“Is there a beach near grandma and grandpa's house?” Isaac asks me before we take off for this trip.
“Nope, no beach.”
Isaac is just pondering around what he knows. M comes from the Semitic “mem,” meaning water. It started out written as jagged, uneven lines. My poem for that letter, which I am still attempting to revise into something that works, is called “The California Coast.” For the time being, it begins with these lines:
It is all he knows. This expanse:
the sea birds running on their twig legs,
needle beaks reaching from dry to wet,
the grit in his toes, the swampy air
passing through his lungs in gusts
that have somewhere
urgent to go.
My son plows his yellow backhoe
through the sand.
This is our foundation, this shifting edge
of the world, bullied by the moon,
where things are easily buried,
I have always lived near the coast – with the exception of a couple years in Pittsburgh where I tried in vain to call up watery memories from the three rivers that ran muddy and indifferent to my cause, and a couple years in Washington, DC where the Potomac provided no solace and the gridlocked lines of traffic on a summer day leading out toward the beaches left me with nothing less than a deep sense of panic.
Ironically, I feel centered when I'm on the coast. Like I can see myself as a microscopic dot on the gigantic map of the universe – You are here. Right here. - as opposed to lost in the woods somewhere where you can't even see the skyline from on top of the mountain you're standing on, or the edges of the valley you are in.
The foremost nicknack in my house is the sea shell. Smooth rocks from Italian islands, tiny black and white clam shells from the Mississippi delta, conch shells from Florida and New Jersey and San Diego.
There are lots of houses here in New England with mud rooms. I love the idea of mud rooms, I just don't like the weather that necessitates them. What if houses were built with “sand rooms?” So much warmer an implication. So much more...coastal.
From the first apartment that we lived in when we got to California we could, on quiet evenings, hear the sound of the ocean waves. I've been chasing that ever since to no avail. We live 2+ miles straight uphill from the water now. Not far at all, but still not enough to catch the ear. Spoiled.
Reading the OED includes a word meaning the sound of water lapping on the shore. I can't seem to find it again, but when I do, you will be the first to know.
A poem that has always stayed with me since I discovered it a few years back is “Inland” by the formidable and delightfully ironic Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950).
Are you a coastie? Where do you feel most comfortable? What do you need in your environment?