To the sea
For as long as I can remember, your wide open expanse of blue – whether a blanket of utter calm and stillness, a rhythmic swell behind gently breaking waves, or an unstoppable monster with teeth of powerful, crashing foam – has drawn me to it and held my gaze, challenging me to step into your ever-changing waters. Or to simply stay, transfixed, comforted and wondering what lies beneath your surface. Or over your horizon. I don’t think anything else has the ability to slow my breath, to soothe my soul, in quite the same way as you do.
At school, I wrote stories about you. I imagined growing up to become a marine biologist and studying your otherworldly ecosystems. I designed “Save the Whales” posters and read books about seals, otters and dolphins. I joined Greenpeace and learnt about the melting ice caps (yes, all those years ago… yes, we humans have been so slow to act).
As a small child holidaying with family on the French coast, you served up the delights of warm, transparent shallows for sploshing or sitting in with bucket and spade, waiting for your gentle waves to wash over me and watching as the many sparkling colours of the sand chased you downhill. Repeated trips from dune to shore, collecting shells and transporting water for moats or make-believe aquariums.
From childhood to parenthood, the North Norfolk coast has greeted me year after year with its enormous skies and magical marshlands. Sand dunes, sea birds, pine forests, beach huts and keeping an eye on the clock to stay ahead of the dramatic tide changes as the sandy, watery landscapes are transformed by you before my very eyes. Boat trips out to the remote Blakeney Point, captivated by curious seals bobbing on the surface and diving away again, or basking on their own private beach, thankfully protected from most of our harmful ways.
Growing up only an hour from the East Yorkshire coast meant getting to know several bays and fishing towns, observing how humans interact with you, their livelihood provided by tourism and fishing alike. Biting cold winds on Whitby, Sandsend, Runswick Bay or Saltburn beach, so many burnt-in memories of time spent with every generation of our family – nobody can resist a cup of tea, fish ‘n’ chips and an ice cream with the side helping of salt you serve directly on our lips for afters.
I have memories of the time we spent together when I was a young adult, exploring life overseas. In Mexico – Playa del Carmen, Isla Mujeres, Puerta Vallarta and Puerto Escondido – and that unforgettable snorkelling trip to catch glimpses of an underwater rainbow world. A few years later, so many Erasmus weekends (rain or shine) spent lazing with cold beer or hot Cola Cao and pintxos on Basque beaches, or taking a Frisbee and a book and whiling away an afternoon with newfound friends. We would just sit and watch the sun melt into you. Take a dip on the warmer days, let ourselves be lulled by your familiar rocking motion, your unfathomable body of H20 cradling us.
More recently, I’ve introduced you to my daughters. They have giggled as you tickle their tiny toes and splash around with you all-year round, feeling you grip their bones with a dull ache and waiting for the numbness. Sometimes underestimating your strength and depth, shocked but laughing as you trip them up and they find themselves face down, clothes soaked and eyes stinging. The youngest running from the seaweed you leave upon the shore, once afraid and later pretending to be. Now she likes to pick it up and squeeze, pop and stroke it. I close my eyes and see your sea breeze creating fuzzy halos of blonde around their heads as they concentrate hard on digging a hole for you to fill. Or look out and spy ships and offshore wind farms, out there where you end, and the sky begins.
I don’t know what the future holds for me and you. It seems uncertain for us all. I’m closer to you now, a mere 45-minute drive away and nowadays there is an almost daily urge to drive to you. Especially today. I thought about picking the girls up from school and driving straight to you (“The first one to see the sea gets the first ice cream!”), but then remembered it is piano lesson night. We will visit very soon. I am privileged to be able to do that, and I hope to conquer my fear of low North Sea temperatures and to learn how to swim in you in all seasons, to read you well and to stay safe. I admit to being a fair-weather friend – no problem diving into you off the coast of Mexico, Portugal, France, Spain or even Jersey. I even managed to don a wetsuit and enjoy a surfing lesson in Devon once (though you showed me who was boss with that rip current. Thank goodness for lifeguards). The Yorkshire Coast is a different (colder) matter, but you are calling, and I know that if I respect you, you will repay me time and again.
I don’t think I know a single soul who doesn’t at least enjoy watching you, even if they don’t want or need to touch you or know what lies beneath your surface. That mysterious hold you have on us, our connection, is actually hardly surprising when we think that you cover 70% of the planet, produce 50% of our oxygen and that we ourselves are 60% water.
Neither do I know anyone who doesn’t cringe, doesn’t want to scream and shout, when they see images of waters crowded not with fish but with plastic. Didn’t feel nauseous, incredulous and furious at the truths uncovered by this year’s Seaspiracy documentary. I think, I hope, that we are finally waking up to your wonders, your power, your magic.
Realising that we need to cherish you, protect you, allow you to flourish and heal, bow to your natural ability to regenerate if we would only stop abusing you so badly. I never ended up studying you, I chose a different path. Instead, I try to learn all I can from the people dedicating their lives to saving you. But I want you to know that how I live now is because of you and for you. We all owe you a huge debt of gratitude and I believe we will repay it. I just hope we are in time.