Sunday, October 13, 2013

On the Water

I once read an interesting statistic; over 50 percent of the population of the U.S. lives within 50 miles of the shore line. That seems incredible to me so I did a little searching and I found confirmation of that fact from The Ocean Foundation’s web site among others. When you look at our great country and all that vast area that is not anywhere near the coast it makes one realize that there must be vast areas where there is little or no population at all. Amazing!

I have lived most of my life more than 50 miles from the coastline but not that far from water. I still find myself drawn to the sea often in my thoughts and memories. A few weeks ago, for example, we were in coastal South Carolina in and around Charleston. Even though I never lived in Charleston, it felt like coming home. Crossing over the bridges heading to Mt. Pleasant, I gazed out at the Cooper River and Charleston harbor from the Battery to Ft. Sumter, but in my mind’s eye I saw the St. Johns River teeming with activity from the sea gulls to the mighty freighters headed out to sea.

One of my favorite vistas today, although it is not one that I enjoyed much as a youth, is a sawgrass marsh next to a coastal river. At high tide the mud flats are covered by a few inches of water and you can see the sunlight reflect brightly between the reeds and leaves of the wavy fields of green blowing in the wind. The way the ebb and flow of the sea breeze moves across miles of open sawgrass reminds me of seeing the amber waves of grain across the fields of the Midwest. At low tide the mud flats are exposed to the surface and give forth a rich fragrance that can be found nowhere else on this small blue planet. The smell of a sawgrass swamp is what I did not appreciate as a youth but embrace as part of my memories today.

We spent a short time on the beach at Breach Inlet between Sullivan’s Island and the Isle of Palms to hold a family Memorial Service for our Goddaughter, Laurie. We arrived early and had some quiet time with Laurie’s mom and brother while the others arrived. As we stood, ankle deep in the water looking out across the inlet at the sea, my memory took me back to those weekend excursions to the beach of my youth. There is nothing like standing in the salt water feeling the waves wash the sand between your toes, slowly burying you deeper and deeper into the beach while seeing the bright sunshine, the sea birds in flight. Once again I felt the sea breeze buffet my clothes and the salt spray sprinkle across my face. And the sound, oh – the sound of the sea is at once unmistakable and unique; the roar of the waves on the shore, the excited chirping of the birds in flight, there is nothing quite like it anywhere else in the world.

Some of the most vivid memories of my life are from times spent on the water. These are not the most exciting things in my memory but they are some of the dearest memories that I have; watching the sun set across the St. Johns while shrimping with my family, standing on the bow of the USS Little Rock while plowing through the North Sea across 50 foot waves, watching the sun set from the fantail of the USS Solee while travelling down the East Coast from Charleston to Florida, rounding the leeward buoy on Lake Murray in my San Juan 21 and feeling the pull on the tiller as the mainsail filled as my crew dropped the Spinnaker and ran up the Genoa and we heeled over on a bright October day with the spray dotting our shirts as we accelerated to beat to the wind. Somehow, one feels most alive out there in the elements on the vast expanse of water in the sunlight.

So, today, I sit here writing a hundred miles from the nearest shore, realizing that I am coastal born and raised and always will be. Oh MY!

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