photography, Rants and raves, San Miguel de Allende, Uncategorized, Writings

Oceans. Just oceans.

The view along the Cliff Walk in Newport, Rhode Island. Besides the ocean and rocky shore, you can look at the backsides of fabulous summer homes built by robber barons back in pre-tax eras. Enormous marble and granite edifices that were only used during summer’s High Season. The one to the left was used in filming “The Great Gatsby” back in the 1970s. I lived in Newport then.

A reader pointed out yesterday that my blog post on flowers which included some from Cape Cod and Newport, Rhode Island, was sorely lacking, in his opinion.

He essentially asked, How can you post pictures from these two places and not include a single ocean view?

In the writer’s own words, “No cape or Newport ocean in site.”

Life on an island off the coast of Belize, with a storm approaching. The little white frothy strip on the horizon is the second-longest barrier reef in the world.

I blame it on living on a small Caribbean island for five years. I had enough ocean views to last me a lifetime.

But the reader is right. As I look back, I wasn’t particularly moved by the stunning coastlines as I once might have been. And they are stunning. For a kid who grew up in Western New York and Pennsylvania, I was blessed to spend much of my adult life on or near either the Atlantic or the Pacific oceans.

I felt I needed a bag ass body of water nearby to retain perspective and stay grounded.

When my life hit a rough patch or I found cause to celebrate — I headed straight for the shore.

The day I passed my final exam at the University of Rhode Island, I drove to a deserted beach and sat for hours, sometimes crying in relief as the wind-driven sand stung my face and waves lapped at my bare feet. I’d compressed a journalism degree into three years while working full-time. It all came out that day.

More photos from Newport that contain water

Sometimes on a Thursday after the newspaper I edited, The Narragansett Times, came out, I would board the next ferry to Block Island and walk to the nearest deserted beach. I’d sit and decompress, and write on legal pads until the sun started to set. In town, I’d sip a glass of red wine and watch the last boat of the day pull into the harbor with all lights on.

Should I take it home? Should I stay? I loved pretending that the choice was mine to make.

Summer weekends and vacations were spent on the Cape, in South Chatham, where the grandparents and aunts and uncles lived. I remember the summer that “Jaws” premiered. His understudy pulled up alongside our little Sailfish sailboat. It was easily a full head and tail longer than the boat. It was my first time ever at the helm and I felt like the sequel in the making.

Cliff Walk tunnel, Newport, Rhode Island.

My youngest son, Chris, once wrote a story of a young boy (like himself) who filled his sail with a stiff breeze which he took home after he’d moored the boat. The boy and the ocean breeze loved each other but every night he’d leave the window open so the breeze could go out to sea and do what sea breezes are meant to do. One morning, the breeze did not return. I turned his story into a small book with photos when he began having children of his own.

On both coasts, whenever life needed sorting out, there was always a nearby beach to walk, a rock to sit on, a view of the vast expanse to put things in perspective.

In Del Mar, it was a bench at the end of my street, one that dead-ended at the ocean. Every morning before leaving for work, I’d sit on the bench and watch dolphins and seagulls. No days that start like that are bad days.

On 9/11 when a returned to the news desk as editor, I would make my way to the beach in Cardiff-by-the-sea and end my day sitting still, processing the horror, hanging on to humanity. The tide would come in, the sun would set, and only then did I go home.

The first time that I commuted into San Diego on the coastal train, I watched dolphins playing in the surf. As the train turned inland at Torrey Pines, a small herd of deer grazed by the side of the tracks. At work, I couldn’t shut up about my magical “commute.” That weekend, in a used CD bin, I pulled up a disc with Debussy’s “La Mer” and “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.” I played it every time I was stuck in traffic on the I-5.

In my final years in San Diego, I lived in Point Loma, close enough to the harbor to wheel my kayak down to the shore and paddle out to the sea. Every day in my kayak felt like a week’s vacation. Sometimes I’d paddle over to Humphrey’s Concerts by the Bay and from the “cheap seats” among the boat people, watch Lyle Lovett or Ringo Starr or the Mavericks or (forgive me) Flock of Seagulls.

Paddling in the star-dappled darkness after a great concert, as the bioluminescent light show exploded off the tips of my paddle, was one of the great all-time rides home.

Even the time I nearly died in a winter swell, when I upended and was tossed into the sea, I didn’t begrudge the ocean. It was only doing what it was designed to do. I was the idiot who didn’t belong in house-sized swells.

Some photos from Chatham, Cape Cod that contain water

A few weeks earlier, I’d paddled out to watch whales on a surface as flat as glass. I saw seals, dolphins, golden garibaldi fish, pelicans, and seagulls, but no whales. So I paddled farther and farther out. Suddenly in the flat nothingness no more than 20 yards away, the surface broke with an enormous breach. I glanced up the coast and realized I was in the middle of a whale train. That’s when I learned how to back-paddle. Furiously.

As I sat there, a safe distance from the “tracks,” whale after whale swam by. Only as the sun was setting could I turn for shore. As I waited behind the breaks, watching surfers cut across the waves in front of me, a pod of dolphins swam playfully around my kayak. I saw an opening and cut into the breach between several boarders and rode a single wave cleanly to shore — my first time ever.

As I packed my gear, people came over to talk about my adventure. They’d been watching from shore.

“It was like being in the middle of an Audubon calendar,” I said.

True love took me inland to northern California vineyard country but we soon enough found our way to Ambergris Caye, off the coast of Belize. There, I could drag the kayak to the shore and paddle out to the barrier reef in less than 15 minutes, drop over the side, and snorkel among the coral and colorful fish for hours.

Cool kitchen fridge magnate I picked up in Chatham for my niece.

Over time, we came to have many FWBs — friends with boats. On any day, a boat could fill with people, picnics, rum punch by the five-gallon jugs, and off we would speed to another island or a sandbar on the “backa da island” where we could loll in several inches of warm Caribbean water while chatting, gossiping, singing, getting high, buzzing on the punch.

A direct hit from a hurricane changed a lot of the landscape and reef, but not my love for the sea. Again, this was only nature doing what it is supposed to do.

The island was narrow enough that you could stand in one spot and catch sunrise and sunset over the water. Sometimes, in a strong moon tide, you were not only one with the sea … you were bogged down in it up to your hubcaps.

In our five years there, I became a keen observer of the relationship between the endless variations of passing clouds and the constantly morphing of the coloring of the sea. That takes time, a lot of sitting still and gazing out past the reef.

Day after day after day after day.

People now will ask me if I miss the ocean.

It is probably a lie but I usually say “no, not at all.” We certainly have a less complicated and less intertwined relationship, the ocean and me.

In truth, when we returned to Newport and Cape Cod, feelings for the sea returned to me.

That’s where a lot of these photos come from.

As you get older, you don’t need to seek perspective in your life. You’ve lived through enough to know that your problems are small compared to the vastness of the ocean or the universe. A boat isn’t coming over the horizon to rescue you. Tomorrow, the ocean will still be there, doing what it is supposed to do.

So, get on with it. Keep breathing. Keep trying. Keep making mistakes. Keep learning. Keep living. Keep falling in love. Keep finding new things. Keep making new friends. Keep dreaming.

Thank you, huge bodies of water, for helping to shape my life.

My favorite weather photo from Belize. This was a real cloud that showed up on a perfectly blue-sky day. I took this and then hopped on my bike and peddled north as fast as I could.


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