As my mother loved the sea

My mother loved the sea.

She loved its ubiquitous, painful blueness; its shades of green and grey and hints of purple. The curling thunder of its great breakers one day; its lapping calmness the next. The caress of hot sand between her toes, and the tickle as each receding wave brushed past her ankles. She loved the sea for its smells: of hot flint and dry grass and drying seaweed and even dead things and the passing wafts of wave-tossed iodine and salt. And for its sounds: screeching gulls, moaning foghorns, clanging bells, the crash and seethe and churn and spray and its rhythmic roars. She loved the peace of walking a beach alone in the rain, and the fecundity and chaotic government of the living pools among the rocks. She loved clouds and cloudlessness equally, storm and sunshine, fog and stillness and wind.

My mother loved the sea for its seasons and its moods, its fickleness and unpredictability, its highs and lows — the sea was restless and temporary and impulsive, and so was she. She walked the edge of the undulating surf as a poet walks, watching each footprint sculpt the sand just ahead of the coming wave, distinct for a moment and then washing away; she walked in stanzas whose perfect rhyme and meter lasted but seconds.

I spent countless hours with my mother at the frothy edge of the sea — nearly every summer day for all my years between four and 10 — holding her hand as we kept pace along the tide, skipping stones, searching for sand dollars and starfish and hermit crabs and driftwood, always on the lookout for glinting treasures of colored glass polished smooth by wave and sand and years. To my mother, the sea was alive; a sensual thing with a palpable heart whose beat was from the beginning of time, and she told me the breathing of its tides was magic and the magician was the moon. The sea was my mother’s oldest friend, and she was in awe of it.

I live too far from the sea now to visit often. But last week, I snuck off for a day, and at the end of a delightful afternoon I walked with my friend out to the tip of a rock-tossed promontory; looking east, there was nothing in the way, but endless waves until France.

The surf was high and getting higher and the tide was on the rise. We lay on our stomachs on the smooth, warm granite, our shoulders, arms and faces hanging out over the edge of the earth, our eyes peering down into the roiling, pulsing, foam, frothing white against the clear green ocean. We stayed there for 15 minutes as mist sprinkled down from the dark clouds above while spray rained up from below and along the distant horizon splashed a line of blue whose hue no one in the history of the world had ever yet seen. Soon, the setting sun burst through and to the north a double rainbow dropped from a white cloud into the sea. Just then, as if this all wasn’t already enough, a big roller came sneaking in and burst upon the cliff below and gravity paused and the wave fell up and we were drenched.

In an instant, I thought of my mother and how this would delight her, and so without planning, I licked the dripping, salty kiss of the sea from my wrist, and laughed.

My mother loved the sea, and so do I.

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