I was, perhaps, unduly influenced by Tolkien in my youth. And by “unduly influenced” I really mean “secretly spent Junior High living in Middle Earth” and “can still recite Elvish poetry”. I was raised in tall and wild mountains with tall and wild trees and short and prosaic people, (Ah, Tuffy Suter!) although one or two of them might have passed as Bjoernings.
In one scene in “The Fellowship of the Ring” (skipped over in the movies) Legolas is warned by Galadriel of the lure of the sea – that once he hears the gulls cry he will never again know peace. Of course, Legolas does not then say, “Right ho! I’ll just head back through the Mines of Moria and forget this whole Fellowship business.” He travels the Paths of the Dead and in the course of commandeering some slave ships hears those fated gulls.
I always thought this bit was lame because pffft. The sea. Lamesauce. I was all about the mountains: high, majestic, completely familiar and yet unknowable, omnipresent and unscalable with volcanic secrets buried deep in their hearts and an aspect of icy glory overlooking millennia of maudlin human history. Give me the mountains, the forests, the deep glades and rushing streams and I will be content. I lift my eyes unto the hills. Living between the mighty Mt. Rainier and the sliver of the Pacific Ocean known as Puget Sound, my heart could have been swayed either way. But I turned my back on the sea and gave my heart to the hills.
This has remained true even as my coastal allegiance has switched. I spent four years of college in New London – gazing out of Long Island Sound – and only ventured to the shore a handful of times. I live now within 10 miles of the Atlantic Coast in an old and storied land, and over the past few years – again – I have only ventured to the seltzered strand a handful of times. When I drag my complaining menfolk to wilderness, I drag them to the lakes and “mountains” of New England. (I spent several years rather disdaining the label mountains for the worn down nubs of granite in New England, but closer proximity has given me rather a more grudging admiration.)
But then this new job, and this new commute that have driven so much of my wordcount in 2012. And as part of this urban 2 mile adventure I undertake every day, I pass over a tiny slip of the sea – the shivered remnants of the once great Fort Point Channel. It is the ocean in its most bounded – a sliver of barren water bounded on either side of my commute by iron bridges, commuters and noisy trucks.
And yet that sliver of water is to me as the gulls were to my dear Legolas. It commands my attention when I pass it. Is it high tide, low tide or some in between state? I gaze at the mussels and barnacles encrusting the stations on the bridge. On dark dull mornings, the water is a choppy gray. On bright cheerful afternoons, a sparkling blue. The waters carry with the mysteries of the ocean, unbounded, unknown, unplumbed and it lures my imagination. As I once gazed out my window and imagined myself trekking on dusty trails through quiet groves, now I imagine myself the intimate of those vast waters. I see a slowly growing friendship between myself and the mysteries of the deep – or at least of the New England coast.
This summer I’ve managed already to cadge an invitation with a friend to spend at least a weekend close enough to hear crashing waves in your sleep. Gloucester and its beaches are a quick jaunt away, when the heat of summer weighs down the suburbs. Perhaps some chance will come to gaze on Maine’s rocky coast and investigate tide pools. And my summer plans tentatively include a few days on the other coast – the mists and rocks of the Oregon coast.
To the Sea, to the Sea! The white gulls are crying,
The wind is blowing and the white foam is flying.
West, west away, the round sun is falling.
Grey ship, grey ship, do you hear them calling,
The voice of my people that have gone before me?
I will leave, I will leave the woods that bore me;
For our days are ending and our years are failing.
I will pass the wide waters lonely sailing.
Long are the waves on the Last Shore falling,
Sweet are the voices of the Lost Isle calling,
In Eressea, in Elvenhome that no man can discover,
Where the leaves fall not: land of my people forever!