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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Newspaper column for April 2009

The Cure for Sea Fever

Sea-Fever by John Masefield

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a gray mist on the sea’s face and a gray dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again to the vagrant gypsy life.
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And a quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

I had a nagging case of sea fever; possibly caused by the confinement of winter months, or perhaps by the siren song of spring that beckoned me to like a child begging an adult to "come and see what I made". And so, ignoring the disapproval of chores that needed to be done, errands that waited to be run and a dozen other "should-do’s" that snatched greedily at my time, I turned a deaf ear and listened instead to the call of the sea.

A light picnic was packed to suffice as an evening meal and mid-afternoon the hubby and I took off for the beach. It was the right decision. A lovely spring day awaited us with storybook blue skies and scudding white clouds. On the ride down, I turned my head from side to side, looking, unwilling to miss anything. Dogwoods, tulip trees, early azaleas, late narcissus and clusters of little wildflowers all bloomed exuberantly and I silently applauded their show.

Arriving at the beach, we climbed steps that rose over a dune, and at the top, stood still. After winter's pale stillness, there’s magic in that first glance at the lilting sea, resplendent in myriad shades of blue and green and capped with white at the shoreline. I took a deep, slow breath, reveling in the salty air and the sound of the sea. My eyes followed the waves that curled, crested and then, relaxed, rolled gently onto the beach. Time fell away, the "should-do’s" ceased to exist, and a peaceful feeling of belonging seeped in.

There were few beach-goers this early in April. I was glad. Glad to listen only to the lulling waves and cries of the gulls. Life at the shore is reduced to simpler elements, and simpler felt good, felt lighter. Like losing ten pounds; not in body, but in spirit.

I had brought a heavy jacket, expecting a cold and cutting wind. But the day was benevolent and I was comfortable wearing jeans and a shirt. Spring’s gentle sun dropped sparkling highlights on the waves and shimmered on the wet sand. Along the tideline the sand was studded with shells; mostly broken, but still beautiful in their variety and color. Wet, they glistened, jewels against a velvet cloth, and I picked up the gems I thought beautiful and dropped them safely into a bag. A good subject for a painting, perhaps.

The hubby loves to feed the sea gulls, so we came prepared with a whole loaf of bread. After the quiet months of winter the gulls were cautious. As the season wore on they would once again accustom themselves to the beach crowds that annually invade their realm. But at the moment they were skittish. The small bread chunks thrown out to them rolled to a standstill where they lay untouched as the gulls, tempted, stared, started forward, then thought better of it and stepped back. So the hubby threw the bread farther out and finally the boldest among them claimed his prize. Then another stepped forward, and another, until soon we were surrounded by a gaggle of gulls all vying for the morsels flying across the sand. They were comical, reminding me of children squabbling and scuffling for the best piece of candy. When one grabbed a piece of bread, another one close by would squawk loudly in protest. Sometimes two or three gulls dived after the same bit of bread and when one caught it, the unsuccessful gulls set off a clamorous chorus of disgruntled and envious complaining. We spent several minutes watching and enjoying the gulls while they enjoyed the food. Eventually, the bread was gone and we expected them to leave immediately. Instead they stood around, looking at us expectantly as if to say, "We’re waiting". They were quiet now, and their fears allayed by the food, had come within a few feet of us. They stood regarding us with an open and patient gaze. We started walking back to the steps over the dune and for a few feet we had company. Then, realizing that meal time was over, one by one the gulls left, circling out over the sea in search of more food.

It was a good evening. There was time to be quiet, time to talk, time to rest. We wondered why we didn’t do this more often. There wasn’t any reason not to. It didn’t require a week, or even a whole day. Just a couple of hours at the beach had gone a long way to curing sea fever. The wind and waves had done their work - as I knew they would. And that night I slept the quiet sleep with the sweet dreams of those who go down to the seas.
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