(And meanwhile, feel free to enjoy the pictures that accompany this post, which have nothing to do with my question, but everything to do with all the usual reasons I keep writing this blog … )
The list of books I’ve quoted and discussed on this blog is growing and growing, and the current page of links I have to them is growing and growing, too. I’m thinking of reorganising that page, sorting the books into more categories than the current ones (which are fiction and literature; non-fiction; poetry; magazine/newspaper/blog posts).
How would you like to see these lists organised? Would you like further subdivisions of the current categories (e.g. fiction: Australian; fiction: American, etc.)? Or would you prefer categories that don’t distinguish between, say, fiction and non-fiction or between book and non-book but are theme-based instead (e.g. running; walking; love; nature; life; health)?
I thought about the kind of people who come to the sea to look at it: how they put themselves down on whatever rock or bench is around and gaze for hours into the distance as though something out there makes life seem meaningful, or at least less incomprehensible. What are they looking at? I asked myself. What do they see when they see the sea? Most people seemed to find the sea deeply interesting but it held no particular depth or virtue for me. The most profound effect the sea had on me was that sometimes, from the living-room window, it quite literally made me want to throw up. I’d always thought that people who liked the sea were people who didn’t like society, that it was people who’d failed in their relationships who turned to the sea. There was something in their glazed faces — leaning on harbour railings, walking along the crumbling promenade, staring over the tops of their newspapers — which disturbed me. It seemed they wanted to be immersed in it, that as they looked out at the sea they entered into a special relationship with it which, to a certain extent, entitled them to speak to it. Because people who spent too much time looking at the sea did start to commune with it, as if nature held the answer to all of life’s important questions, their expressions suggesting that they were not so much watching the sea as conversing with it. I could tell from the way they sat, dead still, that the sea spoke to them and that they, for their part, were receptive to its communication. But what was the sea saying to them? The sea didn’t speak to me. What do you say to them that you won’t say to me? I asked the sea, but the sea was silent and had no communication to make.
from ‘Somehow‘ by Danielle Dutton (in the Paris Review, #224)
This passage made me laugh (which I think — although I’m not entirely sure — was the writer’s mischievous intention). So I had to include it in my collection of passages about the sea, didn’t I?
Anyone who even glances at my blog will know that I fall into that category of people to whom the narrator in the passage above, Mr Field, refers as people who spen[d] too much time looking at the sea …
‘ … We can be like sisters,’ she says. And then she freezes.
I smooth my hair behind my ear. I look at the snow.
‘I didn’t … ‘ She leans forward, cradles her head in her hands.
And I think of how time passes so differently for different people. Mabel and Jacob, their months in Los Angeles, months full of doing and seeing and going. Road trips, the ocean. So much living crammed into every day. And then me in my room. Watering my plant. Making ramen. Cleaning my yellow bowls night after night after night.
‘It’s okay,’ I say. But it isn’t.
from ‘We are Not Alone‘ by Nina La Cour
Some people in the Western world — most people, perhaps, if you take at face value the world we see portrayed on social media, and on TV, and in the ads — live big, busy, crammed lives, like Mabel and Jacob in the passage above. They go overseas on holiday. Borrow money to buy houses and cars. Renovate and redecorate. Eat out at restaurants. Drink lattes with their friends. Bungee jump. Skydive. Buy new clothes each season, colour their hair so it doesn’t go grey, replace their smartphones with the latest model. The words vibrant and noisy come to mind. They are not the same things, and yet it can be hard to tell the difference, sometimes.
Me, I live a quiet life. A small life.
Partly, this is of my choosing, and partly it isn’t. Partly, it’s because a small life, a simple life, has always appealed to me; partly, it’s because that small life found its way to me a long while ago, and foisted itself upon me. And partly, too, the simple truth is that it’s difficult, when you’ve started down a small, narrow track, to turn around and retrace your steps. To find yourself out in the open. To start again.
Most of the time, I’m okay with this. But sometimes, like Marin, the eighteen-year-old narrator in the passage above, there are moments when it isn’t okay, after all.
Those moments pass. They do. But I think they’re worth acknowledging, every now and then.
‘When you’re walking the view shifts and changes.
Walking’s a form of hope.’
from ‘The World Without Us‘ by Mireille Juchau
Autumn arrived in the vineyards in mid-May. One weekend in the last week of May or so, I went for a brief wander on one of my favourite tracks, which skirts the wetlands, the Scrub, the vineyards and the farms.
It was one of those autumn days when the sky changes every moment that you look up at it, and with it the light. One moment the sky was blue and the grass shone bright and green; the next, the sun disappeared behind clouds, and the sky darkened, and the grass turned a pale, sombre green.
As I took the photos you see in this post, I became aware of stinging sensations at my ankles and wrists. We’d had rain overnight, and the ground was damp, though the temperature was mild. Mosquitoes were everywhere, biting, biting. I kept stopping to scratch: my ankles, my wrists, my hands. Still, it was peaceful and green.
Can you see the willy wagtail perched on the wire fencing in the photograph above? It darted about as I wandered the track, zigzagging and dipping and feinting, the way willy wagtails do. There were fairy wrens on the path, too, but I didn’t manage to capture them.
After lunch, as a reward for their fine behaviour, Nurse allowed them to bundle into coats and hats and bolt from a back door along a path that ran behind Mr Styles’s house to a private beach. A long arc of snow-dusted sand tilted down to the sea. Anna had been to the docks in winter, many times, but never to a beach. Miniature waves shrugged up under skins of ice that crackled when she stomped them. Seagulls screamed and dove in the riotous wind, their bellies stark white. The twins had brought along Buck Rogers ray guns, but the wind turned their shots and death throes into pantomime.
From ‘Manhattan Beach’
by Jennifer Egan
I have never been to a beach in the kind of winter that Jennifer Egan describes in the passage above. Many years ago, in Michigan, I walked across a frozen lake (and thereby learnt the meaning of the term ‘wind chill factor’), but that was a lake, not the ocean. I’d like to experience that wild, violent chill, just once in my life.
The beach I know and live by has its own seasons of peace and restlessness. Often, the early months of Autumn are times of softness and stillness, and this past April there were several days when the sea lay like blue, shining silk on a bed of sand.
I took the photos in today’s post one evening around sunset in the first week of April.
As you can see, my coastal world is utterly unlike Egan’s, but there is wildness at its essence, all the same.