Those two weeks away from the three-digit heat of the Mojave Desert and my sorely dysfunctional family, rescued me in so many ways. No older than 11 at the time, I didn’t know that when I found balance and rhythm with the summer surf, those moments imprinted my psyche forever.
My oldest cousin packed her four boys and me into her 9 passenger 1957 station wagon. I waved the desert goodbye from the last seat that faced the wagon’s rear. Soon, I’d breathe moist, salty air. That first night in the beachfront home was my heaven.
Shortly after sunrise I went from pajamas to bathing suit, gulped down milk-smothered sugar-laden cereal, scurried barefoot down the wood stairs and charged through the sand toward the surf. By 9 a.m. I bobbed where the waves began their incoming swell. I let the swells lift me from the sandy bottom and I flatten out my body for a dead man’s float. My nightmare childhood dissolved as I transformed into an unnamed mammal that healed in the seas.
The boys already rode the surf while I bobbed. Not to be outdone, I searched for the next swell that kick started my 2 weeks of body surfing at Laguna Beach. The teal water rose like fast-rising bread, dwarfing me like a bread crumb. This is a good one, I thought. I worked my best strokes so that I could ride this wave like warm butter on bread into the shore. Instead, it lifted me high above the shore and I watched the boys get a free ride.
“Here comes one,” a nearby sunburned and water-logged kid yelled my way.
This baby was mine. I kicked hard and stretched my arms almost beyond my reach for the best stroke that matched the incoming wave. My heart pounded in anticipation. The water surged. I took a deep breath and swam with the surge. I owned it. My arms formed a V. The ocean propelled me past swimmers just testing the waters. The wave crested and fell like a bride’s veil of white netting. Now the ocean cradled my body and we united as we made a smooth landing into the sand. I was Neptune’s beloved maiden of the sea.
Fast forward to March 2004. The Santa Fe breast surgeon declared clean margins after my lumpectomy. “Rest and heal before you begin radiation,” she prescribed.
“I will. I’m going to spend a month on the beach, heal and get my head right!” I exclaimed.
“Perfect,” the surgeon returned. “The ocean is our primordial home. I can’t think of a better place to heal.”
I wonder if Dr. Cunningham knew she initiated an aha-moment. Day-to-day life removed me from my time with the sea. And I knew this just before the millennium when I swore to return and rediscover my briny friend.
The surgical scar across my breast and under my arm serves like a tattoo that reminds me of my personal promise—get back to the ocean. I did. But I didn’t expect nor understand that this great mass battles its own kind of cancer—us.
Synchronistic events occurred in 2008 like a kind of destiny. Silence and ocean views were mine at last. I threw myself back to learning more about the world around me—not from emotional resources, but from pithy educators. The rest is self-realization and something I’ve done since childhood: float to the top of the ceiling and get the big overall picture.
Today’s news about the Human Microbiome Project, a five-year federal endeavor, reported on the finding that each human is “home to about 100 trillion microscopic life forms—a figure that’s about 10 times higher than the number of cells in the human body.” That’s amazing. But the paragraph that caught my attention was, ‘Humans,’ said Dr. David Relman, a Stanford microbiologist, are like coral, ‘an assemblage of life-forms living together.’”
I italicized “like coral.” Coral is the most endangered animal on the planet. “One-third of shallow water, reef-building species are threatened with extinction, making them one of the most endangered animal groups on the planet. Deep-sea corals are also under threat from ocean acidification and destructive fishing practices,” writes SeaWeb.
Is it correlation or coralation here? Humans are the culprits of coral reef death—and we are like coral?
There’s a vocal mood around the planet that lampoons persons who work to bring, let me call it environmental justice to the oceans. The ocean is big and it can be frightening. But the ocean is us. It is so much like us, both in chemical and physical make up, that unless you (yes, you) become mindful of once-vibrant coral reefs withering away because of carbon pollution and other threats, plastic trash choking sea animals, and entire ecosystems degraded at an ever-faster rate, that our human well-being will degrade alongside. Symbiosis.
World Ocean’s Day, June 8, is past. But June is National Oceans Month.
I remain a bread crumb to a rising wave. But every bread crumb counts. Here’s a few easy things you can do this summer for the ocean, even if you can’t make it to the sunny surf of Laguna Beach:
- Wrap your picnic lunch in wax paper.
- Bring your own drinking water or juice in a thermos.
- Place your cigarette filters in a proper receptacle—not on the landscape.
- Buy soft drinks in cans and bottles.
- Pick up the kids’ plastic toys before they float away in a rainstorm, at the lake, by a river, or at the sea.
- Summer reading: Saved By The Sea, by David Helvarg; Moby-Duck by Donovan Holm; Seasick by Alanna Mitchell; The Day of The Dolphin, by Robert Merle; Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin.
“There’s an army of ocean lovers out there who will stand up for healthy seas,” declared Laird Hamilton (a real surfer as opposed to my childhood body surfing days), in his recent Huffington Post piece, Saving the Ocean From a Wipeout.
So blame my membership in this army on my summers in Laguna Beach when the ocean made a lasting imprint on my psyche.