The whisper of the sea

I have neglected the sea.  It whispers to me, always, from just beyond the piers, but I have ignored it, without consciously doing so.  I have wandered in the dappling of trees, under opulent greenery.  I have sauntered through parks and leafy lanes.  In this ambivalent summer that has veered between intense heat and thrashing rain, I have felt the urge to be enfolded in all this greenery.  Occasionally, I have walked by the river, within the stone embrace of the piers.  I have seen the sea from a distance, behind the glass of a passing train.  But for months, I have abandoned it, ignoring its insistent whisper.

I wake to the sound of a ship’s horn moaning on the river and know by its rhythm that I will be greeted by fog.  I wake to thin, drenching rain, rain that has fallen for three days.  The kind that could be rain or could be mist, but is in fact a mixture of both.  Rain that seems barely a sigh on the air, yet will leave me soaked in minutes.  But the sea calls all the same.  It will brook no further delay.

The lighthouse, dirty white against a washed out sky, is hardly more than a shimmer in the mist.  The waves are industrial; rough and grey, white spume smashing against rock.  A ship smudges the horizon.  The birds are subdued.  Herring gulls glide silently on the wind, while a gaggle of oystercatchers and eider ducks repose on rocks on the far side of the causeway.  The sand martins that nest in holes in the cliffs are absent, perhaps tucked up in their burrows.  There isn’t much of a beach; the wild winds of the last few days have left the sand strewn with a quilt of rusty kelp.

I once lived in a city whose water was packaged and tamed in canals.  A city that was too far from the sea for me to visit.  The brick and the concrete burdened me.  There wasn’t the air to breathe.  I was packaged and tamed like the water around me.  I couldn’t wait to leave.  Now I am never far from the unfettered air of the sea.  The town’s heartbeat is the cry of gulls and the blurt of horns.  Sea frets roll in and blur its edges.  This is a liminal place, a mirage of water, sky and land.  I can cloak myself in green, but the blue is never far away.

When you grow up with the sea, you can never be comfortable anywhere else.  The air will always be too thick.  You will miss the scent of salt-scoured skin.  You will miss the dust of sand beneath your fingers and the simmer of sea-blown limbs.  The sea opens you up and returns you to yourself.  How could I have forgotten this?

All my life I have talked to the sea.  The sea listens and carries my words away.  It shatters them on the rocks, scatters them in the spray.  And then it returns, carrying new words back, words tinged with salt and magic, creeping over the sand like offerings.  Summer is my hardest season.  When my soul revels in light and warmth but still longs for the delicious introversion of autumn.  I fight against the exposure of the season, but the sea offers a kind of truce, reminding me of who I am.  I have always been small here, but the sea fills me up and expands me until I am everywhere.

87 thoughts on “The whisper of the sea

  1. This post is a beautiful ode to the sea and your obvious intimacy with the water and feelings. Kudos on having such a clear, intimate relationship with the place you live. I enjoy beaches and have often wondered if I would like to live near one, but I think I would miss the obvious 4 seasons. Thanks Andrea.

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  2. Andrea, you could be speaking for me…you write lyrically of your longing for the sea, of your spiritual connection to the ocean…I understand it’s almost beyond words. Although I’ve only lived by the sea for a few years in my life, I’ve often visited it and always feel a pull to drive to the coast and just walk, meditate, reflect, find my inner peace. This weekend I was by the coast and it was as if my head cleared. The salted spray you write of was a delight as it swept over me!

    A wonderful post, magical powerful writing – I was particularly struck by this:

    ‘All my life I have talked to the sea. The sea listens and carries my words away. It shatters them on the rocks, scatters them in the spray. And then it returns, carrying new words back, words tinged with salt and magic, creeping over the sand like offerings.’ Wow!
    Warmest wishes, Annika xx

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  3. I agree!! The sea calls to us. You reminded me of my favourite poem!
    Sea Fever
    BY JOHN MASEFIELD
    I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
    And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
    And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
    And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

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  4. What a gorgeous post! Thank you.
    I live by the sea and I cannot imagine living anywhere else either. It is like having a secret store of magical colours, scents, sounds and air on your doorstep.
    Another reason I love living by the sea is that it is a vast expanse of no people (!), but then that’s just me.

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  5. I wish I could get to the ocean more. It’s far away from where I live. I imagine if one grows up around it, they never want to leave, just as you so elegantly describe here. Beautiful words as always, Andrea.

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  6. Lovely, Andrea. I wish I had the sea near me to ignore haha. That is the biggest problem for me living in the desert. I am so far from the ocean. It was nice that my son got married on the beach, but I barely knew I was there as I was excited for the event. I want more quiet time there.

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  7. Beautiful writing as always, Andrea! I also need to live near the sea but like you, sometimes forget I live so close to it and ignore it for months. We have been taking my younger daughter to the coast regularly recently as the sea calms her and makes her happy.

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  8. Andrea, your images are one with the sea you love so much. I particularly like “the waves are industrial”. I’ve always lived near water – rivers, two Great Lakes, a ship channel – which are like distant relatives of an ocean or the sea. Your words surround me like waves and mists.

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  9. Andrea, what a beautiful and moving tribute to the sea. I can certainly understand your attachment and I am envious that you can be right beside her in no time at all. While I am very grateful to live next to a very beautiful and sizable river, it’s not the same. The sea – the ocean – has a mystery all her own, and reading your lovely words, I do so miss sitting at water’s edge when the beach is empty and everyone has gone home. Thanks for this lovely piece.

