There are days, more than I’d like to count, when I feel like I’m living in a Talking Heads song.
The seasons turn and I wake up one day and realize I’ve been just “letting the days go by.” So I look “into the blue again” and tackle some project until “after the money’s gone.”
If I let this go on too long, I eventually get to the point where I’m asking myself “How did I get here?” “Am I right? Am I wrong?” and then finally — “My God! What have I done?”
Closed in by the weather for most of November, I rushed through the rain from house to car and car to work and back again. Though I drove past Freeland Park daily, and hustled down the dock at Clinton at least once a week to catch the ferry to someplace important, I hardly noticed the beaches and water around me. In my defense, that alligator that’s taken up residence in the reeds along Shoreview Ave. is mighty distracting. It tends to draw the eye regardless of what you’d like to look at.
When life gets stuffy like this, the antidote is to get outside. I was going through withdrawal and I had to get to the water for a fix.
I set the clock for 6:30 a.m., slept fitfully like a kid at Christmas, beat the alarm to the punch, pulled on layers of fleece and hiking boots and headed out to Double Bluff.
My aim was to clear my head, but as I zigzagged around, up and down and over the layer of driftwood that carpets the winter beach, mittened hands jammed into parka pockets,
I instead found myself reciting lines from a favorite poem.
“I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky.”
Yes, this was what I’d been missing: saltwater.
“And a gray mist on the sea’s face, and a gray dawn breaking.”
Gray is beautiful in its many shades. Battleship gray, steel gray, aluminum foil gray, slate gray, sand gray, driftwood lean-to gray, oyster gray, silver gray, dove gray. It sure hasn’t seemed beautiful lately.
“And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying, And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.”
Remember when that was all you asked of life? I asked myself. Life is better when you keep in mind that wind is all you really want. The sound of it rushing past ears with no headphones in them, the taste of salt, that scent of life and death.
I was nearly to the bluff, as far as I could go with the tide coming in, when the best line slid itself into my mind:
“Where the wind’s like a whetted knife.”
I don’t know what it is, but that line flattens me every time. I collapsed on the nearest log and stared at the breaking waves, swearing to myself that the tears in my eyes were due to the cold, stinging wind and not to some silly emotion dredged up from my turbulent depths. I am sensible and realistic. I deal effectively with each day’s business, but while being slapped in the face with the physical manifestation of that steely metaphor I’m something else entirely.
A mental vacation like this can’t go on forever. I sat on my log as long as I could, then, in the pale light of the just-risen sun, wound my way back, my mind beginning to mesh again into the everyday.
The gears ground a little. As I sat in the car brushing the sand off my boots
I suddenly thought, what was that bit about “remove the water from the bottom of the ocean?” I never did get that.
I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking, And a gray mist on the sea’s face, and a gray dawn breaking.
I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide‚
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
— John Masefield
Lyrics used are from the Talking Heads song “Once in a Lifetime,” written by Brian Eno, Jerry Harrison, David Byrne, Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz.
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