Being inlanders all of our lives, we looked forward to our first visit to the ocean with curiosity and excitement, but it took visiting relatives to get us there. It was then an overnight trip to go and come because we had to take the ferry across the bay. We went one weekend in June, two families of us in two cars. Because we had to wait in line for the ferry, we did not arrive until two in the afternoon even though we had left early one Saturday morning. After 1ocating an overnight stance away from the shore, we changed quickly into suits and hurried down to the beach for our first swim.
We had to gaze a while before we swam. I was disappointed in the beginning. The sea was just a large body of water disappearing in the distance, not even an exciting color. Then, as I watched the waves break on the shore, I was caught by the sound and the rhythm, so ceaseless, so alive. The froth of the waves was enchanting, and I forgot the expanse.
"Let's swim!" I exclaimed, seeking the feel of the froth. Although a fair number of bathers were present, no one was swimming.
"Why isn't anybody in the water?" asked my husband. "Perhaps it's cold," I said because it was June. I had known when we planned the trip that few enjoyed the water that early in the season. We had, however, come to Washington from the north country. There my husband had proclaimed, "Syracuse has two seasons, winter and July." We had spent much time in the water there where one either learned to endure the cold or didn't swim.
"Come on," I said, "we're lucky. We like it cold." So in the water we went, just my husband and I. The other family members thought they'd wait a while with the children running to and fro like sandpipers ahead of the waves.
The water was cold all right, and the surf was rough. We each took a nasty spill and then decided to work ourselves out beyond the breakers where the waves were less turbulent. There the gentle rise and fall of the waves before they broke was like a lullaby, and my husband and I danced up and down with glee.
"Let's go in," my husband said suddenly with a curious strain in his voice. I wasn't ready to leave but, vaguely aware of the strain, I obediently moved toward the shore.
I swam quite a while before I realized I wasn't going anywhere. He was waiting behind for my awareness.
"Keep swimming" he shouted as he saw me start. "Keep swimming as hard as you can!"
He was an expert, but I was not. I swam and loved the water, but I took forever to get anywhere. No technique. Just hours in childhood of watching others and then trying myself. My swimming was as wasteful of energy as a baby in a bathtub.
My husband stayed behind me as I kicked and strained. The whole ocean moved out faster than I could move in. We had never heard of a riptide, and here we were caught in one. We discovered, as we fought, a fleeting lull when the waves moved inward before the pull below took hold -- a brief interval but important. In each lull, he pushed me from behind with his hands against my shoulders just a little jot forward.
By swimming as hard as I could when the pull outward swelled below I could just barely hold the gain. Slowly, patiently, he pushed me as I gasped and reached and kicked till finally, when I thought I could kick no more and lowered my legs in defeat, I felt my tip toes touch the sand. I drew them up in horror as I felt the force of the tide rush outward below, but I knew we were near and struggled anew. Reaching the shore in exhaustion, we flopped on the beach, too tired even to take deep breaths to grasp the air. The waves continued to lash the shore, leaving peep holes here and there as the coquinas sought shelter in the sand. We were astounded as we began to recover to discover that no one even realized we had been in trouble.
The sea, the sand, and my husband. What do they mean to me? I am the sea, busy above, turbulent below, washing back and forth, pulled by the tides and the wind. He is the sand, safe and firm along the shore where the waves break hard upon it, but so soft in the arid spots that feet and wind can mold it. An ocean needs a shore to show its beauty, and the sand is a desert without the sea.