Showing posts with label ocean. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ocean. Show all posts

27 July 2013

Swimming in the Ocean

by Elizabeth Zelvin

I’m reveling in the all-too-brief season when you don’t have to be a polar bear to immerse yourself in the vast, salty playground that covers more than half of our planet and entices folks like me to cavort in the foaming surf around its edges. Yep, I’m talking about going to the beach, which to me is synonymous with swimming in the ocean.

I’ve been an ocean lover since childhood, when we used to visit an aunt and uncle who had a summer house in Hampton Bays, which back in those days was too working class to be considered one of “the Hamptons.” My grandmother, mother, and aunt were all indefatigable swimmers. To this day, I look incredulously at women on the beach who obviously have no desire to wet their hair, their bathingsuits, or even the polish on their toenails. Aren’t they hot? Do they know what they’re missing? How can they stand it?

Adolescent girls, on the other hand, plunge happily into the breaking waves. When I’m swimming alone, without a spotter, I sometimes elect a bunch of them my buddies. I ask them to keep an eye out for me in case I get in trouble. And I tell them to cherish the moment, because when they get to be my age, they may no longer have either the nerve or the companionship they’re enjoying now.

The Atlantic’s face is always changing. Every day is different. (I remember going to the beach in La Jolla, CA and being amazed at the reliability of the Pacific, at least between the frequent jetties: the waves were exactly the same from day to day.) My favorite set of conditions is when the tide is at the right height for me to stand beyond the breakers and sail across high rollers for that heavenly moment of weightlessness, then land on my feet again. To make it perfect, the water has to be warm enough not to shock me but cool enough to be exhilarating, and there can’t be any undertow to taint my mood with fear or make it difficult, when I’m ready, to get back onto the beach on my feet.

How different people like to take their ocean water seems to vary, to some extent, by gender. Most of the body surfers are guys, who catch the breaking wave and ride it toward shore, arms extended like aquatic versions of Superman in the air. Most women, like me, seem to prefer riding the rollers, calling “Under!” and “Over!” as each wave invites them to dive or soar. Lap swimmers seem to be evenly divided. I used to body surf myself—out of sheer competitiveness and a burning desire not to miss anything—but that was thirty-five years ago. I do swim laps in the ocean occasionally—a day when the water is safe and smooth enough for me to do a half-mile of the crawl, with breathing, is even more rare than a day when the waves are perfect for jumping.

The ultimate: clear day, perfect water temperature, waves just high enough to be exciting but without enough power to make getting back to shore difficult—and the company of someone who enjoys both ocean swimming and schmoozing as much as I do.

13 November 2012

The Great and Billowing Sea

by David Dean

I grew up hundreds of miles from the sea, and during my early years the idea of the ocean meant very little to me.  My only trips to the beach when I was a kid consisted of two trips to Jekyll Island, Georgia when I had a cousin that lived there, and a single family vacation to Panama City, Florida.  Oh yes, I almost forgot, we got to tag along with Uncle Jack and family when he won a contest vacation to St. Augustine.  During that trip I don't even remember seeing the sea, as my cousin Nicky and me spent most of our time exploring the great and gracious Ponce de Leon Hotel.  This Spanish style resort was unlike anything we had ever been exposed to; we knew we had entered a more rarefied atmosphere when on our first visit to the dining room we had an array of forks to choose from; their mysterious arrangement appearing as a test to determined who really belonged in such a place.  I remember mom and dad appearing uncomfortable as they studied the baffling silverware.  I have no memory of how we resolved the issue, but I don't recall going away hungry.

The other visits to the sea I mentioned were not without challenge, either.  My very first time in the Atlantic my very life was in peril.  Nicky and I (I always seemed to be with Nicky when things went wrong) had waded out to our waists at low tide and were splashing merrily about, as eight-year-olds are wont to do, when he returned to land to retrieve something.  In the meantime, I lost myself in the warm water and gentle waves, feeling almost sleepy beneath a very hot sun, only remotely aware of a distant shouting.  After a few moments of this dreamy inattention, it suddenly broke through to my consciousness that this shouting was drawing closer and closer.  I also became aware of a lot of splashing.  Turning back to face the beach, I could see that everyone to my right was fleeing toward shore, and even as I stood there, amazed and uncomprehending, the people to my left began to very actively join in this stunning migration.  Then a single word separated itself from the others and floated from shore to me, somehow rising above all the din..."Shark!"

