Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018

A tale of two seas

Martin Conte

Posted on December 06, 2014 in Perspectives
By martinconte

As I expected, and as has happened to me before, my third week in Winchester, England, dawned with the insatiable desire to see the sea.  Luckily, England is an island (which played no small part in my decision to travel here), and the sea was a mere hour ride on the train.  So, gathering a quality travel companion, a beach towel, and a few good books, we made our way to Bournemouth, and to the beach.

When one thinks of beaches in England, one may have a pretty similar image to that of the beaches in Maine: rocky crags, plenty of quality skipping stones, seaweed lines and creeping crabs.  It was a delightful surprise, then, to find sand.  Real, Florida quality sand, a sliver of beach that stretched up and down the coast beyond vision.  We all but ran the last few steps, yanking off our shoes as we went, to dive into that sand.  And it was a quick hop-skip more to sink my feet into the English Channel, fed of course, by the very same Atlantic Ocean.

There is something about growing up on ocean air that makes it the only type I can truly breathe easily in.  Each breath is a wave of nostalgia: from my childhood when I lived on Deer Isle, and every direction was towards water; my teenage years, when I could stare out the windows of my British Literature class into the harbor; and our Old Port, bustling with industry and a shared delight with the proximity to the water.  There is a hidden bond I share with my English companions who also grew up near the shore, a sort of hidden understanding of each other.  It shapes personalities as much as it shapes harbors.

So, you can imagine how happy I was.

Of course, I did not have a bathing suit on me (when one thinks of England in October, one certainly does not think of swimming weather!), though the sun was just warm enough to have me half-considering running to one of the waterfront shops and buying one.  Instead, we kicked around in the shallows, collected spiraling seashells, and ogled at all the dogs and children running ecstatically around us.  Exactly the sort of beach scene I’m familiar with.

After, like the diligent student I am of course, we spent a few hours like old retirees, reading poetry in the provided beach chairs.  One eye was always out to the water, though, to make sure it was still there, still real.

The more time I have spent traveling, the smaller the Earth has become for me.  This is not, as it sounds, a downside.  Rather, home can be held closer, even as new cultures and new geographies are explored.  Lying on the beach in Bournemouth is not what lying on the beach in Maine is.  Who I might find next to me, what shades of sea glass might glimmer in the sun, what voices can be heard, are profoundly different.  But around the world, just like in little Deer Isle Village, men and women wake before the sun rises, and push their boats out of the harbor.  Some have engines, others oars.  Some look for fish, some for lobsters, some carry passengers.  Some carry thousands of gallons of oil, other will be satisfied with a bucket of crabs by the end of the day.  We are water-dwellers, all of us, a unique brand of human being.  As unique and individual as farmers, cityfolk, desert-walkers.  I started this trip with the challenge laid before me: to understand something about myself, a self that can only be seen when separated from its comfort zone, its locality.  I’ve learned that I am filled with seasalt, that webs grow between my toes, and my lungs will always yearn for the crisp air of the ocean.  In a tradition that stretches from Noe, to Longfellow, to Melville, and now to us.  The ocean is my poetry.  And I am proud to say I am its child.