The following are selections from my high school and early college journals. I pulled out every entry having to do with the ocean to include in MIT’s literary magazine (Rune Issue 16, Fall 1994). Some entries are poetic, some emotional, some studiously unemotional. All reflections of the inner drama of these teen years! Phrases from this still echo in my head now at twice the age as when I wrote these words. The last, undated, entry was not part of the journals as published in Rune. Because it fits in character with the others, I am including it here.
From the top of Depot Hill at the first glimpse of the ocean, I could see the large waves forming on a sandbar off the coast. As we neared the beach, we saw that the waves teamed with surfers in black wet-suits. I saw some zig-zag along the wall of the wave; some jumped off the wave and back down. One sped up the face of the wave, hung in the air, then fell into the water behind it. Others surfed over the heads of submerged surfers. What interested me the most were the voluntary wipe-outs. It was exciting to see a surfer caught by surprise and fall spread-eagled backwards onto the wave, but I wanted to see the faces of those who decided their ride wsa over and chose how to wipe out. They wipe out with as much drama as an actor playing a dying character. They give of themselves unto the wave. They coexist with the ocean and respect it greatly.
The egret waits and remembers reflections past in a drought-dry stream
Where is the person that feels the deep stirring within themselves, the awakening of the profound? Am I alone in my universe? I long for you but I am also afraid that in meeting you I will find too much of myself in you….At the beginning of the year I heard abou the girl who was on the swim team with me last year who fell off a cliff to her death. Was it push, fall or jump? There were no witnesses. What does a sixteen- year-old think of in the last seconds before her death?
I’ll only mention this because it happened once before. In eighth grade Biology we were listening to humpback whale music and I could feel my soul slipping out my back to follow. Today, I was lying upright on my bed finishing a book and listening to the radio. More than dream-like I could feel the salty breeze ad I could see the bay in the distance and I was standing at Elkhorn Slough. It was hard to come back.
We we left the shore of Elkhorn slough in kyacks, it was low tide and we had to wind through mud-bank covered with pickleweed and encounter dead ends…. At lunch we stopped at an old shack and got out and ate chips and juice. On the return trip, my mother and I split into single kyacks instead of the double one we’d been sharing. She tipped all the way over as she launched. The way back was even harder as the current was pulling away from shore, but there was a slight wind pushing in to shore. This made the steering very sensitive and difficult.
About my first ocean dive this weekend: It was a funny balance of feelings. At first I was concentrating on moving down the algae covered buoy line. When I let go and kicked off to the left to join the circle I almost panicked. It was only logical to assume that under normal conditions I would be drowning. I had to fight my surfacing instinct….As I looked around at the kelp, I could feel the power in them, the power to attach to rock, to grow faster than any plant on earth, to withstand currents, to shelter and feed thousands of animals.
When I descended or ascended I could neither see the surface nor the bottom. At a point, I felt I was falling into nowhere because I had been going down for a while and had yet to hit bottom. On the surface it was sprinking on and off from the mottled rain clouds above. There was one single rainbow arched over our beach….I couldn’t tell detritus filled water or kelp from a member of the other buddy team. The current was viciously strong, it blew us side to side and backwards, anywhere but the direction we were to go in.
When I took off my mask, I immediately panicked and couldn’t breathe. I ordered myself to calm down and breathe through the regulator. I still got half my breath through my reg and half through my nose. After a few seconds of struggling to get a breath, my instructor pinched my nose. Immediately, I calmed down and breathed again….All I wanted to do was surface….I closed my eyes and breathed deeply several times after putting my mask on, before I opened them and smiled at the instructor. He shook my hand.
It is raining tonight — really truly raining. I feel comforted, protected, forgiven of my sins — absolved. For the moment, the world seems so harmonious, so perfectly balanced. To everything there is a season, a time for drought, a time for rain, a time for sin, a time for atonement. Prokofiev’s Cinderella Waltz sounds like a crystal rain. When I look outside all I see is my reflection against the dark window.
Life is heaven punctuated by surface intervals.
“Come caress me wild ocean; clasp me in your young, strong arms, fierce sun.”
I read the article in the paper Friday morning, and didn’t think much of it until Liz called me to read me the Sentinel’s version. Mike Schofield, 36, of Soquel died while exploring the wreck of the Andrea Doria in 200 ft of water off New York. His dive buddy was the owner of the shop, Wings. Mike was one of the divemasters who helped with the Open Water I class I was in. He was with Liz and me on the last day of class….When I saw his picture in the paper, we couldn’t tell if it was really him, I just remember him in a wetsuit hood with a red stripe. Liz and I got separated from him on that day because of bad conditions, and that was how he died last week.
