kelp in my stew, ocean memories, too

i smell the kelp as i prepare the big pot of lentils. i love to make dal, the traditional indian dish. i make good dal, people say. to me, it’s better than the stuff i find at indian restaurants. turmeric, cumin, curry, oregano, bay leaf, salt, pepper, and today, kelp, are the spices i add into this hearty nourishing tonic of a meal.

i smell the jar of kelp powder we bought from mountain rose herbs. it smells like the ocean and i am brought back to this time last year, living on the coastal waters of maine a stone’s throw from the penobscot bay. last year i was getting over a fear of the ocean. i have no fear of water; i love to swim & do so buoyantly. but the ocean, that terrifying, powerful, uncertain, unfamiliar world – i have harbored a fear of the ocean since childhood, ever since my dad stepped on a shark when we were in the pacific’s summer beach waters off the coast of california. my dad stepped on a little shark, i was on his back. he grew up in california and laughed it off, but i was terrified. my dad stepped on a shark. there are sharks in these waters. i am going to get bit- my leg will probably get bitten off.

greened summer bay from the shore

greened summer bay from the shore

and so the deep-seated fear set in me, creating an irrational unstoppable bodily-emotional reaction near the ocean. now this hasn’t stopped me from kayaking with sharks, scuba diving with barracudas, rays and sharks, and swimming in the ocean. but i only go so far when i am in the water: at first sign of a large fish or unclear waters, i panic. it takes a concerted effort for me to slow my breathing and remain calm in such instances because my first reaction is to jump out of the water, propelled skyward like a rocket.

with this in mind, i brought my wetsuit to maine. i had my 5 fingers shoes i use for running to wear so i could wade into the waters easily from the pebble-bottomed bay and not get scared at something slimy or moving underfoot that i might encounter on my way out. for days, i walked from my house to the ocean, a mere 100 yards. i circumnavigated the bay. i climbed and sat on rocks, meditating and watching the gorgeous sunsets, dancing in the clear light and amazing ocean air. i collected bladderwrack, a prominent seaweed left in the bay as the waters recede and dried it from the cross-beam in my room. i watched the ocean & waited for spring to pass so i could jump into its cold waters.

water from bay-level

water from bay-level

 

outward bound boat coming into dock in our bay

outward bound boat coming into dock in our bay

the ocean, some say, is our primordial home. i know this as i smell the kelp. i feel warm & held by my mother, my Great Mother, the earth, and her womb, the ocean. I feel a lifetime of creatures surround me and tell me, we’re your kin! the ocean is your home, and i know this is true. i remember this first womb of my ancestors and i feel nourished- nourished down to my cells which mirror this ocean womb in salinity and form.

that summer i jumped in the ocean time after time, mostly alone. i read accounts of the house’s previous inhabitants lying on their backs in the bay, giggling and uproarious, as sea otters do. i made friends with brother seal one afternoon and i felt so especially singled out, as if a great gift had been given to me, that this wild sea creature would take part of his day to look at me and exchange information. and i did “get over” or at least confront my fear of the ocean and its sharks & creatures of the dark who can swim faster than i, are longer in tooth and more skillful in pulling me under than i am of swimming away.

sunset from my window

sunset from my window

i swam four hours one day after running to one section of the bay and swimming the long trek around the bend back to my cove. i had panics at times during the swim, and honestly the way i made peace with them was by making peace with death. rationally i know my fear of sharks may be overstated, so i calm myself by saying, it’s unlikely you’ll get eaten. i convince myself to swim by saying, this swim, if i die in this swim, was was worth it. i can’t hide myself away under a log in order to live forever- i must do the things i want to do, even if i am afraid!

and i felt empowered through this experience and strengthened in this process. for the ocean is a metaphor for life and the womb is the symbolic and literal nest from which this life is birthed. over and over; again and again. it is that primordial stew from which we are all birthed. and, though i may have fears founded & unfounded, i must keep living, exploring & at times keening this great song of balance as long as i live.