Tag Archives: oceans

Why I Swim

I love to swim.  I love to feel the cooling, therapeutic resistance of the water.  I love to feel the fluid strength of the ribbons of currents as they wrap around me.  I love the gentle struggle against the challenge of the water’s pressure, goading my muscles into movement and future strengths.

I swim the way I dance; with little style but with great enthusiasm.  Remnants of distant lessons still remain: breast, butterfly and side stroke combine to provide an extraordinary passage through ocean or pool.   And when I float, I still listen to the water gurgle and whisper in my ear, like the faint dialogues of naiads and sylphs.

When the water splashes around me, I can visualize its disruption.  I see it freeze for a moment into a crystal palace of waves before it dissolves into itself to await the next interruption.  It is like being surrounded by a lithe mosaic, which glitters into life only briefly before its diaphanous vanishes.

In the swimming pool, it amuses me see my arms and legs beneath the water, distorted by the fun house trickery of the mischievous water.  The effect is heightened by the sunlight, melting like diamonds in the tiny valleys between the chattering ripples and curls.  Light and water join together in a conspiracy of delight and deceit.

But when I swim in the ocean, I can only imagine what is below the surface.  I visualize my legs, reaching out with toes en pointe, hovering over the turrets of grottoes and the sea-swept dunes of sand and shell.  I glide and tread in dark colors, my skin awash in mystery.

When in the throes of summer, swimming is my cold comfort.  During the thick, enervating days and the nervous, sweaty nights the thought of its cooling recklessness is all I have.  Swimming is innocent and disruptive, guileless and graceless, childlike in its joy in the water’s benign acceptance.  It invites and encourages nothing but spontaneous happiness.

I really do love to swim.

BB

Impossible Creatures

Lately there has been some talk of sea monsters.  Twice in one week their bodies have been discovered: either billowing in the shallows like abandoned sails or stretched across the beach, their silver flesh melting in the sun.  Pulled from the primitive dark, dying in the light, they have the shape of serpents:  their anger silenced, their fires no longer kindling.

Science, however, has tempted these creatures from the realm of mythology.  Zoologists have taken this curious orphan and given it a family, Regalecidae, placing it amongst the terraces of names they have arranged like a subtle garden.  It has been given a Latin alias, Regalecus glesne, that ripples with its mysterious, gleaming origins.  Imagination, upon seeing its compressed and extensive silhouette, has given it a common name:  Oarfish.

But centuries ago, imaginations saw the same animal and spoke – once more – of sea monsters.  Medieval mariners, dehydrated and feverish, glimpsed silver ribbons in the ocean and knew that they had reached the edge of the world and that here were indeed monsters.  They perceived the waves, mottled with sunlight, as saw burning scales that stretched into the horizon.  They felt the muscles coiling beneath bow and stern and waited to be pulled to the reptilian grottos where the water boiled and the currents were wreathed in smoke.

Maps from those eras were populated with these visions, born out of fact and hallucination.  Vague recollections of animals that glowed through the green water, the eerie lights and ghostly shapes, colonized the frightening latitudes.  Distracted storytellers, enthralled by the menagerie that gamboled throughout the waves, were the sources of monstrous memories.  The Mappa Mundis, Carta Marinas…all recorded these initiations into an entirely new world of animals.

Sea Monsters (C van Duzer) 012

And hidden within these aquatic bestiaries was a serpent.  Blood-red, devouring ships, it wrapped around long ship and galley alike, splintering wood and plucking sailors from decks like grapes off a vine.

red-sea-monster-serpent

GesnerSeamonster

But these charts not only illustrated nautical horrors; they also exposed a mariner’s fear.  The fear of what the unknown was capable of doing, of staring into a black sea and wondering what shivered and grimaced across the darkling sands.

Many of these creatures are vaguely recognizable – seals, whales, manta rays, lobsters.  Ignorance and trepidation added satanic details:  spines, teeth, scales, mouths that grinned and roared.  And an oarfish which was probably floating on the water’s surface – a deceased, decomposing ribbon – suddenly had the capacity to crush ships in its voracious grasp.

A thousand years later, these lonely, pelagic fish are still misunderstood.  Yet they no longer inspire dread or terrified speculation.  We take pictures, we study, we try to learn when the sea is generous enough to give to us one of her strange children.

article-2479631-18C1B53100000578-722_634x389

oarfish_r620x349

Yet, there is still a longing.  A longing for a time of almost seductive naiveté,  when anything was possible:  when imagination and fact intertwined to create impossible creatures.

Mermaids In The Hippodrome

A face, faded and distant, gazes up from its bleached acreage, yearning to escape the sepia dimensions.  A buried life, it is a portrait as remote and sad as a mermaid chained beneath the sea.   

