Open Water - The passage to a sea of memory
Now we feel it anew: the pull of water.
Tides and the power of waves, surf and its thunderous silence: the backdrop of our island, the blessing of its healing in our daily lives. This element, as much as the long-lauded ivory light of our place at the edge of the sea, is what draws us back each summer and defines us through all the seasons of a year and of our lives. This is where the look back over the vast expanse of experience, memory and desire transforms all things to salt and praise.
"The three great elemental sounds in nature are the sound of rain, the sound of wind in a primeval wood, and the sound of outer ocean on a beach," wrote naturalist Henry Beston in his 1928 classic, "The Outermost House," as he rediscovered how the sea and the great outer shore transform the inner self. And though, as he grew older, Beston held rural Maine in his consciousness as essential to who he was and how he saw the world, it was here, on the continental edge, that he learned the imperative, elemental significance of sea and sand, sculpted by sun, wind and tides.
It is a lesson that we who live on the Island re-enact summer after summer, this love affair with the sea - from which the forebears of our species lifted themselves up eons ago. That long, and evolutionary, crawl out of water onto land was a migration of survival, and its theme was rehearsed again and again. Finally, a millennium ago - as waves of Vikings, Spanish and English arrived - a sense of national community, and ultimately, of a republic, was born.
And still the pilgrims come each summer to find sanctuary here, the long line of their traffic as certain as the trail of horseshoe crabs emerging from the sea to spawn or the movement of salamanders and turtles from vernal pools across busy roads.
We are all on the move, finding our way from here to that elusive somewhere else where good prospects are worth the exploration and the promise of life and livelihood is somehow sweeter.
On the Vineyard, that search is expressed at this tidal high point of the year in our retreat at last from land back to the sea. A woman sets out at dawn in a dory, to row while quiet still clings to the calm waters of a bay. A shellfisherman pulls on waders to walk into the saltwater to rake the seabed and scratch out a living. And up and down the coast, boaters restore moorings, tug catboats into the harbor and rev outboard motors into the Sound.
We are all looking to find - and feed - our deepest selves, the inner being that hungers for the sustenance of the shore, the challenge of the unmapped voyage, the thrill of the race, the stillness of the endless repetitions of ocean and wind, sky and stars, the pull of the moon and the lift and fall of the light.
All this we celebrate as we sail into summer, embarking on a new yet familiar passage: a horizon of possibilities not yet experienced or exhausted - with family, friends and place. Let the crossing be completed with the wind at your back and the sun on your face. May the view be all you hoped to find.
- North Cairn