I’m taking a break from life. From the ever advancing procession of work projects and the rigid training schedule that I put upon myself to keep in shape. From the 6:00 a.m. alarm and the grind of pace runs and 1-minute sprints. From a relentless schedule of meetings and work sessions and teleconferences. From Excel spreadsheets dense with customer data and sales figures. I’m tired and I think it shows.
Water is a foreign territory. I approach it with apprehension, my jaw set against the unknown. Tiny baby steps towards the surf. By Pacific Ocean standards, it is a calm day, but I cower and shiver when my toes touch water. Is this what it is like to see snow for the first time, asking what is this stuff, will it hurt me, should I eat it, what do I do with it – play with it, mold it? I watch other newcomers, white skinned and bashful, approach this big sea the same way. I’m not alone.
Another day, I lay across a boogie board, facing southwest. There is nothing for miles. If I was swept away from this happy place, I would be poached by the naked sun and eaten by sharks long before my remains would wash up on another shore. But this beach and its ocean ring are as safe as a bathtub. There’s no rip current or infestation of box jellies and my husband tells me that the helicopter passing overhead is patrolling for sharks. That makes me feel better for some reason. I’m picturing a SWAT team of shark killers jumping out of that heli’s hatch, HALO style, on the offensive. It’s safe, even if only in my mind.
On Wednesday, we swim a protected stretch of ocean. My crawl stroke navigation is confused – the water is cloudy and there is no blue line along the bottom to guide me. I swim zig-zags and find myself back at the shore when I intended to be paralleling it. At last, I get the hang of it, breathing always over my right shoulder to catch a glimpse of the land, thereby keeping myself on course. By the time I have traveled a hundred yards, my mouth tastes retched from salt and I stop to spit. I dog paddle for a bit, take a few more free style strokes forward, then roll onto my back and, through my frosted goggles squint up at the sky. I float like that for a moment, becoming so disoriented I am vertiginous. All I see is the cloudless sky and I cannot tell if I am drifting into deeper water or towards shore or in a steady state. Later, I dive and swim like a dolphin along the sandy bottom, dragging my fingers through the course sand, picking up shards of coral.
I’m sitting cross-legged on a stand up paddle board. My legs are jelly from the effort of balancing in the stand up position and I want to take a rest, so I’m lolly-gagging, lazily dipping my paddle in and out of the ocean’s rippled surface. The swells undulate gently. Beneath me and my board, the water is glassy and I can see all the way to the bottom where sandy trails wind through coral heads. I uncross my legs and lower my feet into the ocean, straddling the board. The water is cool upon entry, but warms immediately. A bulbous sea turtle swims gracefully by, coasting along the ocean floor. He surfaces, his leathery head rotating and he takes a breath of salty air, then dives back into his aqueous habitat.