Self-Made 'Mar-Made'

Yet when she lived, she was part of New York City’s urban garishness.   She performed before the remnants of The Gilded Age, staring into the cheap wealth and tastelessness of the new century. 

For a year she was on the stage, playing in the water and perched in the air, posed next to her iridescent sisters wearing silks that rippled with color and oceanic fancy.  From 1906-1907 she sang dainty songs of fish that spoke, ships that sailed and half-women who swam. 

They wore necklaces of beads that dazzled their throats in foreign patterns.  Ropes of shells decorated their hair and swung below their faces – bejeweled like pelagic czarinas.  In costumes that clicked and murmured they decorated artificial and painted seas.  They glittered with myth and romance, in the middle of New York, inside its newest theater.

The Hippodrome, a boastful expanse of bricks and plaster, was completed in 1905. 

Greatest Show On Land And Sea

The following year, ‘Neptune’s Daughter’ began its 10-month run.  It is a story of how Sirene, Queen of the Mermaids, tempted a young man below the sea, to mend and tantalize his broken heart.  But the heroine, who secretly loves him, despairs at the edge of the sands.  In answer to her misery, Neptune rises from the water inviting her to accompany him beneath the sea, to join her beloved.  Throughout the course of the play, the world’s largest water tank is used, as figures appear and disappear as gracefully as any denizen of the sea god’s court.

How did they do it?

“No spectacular invention or innovation of recent years has aroused such popular interest or awakened such widespread curiosity as the mermaid scene in “Neptune’s Daughter” at the Hippodrome.”

It was a secret:  a salty vow taken to uphold the mystery of their submerged kingdom.

“The mermaids ‘hoped they might die’ if they told, and knew they would lose their positions in case they had the hardihood to break faith with the management”.

Did the maritime fogs breathe through their veins or did their bones arch like coral prisons in an unnatural pact between sea and physiology?  Were their hearts like grottos:  multi-chambered and shaped like stars?  Did the moon  hold them in a lunar thrall – did they ride on her radiant tides?

Or perhaps it was just earthly invention, the whimsy of physics.  These ladies were a part of fact, not fancy.  Each maid of the sea was provided with her own oceanic chamber, “as safe as a true mermaid in a real submarine dwelling house.”  Each of these submerged bubbles was open at the bottom, a room of confined air, just large enough for an actress to reside in, waiting for her time to swim through the opening to the surface of the tank. 

“A genuine submerged village is there under the surface of the Hippodrome tank…”

It was an odd performance, trapped inside the water, watching the splashes of light and the prisms of music sink towards her.

The audience was stunned by the sight.  But shallow interests abounded in the great city, inviting society’s wandering attention.  In August, 1907, ‘Neptune’s Daughter’ closed, returning its mermaids back to earth.  But still the beads of water trailed after them, rainbow-edged and firm, like forlorn droplets of mercury.  The summer heat offended their watery souls, and the petals fell in defeat from their hair.  

Thirty-two years later, the Hippodrome was destroyed.  In 1952, the bragging acreage was replaced  by office buildings and a parking garage.  Perhaps as they were laying down the liquid concrete the workmen were startled by an invisible chorus of pretty, filigreed voices raised in protest.

Foolish People

People are so careless.  Cursed with negligence, they are blind to myth and choose to ignore the stories unravelling in their own backyards.

When the seasons untangle themselves, they spin across the sky on a sparkling axis – swift and blithely annual.  Astrology gave them the virtues of men and beasts, and astronomy gave them the blueprint for a yearly voyage through an expectant calendar.

Seasons are reflected in tides throttled by the muscular gravity of distant planets.  They dissolve into oceans, surrendering their warmth and color to a watery greed.   The chemistry of monthly progression weaves an embroidery of change through waves that reach towards the sky, towards the cradle of their strength.

But on earth, the seasons are there for the taking.  Winter snow, holiday molecules of divine complexity, powders the face of a pale, chilly beauty.  The perfumes of spring coat the blossoming air with pastels and genteel promises. Feline shadows stretch in the sun, sleeping in the golden liqueur of late summer.   Autumn colors – cranberry, amber, ginger and cherry – warm the planet in a crochet of harvests and earthly riches.

I was walking home not long ago – feeling the low, bronzed tremor of the oncoming equinox – when I thought I saw the lights of autumn hovering above me.  It was as if nature herself had taken the radiance and spice of the third season and held it tightly in her hands, to feel the gold and shadow pierce her ethereal skin.  And when she opened her hands again, there was a triangle of light, glowing like a captive sunset.  She reached down and hung the light on a tree, where it swung in the dusky breeze.

