A sea song

I grew up by the sea. Somehow the sounds of its power and gentleness never leave you, even though you may afterward live for many years in a country without a coast, as I have done.

The sea is the edge of the world. Standing at the frill of the nearest wave, you sense the vast wonder before you, a different, wet, watery kingdom, alive with twisting weeds, darting fish and secret shells. A few steps farther in, and you are knee-deep in nowhere. Swimming out into liquid space, you become water yourself, a quiet, drifting current in the swelling flow around you.

Or walking on a clifftop, with the coastline drawn, as with a white pencil, how close you are to the feeling of flight. At the height you are, close to the edge, flying is the only possible way. The gulls, floating and dipping between sky and sea, shriek how wonderful it is. You see this in the bold confidence of their bright eyes when they sweep close - and with a soaring stretch of breath you are among them, uprushing into freedom.

As a child, I heard the waves crashing onto the shore on stormy nights, and a sensation of shivery adventure gripped me as I lay safe between the warm blankets. It wasn't a dream when my bed felt like a boat, rolling and rocking on that churning ocean.

In the morning we would go down to the beach and see how high the tide had risen, see bits of wood and windows and doors swirling this way and that among the breakers, and wonder whose beach huts had been swept away like straw in the night. It was all very dramatic and exciting. And the wind was still howling, and the salty spray still leaping over the sea wall to slap and sting our faces.

My youthful imagination was never darkened by thoughts of any human tragedies. For me a storm was thrilling and magnificent, tearing at rocks and piers and ice cream stands. People were able to look after themselves.

I talked with a friend the other day, now far from her childhood home on the north German coast. To my delight, she had exactly the same feelings about storms, and always hopes for one when she returns for a holiday. She wants to share the wonder and awe of it all with her husband, but so far they've always just missed the kind of storm she remembers.

My husband is a mountain man and shares my love of the sea only up to a certain point - the point where it keeps him awake. With what joy I have climbed into bed in holiday ''edge-of-the-world'' bungalows, with the lapping waves only three or four jumps away! What a soothing, hushing whisper as I drift off to sleep. Even when the wind rises and the ripples roll themselves into great rounded sheets of steel, exploding on the beach like a giant sneezing, it's still a song for me, a sleep-inducing lullaby.

Not so for my husband, who, with exasperated exclamations, closes all windows and stuffs his ears with cotton wool! We might just as well be at home, so utterly muffled and remote has the sound of the sea become. Then the storms of frustration rise in me as I strain my ears to hear just the merest sigh of water brushing the sand. My only hope is that the storm will increase and silence the storm in me.

Sea people have a sense of belonging to this wild wet element they have loved for so long. It's a kind of parent to their soul's poetry. It shines out of their eyes sometimes like the far-flung gaze of a sailor. Like my friend who longs to experience again the striding strength of seas in an equinoctial gale, I feel the irresistible pull of mysterious tides and wait to obey the imperative pounding of crested fists on vast shining tables of sand, for there I glide like a homeward-bound bird on the breast of the wind.

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