Though I had never given sharks much thought, and the book and movie version of "Jaws" was yet many years in the future, that single word managed to convey to me a keen sense of terror.  As if dreaming, I turned my head in the direction the exodus had begun, and there, not so terribly far away, a large fin sliced through the calm waters further out, following the coastline at a leisurely pace.  I could even see its tail whipping along behind it.  Then I did what every rational person does in such a situation, I began to wade as quickly as my short, little legs would carry me toward terra firma, splashing and thrashing away; neither in a position to run nor to swim.  It was then that I realized how life hangs on a moment...especially when it involves the great and billowing sea.  I made it to shore unscathed, though rather shook up.  I was told that despite all my agitation in the water, the great shark never wavered in its course, obviously uninterested in bony little least for that moment.  I used this experience in a story entitled, "Natural Causes", which appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine's November 2003 issue.

On my next visit, I was stung by a very small sting ray.  It hurt, but didn't require medical attention.  The only catastrophe of note that occurred during the Panama City visit was a sunburn that I shall never forget.  Lest you think Cousin Nicky escaped unscathed, during the St. Augustine trip, on our first trek beyond the safety of the walls of the hotel courtyard he was attacked by a dog and bitten several times.  A short time later he would make headlines by becoming stuck between two buildings and having to be removed by the fire department.  My aunt keeps a yellowed copy of the local paper covering this extraordinary event which contains a grainy black and white photo of my favorite cousin wedged into a small gap between two brick office buildings.  I was not with him, so can offer no explanation.

The second half of my life I have spent cheek-by-jowl with the Atlantic.  And though time and experience has improved my overall opinion of the sea, it has certainly not lessened my respect for its power and capriciousness.  Hurricane Sandy demonstrated that just recently.  We were largely spared the worst of it here, but to the north of us there is great devastation.  There could have been no hurricane without the cooperation of the mighty sea.

Sandy is only one of many, many storms I have lived and worked through; not to mention floods.  The sea is always at work trying to reclaim the land.  It also claims people.  Hardly a winter goes by that a clamming or scallop boat is not lost at sea off our coast.  During the balmy summer months swimmers are taken by rip-tides.

Sometimes the sea returns things: A lady once came into my police department to speak with a supervisor.  As I was the sergeant on duty, I met with her and inquired how we might be of service.  Opening her rather large hand-bag, she extracted something yellowish, placed it on the desk between us and asked, "Do I have to turn this in?"  It was the lower jaw bone of a human being and still retained most of its teeth.  Some bore fillings.  My own lower jaw may have hit the desk; I don't remember.  Being a crack investigator however, I cried, "Where the hell did you get that?"  You might guess her answer.  "I found it on the beach after a storm."  The next statement surprised me a little.  "I've been using it as a paperweight on my desk."

With little grace, she reluctantly parted with her prize.  I had obtained enough information to both identify and locate her should I need to.  Perhaps you can also guess what my first line of inquiry was?  Yes, that 's it--I quickly determined whether any significant other in this strange lady's life had gone missing.  She had a divorced husband, but he was still amongst the breathing.  The jaw appeared quite old, though this can be very deceptive after not a very long time in the ocean.  It did strike me that the fillings appeared to be made of steel, not something commonly, or at all, used in the U.S.--many foreign freighters pass our coastline, and men overboard are more common than it is comfortable to think about.  In any event, the jaw was packaged off to the state medical examiners office.  To my knowledge, a match with a missing person has never been made.  It remains a mystery of the deep.  Other things have been brought ashore by the sea, but are too grisly to discuss here.

Even so, most of us are very drawn to that same dangerous sea.  On sunny days there's nothing more pleasant than lying on the warm sands as the sea laps the shore mere yards away, and gulls wheel in a flawless sky.  It is, after all, where life began...even if it is also where it sometimes ends. 

Countless mystery and suspense stories occur on, or next to, the sea.  Most of mine do.  I suspect you could name dozens of stories and novels inspired by the sea if you put your mind to it.  In fact, if the sea were to vanish tomorrow (and we were to somehow survive this catastrophic event) half the stories yet to be written would probably remain so.