There are times when my life seems out of my control, waiting times, times when my life seems to be stuck on the pause button like a real life Sky plus box, leaving me adrift on the indifferent waves of destiny.
I am living in one of those times now, the reasons do not matter, but it is like floating on a becalmed sea, waiting for something, anything, to happen. There is a moment coming, in the near future, when my life will start to flow again, I know this, but it’s not now, it’s not yet. For now I must continue floating helplessly on the streams of time wondering when and if that time will ever arrive, whist simultaneously dreading it.
The time when I re-enter the flow of life will come, it is inevitable. Time marches on even if at the moment it doesn’t seem like it; meanwhile I do what I always do in these circumstances: visit my guru – the Sea.
My old friend, the Sea, has been my companion through many crises and difficult times in the past. It has also born witness to happier, more confident times. It seems that my body fluids, the blood in my veins, the tears in my eyes, resonate strongly with the mother ship, the ocean from which all life was born, and the sea welcomes me back whenever I find myself emotionally and physically adrift from the mainstream of reality.
The moody sea has born witness to many of my own moods – accepted notices of birth and death, accompanied me on the rocky road to divorce, celebrated with me the successes of education and business, or simply sat vigil with me when nothing else would help.
Wandering alone on an empty beach with dune grasses rustling in concert with the unseen birds twittering amongst them, has calmed or reassured me like nothing else can. The ululating calls of seabirds and the harmonic susurrations of gentle waves can be hypnotic and meditational whilst the wild pounding of heavy storm waves provides a cathartic cleansing that can wipe my soul free of the pollution that builds during a long life of loving and caring.
The sea is my source of solace and wisdom. Sometimes I get answers; sometimes I don’t – but I always come away healed whatever else I was expecting.
Today, the crying of gannets and crazy antics of puffins provide distraction as I sit on the rock-strewn beach. They are so delightfully silly those puffins in their carnival plumage whilst the gannets, squabbling and arguing amongst themselves, are no less ridiculous despite their more sober appearance. They make me laugh, and that cannot be bad.
Wandering along the tideline, I indulge in my favourite activity since childhood – looking for heart stones. Today, when a sign would be so timely, there is nothing remotely heart-shaped. Not a single piece of sea-glass or pebble. I find something else though. Something that catches my eye as it lies partly submerged in a tiny pool at the foot of the shadow-side of the chalk stack that forms the leg of a natural archway: a large spiral whelk shell. Though blindingly white like the surrounding chalk cliffs, this treasure is delicately sculpted and precisely formed. It is immense as whelks go, about ten centimetres long – so probably not a whelk at all, I speculate, more likely something exotic that has been born on strange currents drifting relentlessly around the globe – much like I am drifting now. I stoop to pick it up, dipping it in the small pool and shaking it clean.
The Fibonacci perfection of the shell’s spiral; the smooth yet ridged texture of its calcium coat; the iridescent moonlight glow of the interior cavity with its pointed spines that could be a temptation or a defence structure; all invoke deep admiration from my artistic temperament. My hands lovingly trace the curves and spiralling pathways that wind around this sublime scrap of nature-crafted artistry. Once an unknown creature made its home inside this beautiful object – the thought makes me smile. Looking skywards I try to imagine the innumerable shells that had been pressed together, over many of Earth’s millennia, to form the cliffs and chalk stacks surrounding and sheltering me now. As if the strands of a net are reaching down, connecting me to the beginning of time, the idea makes me feel more anchored.
Sitting with my back pressed against the sun-warmed side of the chalk stack, I do that which people have been doing for generations untold, and the net-like tendrils of connection pull even tighter. I put the shell to my ear and listen.
The voice of the ocean echoing down through time rewards me with a sea-encrypted message just for me. I can’t quite grasp it and, as ever, feel that if I could only listen just a little bit harder the words would become clear. The tone of the ocean’s voice is soft and compelling like a siren singing, beckoning me to follow I know not where … but I know, equally surely, that one day I will find out. For deep within the cellular pools of my body, at a genetic level, I do understand the message that I am hearing. It is in a different, more primal, language from those of the real world but one that the tides of my own soul still recognise. Just like my favourite elf in Tolkien’s wonderful trilogy ‘The Lord of the Rings’, it seems the sea is my lodestone.
“Legolas, Greenleaf, long under the tree,
In joy thou hast lived, Beware the Sea!
If thou hearest the cry of the gull on the shore,
Thy heart shall then rest in the forest no more.”
Those same internal tides shift and flow as tears burst through the dam that I have built to protect myself from what will happen in a few weeks’ time. Weeping freely – safely suspended between sand, chalk and sky, and being metaphorically rocked by the ebb and flow of the lacy-edged wavelets a few feet away – I rid my body of the fear and dread that is keeping me adrift. And all the while, the song of the sea is reminding me that one day, I will follow the siren’s call to wherever it might lead. But not yet; for now I have to endure, until I’m free to fly … and then the waiting will be over.
Sea Mist – my relationship with the East Yorkshire coast
1. In my time I loved to walk beside the sea
And dancing surf, with seagulls, and bobbing crab net buoys.
I loved the old boats, the harbour walls, and feeling free
From city grime, poison fumes and techno-toys.
2. Once, on a cliff top, with crumbling, muddy sides
I spied the comic flash of puffin flight
Streaking past, diving to greet the rolling tide
And rise again with fishy prize held tight.
3. A sandy point with rustling spiky dune grass
Stitching it in place like carpet tape or string,
Is broken by winter wind and wave, till, unable to pass
It remained unreachable till Spring.
4. Sleepy coves with white chalk stacks
Where gannets gossiped on every ledge.
The smell of bird lime and salt dried bladder wrack
Reminded me that life is hard at terra-firma’s edge.
5. Sun-warmed hours hunting crabs in brimming
Rock pools like watery time capsules.
Standing at the waterline skimming
Sea-smooth pebbles, until the hot air cooled
6. And a full moon painted a silver pathway
To where I listened to the beckoning of the Song of the Sea
Echoing down through ages past to bring its siren message
In susurrating sea shell tones to me,
7. If only I could listen hard enough;
Heart-bursting sun-rises blushed the waking sea with gold,
When dawn arrived; or … two mighty elements merged in hazy grey
As storm clouds marbled the ebb and flow in shades of bold.
8. How I loved those moods from mirror calm and still as bliss
To raging anger; and days when I resigned
Myself to sly, insidious sea-fret mist
Drenching every aching inch of skin with freezing brine.
9. Now, as I walk those cliff tops, or feel the sandiness
Between my aging toes, the changing facets of its flood
Echo mine, strangely restless
And surging, in the tides that drive my blood.