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  10. Beautifully said. You excel at atmospheric setting. You can infuse so much emotion into the sea and your surroundings. Brilliant!

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  11. How far are you from the sea? We were 50 miles from it in Florida, but I’m back living near where I grew up, which is not near water. I know what you mean about summer. Though I am not an introvert, I have a low tolerance for heat. I’m enjoying the brightness and positive energy of summer, but my mind and body soar in the crisp air of autumn.

    Thanks for sharing the lovely words and photos.

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    • I do, though I haven’t done it much. We used to have a ferry to Norway from our town and loved the 24 hour journey on the ship, went a few times. We’ve still got a ferry to Amsterdam, but as I’m not a big fan of that city there isn’t the same desire to go. I once went on a gulet cruise in Turkey (a traditional wooden boat) and that was heaven. Unfortunately I do get sea sick, but I’m willing to put up with it for a trip on the water!

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  12. Andrea, such stunning imagery in your writing! And how beautifully you capture how I feel about the sea as well. We have plenty of “quilts of rusty kelp” around here – not crazy about that, but I do miss our coastal home when away!

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  13. So lovely, your words and picture, Andrea 🙂 I can identify totally with your comment, “When you grow up with the sea, you can never be comfortable anywhere else. The air will always be too thick”. I also know what you mean about neglecting the sea for months, especially when it’s grey, drizzly and shrouded in mist.
    Although I can see the sea from my window, it is still a three-quarter’s of an hour walk (often breathing in car fumes en route) or a car’s journey away, which rather deters me from going there as often as I would like. I used to live two minutes’ walk from the sea, so had a salty sea walk every day.

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  14. Andrea, wonderful words and images as always you are so talented at putting us there with you. The sea is a powerful force, something I have the greatest respect for. It feeds me stories. I have not been to my favourite spot for some time but I would sit there watching the children play among the rocks and stories pop into my head. Don’t know why but the sea does that to me. I prefer the rough sea, an empty beach on a winters day. In Australia the summers get too crowded for me. I call it people soup. Winter is quiet and all I can hear is the ocean whispering to me.

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  15. Andrea – This may be my favorite of all your post and you have so many fine ones to select from. I too love the sea and your lyrical writing brings the magic home to the reader. I especially loved the area where you talked to the sea and the sea gave you words back. Brilliant!

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  16. The sea, ahhhhh 🙂 I live on an island so I know what it is to have water nearby. It centers us, gives us hope, makes us realize our connection to nature… so much. I loved the flow of the words as much as the photos, Andrea ❤ By the way your love of autumn sounds equivalent to my love of summer.

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  17. Both my parents came from Norfolk and so in the summer we would go to the North Norfolk beaches, usually the most remote ones (Horsey) which as a small child I found rather a strain! The sea and the beach can bring interesting things out in people. My father, who was rather a serious academic, would become rather playful and silly. It was a lovely side of his character which only the sea seemed to bring forth. He had come to the same beach as a child and so maybe the memory of himself as a child returned to him with the waves.

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    • I’m glad it had that magical effect on your father – my dad would still wear his suit trousers and shirt on the beach! I’ve always thought of Norfolk as very atmospheric (especially when I’ve just read Elly Griffiths entire series of crime novels set there) though I’ve never been.

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  18. Here I am — late again. (Drat WordPress and it’s refusal to send email notifications…)
    Andrea, it would be impossible to choose a group of your posts to rank as your best — because each one is a treasure to read. However, this surely must be one of your finest. Particularly your description, “There wasn’t the air to breathe. I was packaged and tamed like the water around me.”
    Wishing you a week filled with happy wonder. Hugs.

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  19. I think everybody who reads this will want to live by the sea and regret not doing so already. I love how close you bring your reader’s senses to nature. The photos are beautiful as well, somehow Skegness never manages to conjure the same emotions though.

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  20. Sigh. I just love the way you write. I could read your words every day and still not be finished with wanting more. I feel that same urging for the sea, and I ignore it as long as I can. For me, your words give me a bit of an ache in my chest. Even in my gut. Because by the sea is where I belong, yet it’s so difficult to be there. In less than three weeks I get my 7 days by the NJ ocean, where I wake up hours before anyone else in the rented house and walk the soft sand along the surf for miles, watching the sun wake up the seagulls. I soak it in as much as humanly possible, to dull the ache.

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  21. I’m a bit late in reading this lovely post. You have described my own feelings perfectly!! I am never too far from the sea on the island here though where I have moved is a bit further ( we have to drive a few minutes instead of walk to the shore) but made up for by the gorgeous woodlands and all the adventures of a more rural life. Every day a little drama unfolds out on the back deck and mountain side,whether it be an argument between hummingbirds or the death of a quail chick by a hunting hawk. I always thought I would go to sea when I was young but alas we take to the air usually to go places! What lovely images Andrea! and I love your sand under the nails and the simmer of salty summer limbs!!- and the spray!!!

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  22. This totally speaks to me! I didn’t grow up right by the sea, but I certainly had plenty of access to it. I’m happy to be by the forest now and occasionally have the option to hear the whisper of the sea.

    By the way, I had to circle back to this sentence below because I thought you said “sand martinis.” I was like, Andrea is writing on a whole other level these days! 🙂

    “The sand martins that nest in holes in the cliffs are absent.”

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