Light Out Of The Shadows

I watched autumn floating in the air as it waited for the symbols in the sky to speak, for the tides to leap and hide like foxes:  for its time to descend onto earth.  I watched the illumination burn inside the cathedral glass, filigreed like a Byzantine carpet.

Iron Stitching

I stood there, uninterrupted.  The people, however, stayed in their house – ignoring the microcosm of wonder glowing outside their door.  They never looked outside their window.  They never ventured into the changing air.  They were so foolish.

Ocean(bi)ography

Because their legs are long and refined,

Because their reflections painted the sands with watercolors,

Two Portraits

Because they can stride through the ocean – confidently walking the salty fields,

Legs In The Waves

Because they sing in notes that are small, perfect and round – like pebbles, like sand,

Because Nature was aware of the eccentricities and egos of her creations,

She made sure to also give them a foolish profile:

Leggy

A silhouette that was Cyrano-like and upside down, curved and odd…

So in her wisdom her little creation became a witty balance of dignity and mirth.

And when observing it, no fellow-creature would ever be jealous, or angry…but would only be overjoyed and wish to join it on its seaside journeys.

Her Endless Face

The shoreline was sparked with watery highlights, like a face glistening with sweat – cold to the touch, salty to the taste.  This was an endless landscape that formed the continents' profiles – straits, harbors and estuaries carved into the bones of her geographic shadow.  This silhouette was so complex that it would be a lifetime's work to maneuver around her expression.  This was a living portrait that dove into the blue glamour of the ocean and let the waves crash and worry its fair brow.

This was an old face, layered with history and secrets, full of earthquakes and continental drifts.  Small rivers embroidered her sandy complexion, wrinkling the fabric that lay across the fortunate coastlines. 

The feet of seabirds – not crows – dimpled her skin with a pattern of their dainty movements.

 

Her relationship with the ocean was a violent one; many times her face was beaten and broken by the masculine waves.  Often there were storms – stirred from an invisible core of anger and rising unbidden into a sky pale with fear – that collided with her passive scenery.

But in the morning, the shore would be littered with gifts from the sea, symbols of its guilt:  shells, sharp as shattered gemstones, shaped and patterned with all the cleverness it could muster, lay in profusion and confusion.  And after they were delivered, it was just possible to see a trident pierce the fog and hear the scalloped wheels of a chariot slice open the water like a wound, as the ocean admitted its maritime king into his pearly grottoes and silver kingdoms. 

Read and post comments | Send to a friend

In A Fog

Boyfriend and I visited Catalina over New Year's.  All during our time there, the island – known for its bison, golf carts, flying fish, its Deco and decorated Casino – rested under a blanket of fog.  Except for the day that we left, when the sun perversely warmed the sky into a Baroque twist of cloud and blue, the air moved like cold smoke, choking and freezing.

Our boat left Long Beach in mid-morning, progressing carefully into a blank wall of fog.  It was odd, looking ahead and seeing nothing but a pale mystery – with all details erased.  For all we knew, the world could have been flattened into a geometric plane, and we were about to motor over its edge into a soft, white void.

For days I felt its cold, vaporous fingers twisting through my hair and pressing down on my eyes like pennies.

Once we drove to the other side of the island, plunging into the morning's foggy embrace.  When our path ran low, trees appeared and disappeared in the atmosphere's cold sweat, like pieces in a ghostly chess game – checking and check-mating at will.  But when the road broke free and climbed above the misty fabric we were able to look down upon a fogbank that stretched below us, solid and yielding, like a cloudy continent.

The fog was endless and white, touched with gold and turquoise by a hidden though still laboring sun.  It rose like the breath of whales from the ocean, it dropped like the veils hiding the stars and extended like a gentle, feathery lake.

Throughout our stay I saw the dusky tendrils curl in the maritime breeze.  They flowed like a rhythmic stream.  They whispered to me, silent stories of their birthplaces:  the sweet earth, the mountains jade-colored and carved like an opium pipe…and the generous ocean that strung droplets of water into a necklace of melting pearls before offering it to the sky.

Read and post comments | Send to a friend

Seagulls Remind Me

"The morning beckon
       With water praying and call of seagull and rook…"
             – Dylan Thomas

I am a devoted admirer of seagulls.  I find them humorous, charming, ridiculous, beautiful, clumsy, graceful and full of webbed aplomb.

