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.