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!
6 thoughts on “The white gulls are crying”
Pshaw on your mountains! The ocean’s where it’s at! My oceans could bury your mountains!
Well, Gandalf, given time your oceans do bury my mountains. Then my mountains rise up again! 😉
The oceans call to my blood and heart, the mountains to my eyes and spirit. Both fill my dreams and shape my soul.
Well, only a true Tolkien geek will get it fully. I, of course, was Master Geek. Our little Geek Group used to try to wow each other with trivia questions spontaneously during recess, and I used to dominate. The noobs would ask, “What is the name of Gandalf’s horse?” and the Geek Grunts would snigger and say, “It’s not Gandalf’s horse. It is king of the Mearas.” I would add, “And descendent of Felarof, tamed by Eorl.” Then, I would nonchalantly ask, “What is the name of the horse rode by Gimli and Legolas?” If you didn’t say Arod, you were considered a mere novice, and shunned as an insignificant dabbler.
An aspirant to neophyte might ask the name of the Wose that led Theodan to Minas Tirith. A true beleiver would know that the meaning of the word was ‘wood men’, and they were called the Drúedain by the Rohirrim. Ah, those were the days! It seemed Middle Earth was just around the corner, and I could see it in every tree and small park or gerden. If I went to the mountains- we lived in the San Joaquin Valley, and not much was green- I went into a frenzy, seeing Rivendell at every bend. I still get that feeling when I see a forrest, or a country path. I would read some of the poems from The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. The Sea-Bell- or Frodo’s Dreme- made me very sad, and I felt as if I had really lost Middle-Earth myself. Strong dreams, those.
One that can name the lineage of Shadowfax might enjoy this book:
It is Tolkien’s interpretation of the old Ring Cycle, and overlays Wagner and the Nibelungenleid and the elder Edda and Poetic Edda with the voice that sketched far horizons for the imagination of your childhood. Read by firelight while the loons call, it is unsurpassed.
See, it was always the opposite for me. We spent summers in Rhode Island on the water, and I barely ever saw mountains, though the Berkshires weren’t far from the old homestead.
Then Adam, he of the Colorado Rockies and Many Mountain Stories of Childhood, came along. Now we spend lovely days in the Green Mountains every summer and I’m as much in love with them as I am the Atlantic (though trips up Maine’s coastal highways do tend to sway me; oh, Maine).
Beautiful post, btw.