Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Sea of Knowledge

In this chilly, fall moment, it’s hard to imagine, but just a few days ago, Z and I slipped back into shorts and t-shirts and returned to the ocean’s edge, just a couple hundred miles south of here; part of the Big Chill assemblage of old and current friends that I had written about a little while ago.

It was a much needed, if brief, return to summer sunshine and warmth.

A much needed escape from the day to day realities simmering back home, and a chance to turn the clock back 30 years or so; to behave in a manner where nothing mattered but the moment at hand…even if most of us were fast asleep by 11.

This narrow barrier island on the Jersey shore, where we had come, is a much different place in October than in summer. There’s a drowsy, surreal feel to it all, and if you were anxious to get started and arrived on the Thursday evening before the long weekend, you would’ve found the one and only main stretch of roadway pretty much deserted; the many shops and restaurants mostly closed and shuttered for the season.

It reminds one—or at least this one—of those post-apocalyptic movies where the only signs of a past civilization are endlessly blinking traffic lights stretching for miles down an otherwise dark and misty boulevard.

Thoughts are stirred by the unfamiliar solitude....

What would it be like to be the only living reminder of what once was?  Would we have the fortitude to begin anew?  Would we still have access to Twitter? Would Facebook stock ever recover?

But the morning erases all our doubts, with life renewed in the form of other sandy headed folks arriving in cars optimistically strapped with cargo carriers and bicycles; sand shovels and plastic pales spilling from trunks brimming with a weekend full of groceries and the anticipation of good times ahead.

By evening tide, a mix of music and laughter floats from houses, large and small, up and down the shoreline. Wanderers and wonderers soon emerge, drawn towards the beach by an orange harvest moon, rising ever so slowly over the ocean.

Our Friday began in much the same manner as most of our beach days—no matter what the season—with Z and I heading down the shoreline to see what surprises the sea had in store for us this time around.
The sun rides lower in the sky, this time of year, making it difficult to see too far off in the east, but the trade off is a rolling blanket of magnificent crystals sparkling on the waves.

We’d lucked out on this first day.  Well before noon the temps were already in the mid 70’s and rising towards the low 80’s. All along our path seagulls and pelicans soared through cushy, salt air, while scampering terns skipped across the mud flat playing games against the incoming tide.

Plus the Pancake House was still open, and best of all we were seated immediately, without the usual 20 minute wait, even at 7 AM.

We knew our good fortune was tenuous at best, especially at this time of year. The forecast was for a drastic change in the weather by Sunday, which made the two days ahead all the more valuable; measured carefully and doled out with a miserly hand.

The beach was scattered with fisherman and late season tanners, already in place. Z and I carefully navigated the multitude of fishing lines stretched out across the waves, adhering to post season, Island decorum, yielding happily to the anglers and surfers who make their residence here all year round.

As we walked down the beach, stepping in out and of a surprisingly warm ocean’s edge, I wondered aloud where our whale friend from the summer was hiding. 

In July, we had encountered the Goliath, only briefly, a bit further north of the spot where we walked today. Back then the cetacean critter was content to offer only a teasing glimpse as it rolled alongside the rising waves; a passing shadow, merely hinting at what might lie beneath the surface, not far from the shore.

It was there…then not there, in the time it took to swallow a hesitant breath….
But it was there…we had seen it, if only for a few seconds…the image forever imprinted on our inner eye.

Since it took nearly 20 years to receive even this short gift of a visit from one, whom some believe carries the stored history of earth, within its mammoth frame, it seemed the likelihood of receiving another was more than just remote.

Besides, even if the whale did pass along all that history and knowledge, what would I do with it?  I have enough trouble trying to communicate where I parked my car at the grocery store, let alone enlightening the world.

We soon reached the point where the Island runs into the sea, caught our breath and began our journey back to where we had left our friends behind, snoozing off the night’s reunion revelry.

But as we approached, the sleepy scene was not as we had left it...everyone was on their feet, shouting towards us and pointing towards the sea.

Without even looking in the direction they were pointing, a smile spread across both our faces, as Z and I immediately knew what was causing all the fuss.

We glanced to our right, across the waves and saw a fountain of sea water shoot toward a cloudless sky.  A mountain rolled across the waves, more pronounced than our sighting in July, bringing with it vindication that we had actually seen what we had seen that summer morning...because, up to then, no matter how many times I told the story, it still felt as if it might have only been a dream. 

Z and I turned to each other sharing an unspoken word, as we often do—at times, even a few with more than four letters—then turned back just in time to see the massive creature rise straight up through the waves, revealing itself in total to us all.

Slowly, the whale receded, falling back into the sea, again, marked only by the clearing of water from its spout, as it drifted off into the distance, trailed by an entourage of emboldened dolphins, determined to impress us in kind with back flips and leaps of their own.

As it had this past summer, the sea presented us with another amazing gift…but more importantly, it allowed us to share it with a lifetime collection of friends.

And who’s to say this whale didn’t leave behind some precious untapped knowledge, now enmeshed within our DNA.

We soon returned to our weekend of fun in the sun, soaking up the last rewards of summer's return.  By Sunday, the temperature barely rose into the low 50's; an October reminder that it hadn't forgotten us, entirely.

The rain soon followed, bringing with it a day of races, football, pizza  and chowda...with occasional trips back to the ocean...just to sea what we could sea.

But it's safe to say, the book is officially closed on my summer, now.

That's something that I know to be true.

But all in all, I also know...there's still a lot I don't know.
Conscious or subconscious…practical or mystical…knowledge, it’s said, often lies dormant until called upon.  

Again, who can say….maybe next time I won’t forget where I parked my car…or even better, I'll remember where I left my keys…..




Retort to the Retort -

“Is there anybody alive out there…”