So I’ve finally gone on my first dive since Mike’s death. It was overcast and intermittently rainy on the way out to the first site. I sat in a farmer john and a sweatshirt and watched the waves. I was a little bit seasick from watching the video in the cabin. Wet, seasick and silent, I watched the waves grow and subside, the spray scatter on my glasses, the outbursts of rain come and go, the lone tern flap over the sea and the schools of flying fish pass by — they look vulnerable, scared, desparate, huge dragonflies with the bodies of fish….The first group started to come up…two or three came up with blood in the nose-pockets of their masks, 110 ft. is deep….I didn’t have enough weight so I had to pull myself down the anchorline for a while. And then we saw the U-352. She is a beautiful submarine, mostly intact, lying at a 45 degree list in 110ft of water. Bobby had said on the boat: follow me, and I did….As I ascended the anchor line, I felt a stinging sensation on my hand. I released the line with that hand and grabbed it with the other. That was stung, too. I put both hands on and saw part of what it was, a hydrozoan or a jelly or something. I brushed my left hand and found that part of this practically invisible creature as still stuck to my hand. At this, I started frantically wringing my hands. Bobby noticed my distress and pulled off one of his gloves and handed it to me.
Yesterday, I walked over to the Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor from my voice lesson. I walked to the Murray Street bridge and crossed to the east side of the harbor. I walked past drydock, the marine lab, California Commercial Divers, SCUBAVentures and out past the beach along East Cliff. I was holding a rose in my hand that I had found on Fredrick Street. I walked past people in parked cars to Twin Lakes State Beach where two men were burning things in a fire ring.
First we stopped at Pigeon Point Lighthouse to look out at the waves. The wind was so strong that we could lean over and not fall….Around sunset we had reached Pleasure Point, so we got out of the truck and stood on the cliffs in the rain watching the waves. I stood with my head leaned back and let the rain drench me. I was on the verge of tears. It was raining hard and the waves were huge and phosphorescent in the dying light.
Because of the winter solstice, we had minus tide. I got to explore the rocks of the breakwater at Capitola Beach. I found two pink spiny stars, one bat star and two ochre stars. There were dozens of anemones, hundreds of mussels and thousands of barnacles. We then went out beneath the cliffs and looked at the exposed meadows there. I found a small green conical rock, very lightweight, with a very flat base and a somewhat rounded tip. In some places far out towards where the tiny waves lapped the shore, I wrote three names in the sand with the rock. As I turned away, I felt I had made some benediction. The sun was setting as I turned around to walk back. The water and sky were illuminated, but the sand, cliffs and buildings were black. Lights shone from the wharf….I love the Bay so much. Everytime I see it I feel such and incredible sense of longing. Watching it gives me peace unlike anything else. Being in it makes me feel supported, needed and awed. It is a breathless, heartstopping love. It is painful to realize that I can not give myself completely to the ocean, that I must remain a separate individual.
This week I’m at Woods Hole staying in Swope and taking an MIT course at the Oceanographic Institute. It’s good to be with the sea again, even in winter, for I want to know all its moods. Last night we drove back from dinner in Falmouth past the lighthouse. We stopped to look at the light, and I crossed the street to stand looking at the ocean in the extreme dark, the crests of waves glowing intermittently with the light. The wind was strong and the sound of the waves great, and I could do nothing but stand there, facing it. I fail again to understand why the ocean inspires me so much, why it arouses such passion and energy. It’s true that water in general has always fascinated me, but I tire of streams, ponds, lakes and rivers, however pleasant they may be. Only with the ocean can I acheive a state of absorption nearly like a trance. Examining my life elementally, earth shelters me, air sustains me, fire transforms me, but water feeds me, body and soul. The ocean, as the most complex body of water, provides an endless set of analogies to myself and an endless source of beauty and wonder. I wish to tie my life to the sea — but I worry that this may be a very limiting constraint for me. Becoming an oceanographer would ensure that, but do I really want to live in the world of research and papers and experimentation?
So i’m still having strange feelings but I haven’t come up with any
ideas of what to do about them. I guess i feel like what i do is not
making me happy, and that’s a problem. So I’m trying to reach out to
humans because they’re so beautiful at times but there are so many
barriers and i’ve lost the energy to penetrate them. When did i lose
the spark of determination? When did i lose my lust for the world?
Walking home in the rain today, i was picturing myself playing with
seals underwater. I came with them up to the surface at night and
just hung quietly there, breath from my nose rippling the water, my
whiskers teased slightly by the wind. Then I sank back down, and
could feel the cool slick surface of the water close on the crown of
my head and could see the moonlight still shimmering through the
dancing waters my head had just cut. I looked at the other seals,
their eyes were so large and quiet, but not lacking intelligence. I
think the Tao flows strong in this race. We chased each other in
dignified play among the kelp strands, disturbing fish who only looked
at us solemnly as they finned away. Passing over the rocks i looked
at creatures with strange mouths and lungs, each one’s fragile defiance
of the pull of death, and I was filled with a great feeling of kinship
with the little ones. Each one fulfills its capacity perfectly, and
I have been cursed with limits i can never reach, i must always doubt
myself and wonder if i could not push higher, be more.