I know that many people disagree with me.  I remember visiting Hastings, an ancient town crowned with battlements, tumbling into the English Channel.  Every morning I would join our group for breakfast, and inevitably the conversation would lead off with bitter complaints about the gulls' crying throughout the night.  I had to disagree.  I enjoy being reminded that the ocean is near; that if I were to open a window I would be embraced by the sea with a veil of salt, dappled with scales and starfish.  I enjoy listening to their forlorn voices threading through the briny fog and sea clouds.

When they are grounded, their dignity is absurd.  They stare intently into the horizon, looking for the forests that grow beneath the waves and the islands shrouded with maritime breath; for the pock-marked hides of whales; for rainbow-colored grottos.  They sense the tides, they hear the currents.  They gather in serious groups – an open invitation for children to invade and scatter their numbers.

And when that times comes, they run into space, taking a leap into its invisible rivers – swimming higher and higher.  The wings extend so wide and fine, each feather ruffled by the airy fingers holding their host aloft.  Then, like a kite flying itself, after much maneuvering, the seagull becomes a stationary ship on its sea of wind:  staring down with benign interest on the curling waves and the stippled shore.

Sometimes I see their chevron-shaped shadows circling over the rocks and hillsides.  Calm and leisured, they are messages drifting down from their madcap owners.

I occasionally see them in the city, several miles inlland.  Now, I know that seagulls are opportunisitc feeders with a powerfully developed sense of smell, and that they can smell a rancid banana 50 miles away.  But I always liked to think that they were there to remind me – as they did many years ago in southern England – of coastlines, patterned shells and creatures shining beneath the waves.

Read and post comments | Send to a friend

A Burst Of Fun

Last Sunday, Santa Barbara gave a shout of happiness.  Within the course of an afternoon, I watched a parade walk blithely into the holidays, and I attended a festival which celebrated the softest, the shyest and the most beloved of animals.

Boyfrirend and I took the train up north.  After suffering through the urban debris of Chatsworth and Simi Valley, the train swung towards the coast, and we were able to see the ocean's thumbprint on the sand, the birds running just beyond the sea froth.  For the rest of thte way we traveled around the water, watching the Channel Islands emerge from the blue marine fog as the morning progressed.

We have a favorite cafe in Santa Barbara, where we always have breakfast.  Instead of toast you get a basket of fragrant coffee cake, scones and pastries.  So we reclined outside, watching the foot traffic on the sidewalk slow, as people started to gather on either side of the suddenly empty street.

Something was about to happen.

We saw a single police escort drive by.  Then…after a pause, it started.  A Children's Costume Parade.  Bank after bank of strollers pushed and wagons pulled.  Children – the majority couldn't have been older than five – appeared as pirates, princesses, devils, angels, dragons, dinosaurs.  Strollers were veiled in spider webs.  Wagons were stuffed with hay for tiny farmers.  The Red Barons touched ground, holding onto a cardboard tri-plane.  Two bee-keepers walked by, one holding the smallest of bees, fast asleep.  I saw a wagon edged in turquoise waves with a pretty pearl inside, led by a glittering mermaid:

There were zombies, practicing their walk of the dead:

I saw a cowboy, bound for the North Forty:

A pirate stood at the stern of his ship, on the lookout for the King's navy:

There was a bunny who had escaped her warren to enjoy a bright afternoon's festivities:

But from where had that bunny come?  Well, after watching the parade until the joy was too much to bear, we walked to the celebration, the epic sprawl, the magnificent frenzy…The Santa Barbara Bunny Festival.

Behold…bunny croquet:  reel as Anastasia decides to lay down and graze instead of running the course!  Bunny bowling:  gasp as Zeus strikes down a pin with one pass of his mighty nose!

Shudder at the thought of bets lost, reputations ruined, fortunes destroyed!

Behold…bunnies on display!  Proud owners walked amidst us lower un-bunned types, allowing us to meet their furry compatriots:  Poptart, Emily, Piper!

Spy…on the decadent world of caged bunnies!  Scheming:

disapproving, sleeping, eating!  But don't step inside, lest you become another victim of the dreaded carrot hazing ritual!

Marvel…at the agility of Buster, as he takes stock of his surroundings, decides that a makeshift warren is no place for a handsome champagne-colored bun, and makes his escape!  Shake your head at Buster's bad bunny luck as he lands in the lap of his owner, sleeping in a lawn chair close by.

The excitement.  The swirl of activity.  Boundless, bounding bunnies.  It was all around.

Boyfriend and I visited every stand, watched every competition, observed every corner of the lagomorphic throng.

This BunFest was sponsored by the Santa Barbara chapter of B.U.N.S. (Bunnies Urgently Needing Shelter).  There were bunnies waiting for permanent homes; pretty, pale Cristin was one of them:

It was such a lovely day.  I saw only smiles.

Read and post comments | Send to a friend