Coastal Maine is more than salt and seaweed. It is rock, too: rocky break-ways leading out to lighthouses, rocky beaches covered and exposed by changing tides, cliffs of rock raising high above the ocean. What more can you ask for but this, water and rock–hydrogen, oxygen, minerals–the beginnings and base of life. This is what pulls me to the coast, these smells and textures, this movement and stillness, this water and rock.
I grew up in Vermont, but still the ocean is part of me, or I am part of the ocean. If you asked me at six years old what I wished to be more than anything else, I would have told you a mermaid, and my home would be the sea. But it is more than that. It’s the sense of wonder that comes from a thing so large, a thing that offers food and salt, that offers life and mystery, but that can so quickly and powerfully take life away. It is being in the presence of an energy that moves freely and truly without emotion, and learning to feel that energy within myself.
Ocean and rock teach me the same thing: to be present. It is a lesson that must be practiced, and so Edge and I went climbing yesterday at the Precipice wall in Acadia National Park. It has been said that you should do one thing everyday that scares you, and to that I will say this: rock climbing does not inherently scare me, but it does bring my vulnerabilities and anxieties to the forefront of my mind. Some days they hardly appear, and I climb confidently for hours. Other days I must stop to breathe and remind myself I know how to do this, I can do this, I am good at this, I am safe, I am alive. Those days I must remember how to move freely and truly without emotion.
When we began yesterday I was confident, but somewhere on the second pitch of a climb doubt crept in, and I stopped. I could see Edge above me at the belay station, and though a fall held little risk, I yelled “take!” and felt the rope tighten with Edge’s support. I held on then, and called out to him, “I need to stay here for a minute.” Breathing, I focused in on the rock, on the crack before me and holds above me. And then I turned my head out, and there was the ocean. In and out I breathed, feeling the cliff and staring at the water, until thoughts of doubt receded and I looked up, smiling at Edge, ready to keep climbing. The third pitch brought us to the top, and we stood there for a while, leaning against the wall as the ocean spread out to the horizon.
This is what pulls me to the coast: this stillness of mind and movement of body, this reconnection with the base of life–hydrogen, oxygen, minerals–water and rock. They teach me to be present every day.