shifted and blew off the water, and I could smell the tide and seaweed and was reminded that it was all so close. Growing up in Michigan I was spoiled, not only by the many ponds and small lakes, so cozy with their size, warmth, and sandy beaches from which I fished and swam. But also by Lake Michigan, as vast as an ocean (or it may as well have been for one cannot see its dimensions from the shore) and completely and wonderfully salt free. Yes it’s true; as much as I love the ocean I can’t stand swimming in salt water, no matter the temperature. The Great Lakes are a miracle. They are vast and wild enough to have sunk literally thousands of ships (perhaps most famously the Edmund Fitzgerald). They can develop serious waves and have surprised many a “blue water’ sailor the major yacht races that are held on their immense waters every year.
So, I would be happy to stare from my front porch or through some picture window at a Great Lake as much as I would enjoy looking upon the ocean. But I would miss the smell of the sea. And if I could find a small house, overlooking a working harbor, and could hear the sounds, and see the sights, and smell the smells (and had a nice little pond to dip my toes into not too far away) I think that might be heaven.

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