Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Salt

I'm not comfortable if I can't see the ocean, in some way or another, every day. Inland, I'm cranky. Itchy. I don't fit into my skin. I spent a summer in Colorado once, and I felt as if I couldn't breathe the entire time. Where I live now, in order to come home, I have to drive down a steep hill--the view is a wide expanse of the San Francisco Bay, a perfect shot of the city in the distance, sometimes obscured by fog, sometimes sparklingly clear. Sometimes, on perfect nights or gorgeous days, I just pull over and stare at the water for long minutes.

But the best place for me is an island. Surrounded on all sides by water? Yes, please. That's where I feel most at home.

1. My parents met in Western Samoa. Dad (in the Peace Corps) lived on Apia and heard about a woman with the NZ Diplomatic Service who lived on Savai'i who had a bigger record collection than he did. He called her; the rest is Herron history.

2. My mother was from New Zealand. She was from the South Island, and I think her blood that runs in my veins was what infected me first. Once, on a trip to New Zealand, during a plane refueling stop in Fiji (remember those?), my sister Christy and I got tired of waiting for Mom to come back to us where we were sitting on our suitcases. A little worried, I set out to find her and found her in the middle of a ring of island dancers, swaying and moving to a rhythm she understood. She was exotic and gorgeous at that moment, more than my mother--she was a woman I didn't understand but wanted someday to be.

3. When I was a teenager, we went to live on Saipan, a tiny island in the Northern Marianas, north of Guam. Of every good thing in my childhood (and luckily, there were many), living there was the best part. We were home-schooled in the morning, and every afternoon we went to a beach. We snorkeled on the Philippine Sea side, and we jumped off volcanic rock into deep swirling waters on the rough Pacific side (what was Mom thinking?). Set on the Ring of Fire, earthquakes were a daily occurrence, and we'd lie on our mats and watch them happen: little ripples of sand that looked like rumpled bedsheets, moving toward us, under us, and on. The beach was our classroom, our playground, our home. Digging my fingers and heels into the sand, I held on as hard as I could.

4. In the early 90s, I visited Venice for a day and fell head over heels in love. I've been back as often as possible since. It doesn't make sense how that city got into my veins, but I think it can best be explained by this: 117 miniscule islands, connected by small bridges. Sometimes only mere steps separate these islands, and of course, because much of it is man-made, there is no beach, per se (we could talk about the Lido, but let's not), but the water matters to me more than sand, and it's home.

I have a theory that there are three kinds of people: ocean people, desert people, and mountain people. The passion for each is probably the same, although I can't understand the other two. They are like a foreign language--I understand that there are adverbs and nouns in those languages also, but surely, the words can't be as beautiful, can they? The words peace and rest can't sound the same on an inland plain as they do on the beach, can they?

When I sit and imagine my perfect writing spot, there is always a desk at a window that overlooks the water. At night, I can see the moon tracing a path to the shore, and the breeze flutters the curtains. And in the mornings, I can smell salt.

13 comments:

toni in florida said...

Ah, Rachael, I knew you were the beach/ocean type, but I didn't know the exotic roots of your affinity! And thank you for the heart-tugging glimpse of your mom in her native element. Your love for her is as big as the ocean, and as powerful.

Camille Minichino said...

I agree with Toni, Rachel, a beautiful mother moment. It's possible those moments affect what kind of people we become.

Hmmm, having no "parent moments," I'm a 4th category: a tall building person!

Juliet Blackwell said...

Lovely, Rachael, just lovely. How I wish I could have known your mother! And I love the reflections on the water...like you, I grew up near an ocean and don't know how to behave when there's not one near. Just doesn't seem natural.

visionsister said...

I love both the water and the mountains. Luckily here in the PNW I get both! The few times I have visited the flat midwest I have been completely disoriented by the lack of large physical landmarks. How does anyone know where they are in the world without the water and the mountains?

Juliet Blackwell said...

Ha! Visionsister -- I grew up thinking of ocean as West -- it was the way I learned directions. When I lived on the East Coast it was eternally difficult for me, everything was turned around!

Gigi Pandian said...

I admit I don't get the water thing, although I love to hear others describe it. I'm an architecture person like Camille ;)

Rachael Herron said...

I never thought of there being building people like Camille and Gigi, but I *totally* get that. I think that's my number 2 choice.

kkeidon said...

I share your passion for sure! Beaches and cities are my top choices. Sounds like you had a pretty amazing time growing up in different locales.
Places like SF and Portland and Seattle float my boat... I haven't been to the east coast, but I really want to visit, and now I'm thinking I would probably love Venice like you do.

Beverly said...

I'm a water person, too. I love the ocean, but I've almost always lived on a river and am happiest swimming in the Hudson.

Beautiful story about your mom's dancing!

Joanne said...

My father is from the South Island, and he too loves water, but managed to find a soft spot for mountains. Growing up a short drive from the Rockies, the year I spent in the plains made me miserable - I needed to see the mountains breaking up the horizon!

L.G.C. Smith said...

Oh, Rachael, I love how you write. :) Mmm. My experience of living near Saipan on Guam, when I was nine, ten and eleven, was utterly different. I like beaches. I like water. But on that island I felt like I was perched on top of a very small rock that might tumble into the deep, deep sea in one of those ubiquitous earthquakes. The depth of the sea there felt immense. Dark. Gaping and full at the same time. Hiding who knew what.

But I was born in the hills and prairies of western South Dakota, and those landscapes sing to my heart the way the ocean does to yours. High plains scattered with buttes and the Black Hills on one horizon...there's no place better for me. Still, I appreciate beaches more and more, and deep water is more thrilling and less frightening than it used to seem.

Joan In Reno said...

I love the mountains. I spent my childhood summers in the family cabin in the Sierras on Hwy 108, and a great many of my early married years, too. The ocean is second, though. I live in a desert and like the solitude and distances, always with mountains on the near or far horizon. I'm definitely not a city girl.

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