I miss the sea. Trips to the shore have been less frequent lately and I’ve noticed a distinct gap in my soul. Standing at the water’s edge, watching waves curl, listening to gulls shriek, feeling wind in my hair – really, there’s nothing like it. Most of all I miss Whitepark Bay on the north coast.
Why are we humans drawn so often to the four elements? I could watch a flame flicker for hours too. It’s as if we’re connecting on some level with our ancestors, or maybe we’re aware in those moments that we are small and our time here is short. After all, this is a blue planet.
Watching a gentle tide lapping is hypnotic but a wild sea crashing onto rocks is somehow fearful. The majesty shakes us out of ourselves and brings ancient wisdom to daily human foibles.
The myths and legends that are attached also call to us: the shining palaces of Atlantis in the depths, a mermaid’s long hair and haunting song, Poseidon’s trident. Greek, Celtic and Norse myths are all swimming in the sea, ruling over it atop white horses, and us puny humans can only dream of being so powerful.
Those dreams tend to translate into art instead. There are countless novels, paintings and poems in which the sea is the protagonist. There’s something inherently pleasing about Hokusai’s famous wave paintings from 1830’s Japan. Also pleasing are novels where the sea is a character in its own right: try John Banville’s ‘The Sea’ or Iris Murdoch’s ‘The Sea, The Sea’ (Iris clearly wondered why have one sea when you can have two?)
Writers and artists have tamed the wild beast and captured it for us to enjoy from a safe distance. But there are still those who, like the medieval men who first stepped off the shore to find new worlds, wish to fight it.
Surfing giant waves or making solo yacht journeys around the globe are surely an attempt to face a mighty foe and win. But the sea is a wild creature that merely puts up with those tiny figures on occasion. It will win in the end. Maybe that’s why we’re so drawn to the vast swathes of blue, whether within its arms or safe on shore.
In its presence we defer to something bigger than ourselves and it feels comforting somehow. An ancient sound and sight that shrouds us in fearful calm – someone else is in charge here.