Living in Maine, the sea is my neighbor.  Although not in ready view every day, some mornings when I go outside, I can smell the ocean, and I feel a wave of relief, reminded that my friend is not so far away . . .

This summer my family took a very memorable trip deep into the Gulf of Maine for a whale watch.  Although the day was warm, as the boat travelled further and further into the expanse of the ocean, the wind picked up and the conditions grew colder and less friendly.  The skies brought rain, that, as we travelled at high speeds, pelted our soft faces.

Being out there, we understood that we were cruising on deep, deep water, as the gradations of blue turned to a choppy gray.  With nothing around us, no breakers to the wind, one had a sense of scale.  Just the vast ocean, our small boat and the sporadic wildlife.  Here, the ocean was a place where one could not help but be confronted with the reality of one’s own mortality, as it was clear that the ocean could take life as easily as it gave it . . .

Having stood on the boat’s second level for the early part of the cruise, I found myself making my way to the bow of the ship, finding my sea legs, as the boat tossed around in the waves.  Reaching the tip of the bow, I planted my feet firmly and gripped the rail in each hand, forming a stable triangle with my body . . .

From this vantage point, any visual evidence of the ship faded, and it was just me and the sea, moving swiftly into an unknown.  I stood there for a long time, absorbing the shocks and leaning into the forceful blows of the waves.  The boat would rise up, and I would move with it to keep my balance, sweeping upward and to the side, with the motion of a drunken sailor . . .

As the waves got rougher and the boat rode higher, I looked backwards towards the Captain, who was guiding the ship in the cabin above.  Our eyes met, and I saw no concern in them, as he maintained his hard watch and continued to field the sea . . .

After what may have been ten or fifteen minutes, my family joined me, as my daughters positioned themselves in the limited space beside me, my husband behind us.  We stood there, together, smiling, in awe of what was before us and around us.  There, the exhilaration, the fear, the togetherness, and the irrelevance of time as we moved swiftly forward . . .

Further and further from the safety of the shore, I thought of the fluidity of Hemmingway’s writing in Old Man and the Sea, as the story relayed the enormity of the ocean, its timelessness, yielding to it at the same time one is fighting it . . .

With an overcast sky, the rain became small nails pricking our faces, the waves picked up, growing larger, rougher and more choppy.  We continued to look forward, and held the rail.  The waves grew larger again, more unpredictable, and we lurched upward with the boat.  Once.  Twice.  Again.  And again.  Many more times.  The metal rail grew slick with the rain, eventually rendering a firm grip impossible . . .

At this point, standing there became a concern for me, as it seemed possible that one of my children could be launched from the boat, given the strength of the waves that the boat was cresting.  Waiting there with them for as long as I could tolerate, it became clear it was time to go.  We turned back towards the cabin and carefully moved towards it.  Sadly, it felt like retreat.  But the priority of safety outweighed the thrill of the bow . . .

Once inside the cabin, we sat down and waited for what was intended to be the highlight of the trip.  The boat drove hard, following the birds that flew near the surface where giant creatures were feeding.  As we approached the birds, we saw them, the beautiful massive whales, their smooth, black bodies gliding effortlessly through the water they claimed as home . . .

Fin whales, sometimes in pairs, sometimes sending spouts into the air, crested the surface as they headed downward into the deep, dark depths of the waters.  They, like the tip of an iceberg, like this entire experience, the awe . . . it all was simply a matter of scale . . .

Related posts: The Old Man and the Sea 

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