There’s something decidedly authentic about a swim in the sea. Its irrepressible allure is even more magnetic when the source is practically at one’s door. In the middle of January on Longboat Key the ambient temperature is comfortable – which is to say the sea water is not exactly like soup. Thus in spite of the blue sky and yellow sunshine today I hadn’t initially been consumed by the undying necessity to walk among the sea grasses and fine white sand to approach the Gulf of Mexico unannounced so to speak.
Indeed so unforeseen was the nautical alternative that I began my constitutional cycle late this morning by going southward towards Lido Key instead of upwards towards Bradenton Beach. Once however I had rounded the walkway under the bridge which signals the transfer from the island to the mainland I lost my gusto for that particular frivolity. By default I am a confessed homebody. The thought of having to deal with swirls of people and traffic nearby Lido Beach was unappealing. I therefore swung around and retraced my steps to my starting point from which I commenced the ritual pathway to Bayfront Park.
I remarked instantly that it was a Saturday on Longboat Key. You would think this implied activity but it is otherwise. There were few cars along Gulf of Mexico Drive; fewer cyclists and pedestrians than usual along the path. Even one fellow whom I have seen regularly for the past two years walking hand-in-hand with his lady was walking alone today. We shared a breezy “Hello!” as I passed. I hadn’t the courage to stop to ask, “What happened to your wife? Is everything Okay?” Though we gesture a wave to one another almost every day – as we have done for the past two years – we are not on terms approaching familiarity. Such I suppose is the consequence of social discreteness; viz., wanton ignorance.
Sitting on the bench in the Park overlooking Sarasota Bay was today an uncommonly uneventful experience – that is, apart from the elderly couple sitting fifty yards away, engaged in what I presumed was a familial dispute because for whatever reason, based on the threads of their conversation which filtered through the air, it seemed to involve children or their spouses. The wife was getting the better of the old guy – whom she scolded at one point, “Keep your voice down!” His tenor was irrelevant since it was only random words which I dissected from the meat of the dialogue; and even then the significance was disjointed and obscure. They ended by removing themselves from their bench and passing – stone silently – in front of me. I perversely felt inclined to encourage them to settle their differences but I doubt that would have improved the depth of their strained relationship.
As their departure appeared to mark the end of the performance at Sarasota Bay today I hoisted myself from the bench, pulled up my drawers, ensured my iPhone was secure in the side pocket, mounted my bicycle and pushed off. There were no children on the play structures today – again an indication of the tranquillity of the island. As I wheeled along the winding course in the Park to Gulf of Mexico Drive the sight of the turquoise sea captured my attention. My modified resolve was instantaneous. I hurriedly crossed the road and headed down the walkway to the sandy beach.
Once attuned to the seaside vernacular I discovered where the absentees had congregated. There were far more people than usual clustered about the beach, some with umbrellas, children screeching triumphantly by the shore, others languishing in portable folding chairs. There was only one young girl in the sea up to her knees. I stood motionless on the beach, summarizing the panorama, privately adjudicating the sensibility of going into the inviting sea. I was assisted in my deliberations by the resolve of an older gentleman who had been sunbathing nearby. He approached the water without hesitation, advanced up to his chest and was soon submerged. This was all the encouragement necessary! I removed my shoes and shirt, put the iPhone, Apple Watch, lip balm and sunglasses into the shoes and covered them all with my striped blue and white shirt. Pulling on the strings of my bathing suit (which perhaps by no accident I had chosen to wear today instead of gym shorts) I tied them in a knot and approached the sea with obvious determination and satisfaction.
The nirvana of the sea is for me incalculable! The relief and revitalization were instantaneous! I dove into the sea, pretending I was a submarine or a dolphin! I swear my ancestry is marine by nature! The salinity was both flavourful and palpable. The buoyancy was almost theatrical! Though the waves were strong the current did not pull me along. I paddled about not far offshore, alternating my ambition from left to right parallel to the shore, sometimes floating motionlessly, other times plunging deeply enough to touch the smooth sandy bottom and then purposively exploding into the air like a spouting whale. The horizon was immense! The azure dome magnificent! My purification was complete!
I lingered longer in the sea than any others. This was not a demonstration of my lack of pusillanimity but rather a heartfelt privilege. My entire body was somehow improved by the sea. I could feel my skin tightening. I was cleansed. I allowed the waves to overtake me as though I belonged in the sea.
by John Masefield
I must go 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 grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must go 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.