Although I don't always agree with everything Bill Bryson says- I am proud to be from Des Moines and hear the call back to the Heartland quite clearly- I do agree with his essay "A Day at the Seaside" from his collection of essays, Notes From a Big Country:
"Iowa, where I grew up, is a thousand miles from the nearest ocean, so to me (and I believe to most other Iowans, though I haven't the chance to check with all of them yet) the word 'ocean' suggests alarming things like riptides and undertows......Lake Ahquabi, where I did all my formative swimming and sunburning, may not have the romance of Cape Cod or the grandeur of the rock-ribbed coast of Maine, but then neither did it grab you be the legs and carry you off helplessly to Newfoundland."
I had never tried to put the feelings into words before- but when I read this I knew it to be true. I can maneuver a canoe across lakes and up rivers with skill I un-charmingly brag about. I have very talented toes that can scoop up mud from the bottom of farm ponds to slather on my arms and face. I have no problem not knowing what it is exactly I am swimming in.
But oceans-oooh the ocean has always made me nervous. Oceans are salty and sting your eyes. Oceans have no other side to challenge yourself to swim to. Oceans have big scary animals living in them. Oceans upturn boats and ruin cities and pay no mind to your desire to just float about aimlessly in an inflatable tube on a hot afternoon. Don't even get me started on the beach. The only time I whole-heartily enjoyed a beach was in the British Virgin Islands in the calmest cove, with the bluest water, a stack of books, no commute, and no one else around.
So you can imagine my surprise when I found myself in love, in awe and just so darn pleased with the sea. Matthieu and I were staying on the coast of Brittany, in a town called St. Jacut De La Mer. More specifically in an Abbey (in which are REAL LIVE nuns- a whole other first time experience for me). We were there for a week of personal insight and shiatsu meditation. The Abbey is right on the coast, our room had a view of the sunset over the ocean every single day. And perhaps most important is that it is located on a peninsula of land subject to low tide. A glorious, muddy, sand-waved, algae-spread, crab and shell seeking, oyster and mussle farm-seeing low tide. There is so much to explore. So much that goes on underneath all of that water.
Matthieu and I spent hours and hours walking across the sea floor- to little islands with trees and birds and to coves with castle ruins- that in the midst of it all I found myself loving the salty air. Adoring the French fishermen with long white beards and smoking pipes while raking for some sort of shell-fish to cook up. I even felt the joy of the dogs running on the beach. (I do side with cats most often in life- but here is a moment where I was very envious of getting to just roll in mud and stink).
So although I will never have strong sea legs- and can't imagine ever lasting on a cruise boat, I do dream of the day we will bring our children to explore the sea at low tide. I really want a shovel, a bucket, a little rake and a book to tell me exactly the name of all those creatures.