Guest post by Rose Edwards
Sometimes, you have to get out of your comfort zone and do something crazy, just to feel alive and remind yourself that you have the power to break away from the ordinary. Make a bold move. Do the things that scare you. Live a little.
I’ve been doing this at COA by taking on what has become a daily ritual for me. Every morning I wake up, lie in my warm flannel sheets for a few minutes, hearing the ocean call my name, and then I go. I have to.
Donning my reliable black bathing suit and grabbing a towel stiff with salt, I go out to meet the ocean once again. It’s always different. Some mornings it’s smooth like glass, other times it’s boiling and churning, the waves crashing over the side of the dock, with wild wind to ruffle my hair and make my ears numb.
Sometimes I wonder why I do it, particularly on the days when the wind howls and my toes are red with cold before I even reach the water. I think I know, though. I do it because college life is full of challenges, and sometimes I’m not sure if I can face them. Often it’s tempting to give up, stay in bed all day, and say, “To hell with hard things.” But there’s one challenge that I know I can conquer, a challenge that never gets easy — there is always a hesitation when it comes to throwing myself into the steel blue water on a crisp fall morning– but it only takes a second of bravery to complete. Then the hardest part of my day is over and I know I can take on anything that comes my way, because it will be easy in comparison.
After several deep breaths and some contemplation, I leave the dock. There’s no turning back now. I’m in the air and my feet are hitting the water and I think “Oh, why.” The regret is quickly overwhelmed by the icy silence that fills my ears under those blue-green waves. For a few seconds I am surrounded by frigid water and it feels so good. I must not be normal because the feeling of having every part of me supported and held by that cold pressure is my favorite sensation in the world. And it’s so quiet.
No one can reach me here. The brief solitude is bliss, but my lungs beg me to return to the air.
I burst through the surface, gasping at the chilly air and hearing the sizzling of bubbles still popping from when I jumped. I’ve never felt so alive. On nice days I dive down again, relishing the ocean’s icy hands caressing my face, and sweeping down over my whole body. By the time it reaches my toes it bites.
When I am in the ocean, I am connected to all the oceans and everything in them. The intensity of life, death, and birth are all contained within the same waters, no borders. Sometimes I feel that when I’m in the ocean. That killer whale off the coast of Antarctica and I are linked because we are in the same water that flows freely with the currents, tracing the whole world. I like feeling connected. Sometimes it’s scary. Sometimes I think of all the sharks being killed for their fins, all the bycatch getting scooped up to die for nothing, and all the trashed ecosystems; it’s all happening all the time and it never stops. Life is busy in the ocean. For a moment every day, I am part of it.
Pretty soon it is time to get out of the water so I don’t have to take a rescue shower when I get home. I try to avoid needing to take a hot shower because hot showers seem to undo all the good a jump in the ocean does; I no longer have malleable, salty hair, and that feeling of being wide awake is overcome by warm relaxation. So out I come before the hypothermia takes over. I swing a hand up over the edge of the dock and use a crack between the boards to haul myself up; I never use the ladder. I don’t know why. I drip madly onto the wooden dock and sip the salty brine dripping from my eyebrows. I stumble to my towel, a bit numb.
Realizing I have just done something stupid, my circulation goes into overdrive to save me. I appreciate this. There is a new sensation of being warm — not exactly cozy, but fine. Totally fine. No one believes me. They think I’m crazy (for some reason).
I always thank the ocean before I leave.
It’s late October and I haven’t missed a day since August 23rd — I’ve gone in the ocean for over sixty consecutive days. Last year I went in every morning until November 2nd when an ice storm had the nerve to stop me. It’s something I’m committed to without much question, like brushing my teeth. Some days I jump in the ocean more than I brush my teeth, which I know is pretty terrible. I use it as a way to push my reset button. Any stresses that have been nagging me are washed away the second I hit the water. Maybe it’s a spiritual thing, or maybe my brain is just prioritizing survival over worrying about tomorrow’s quiz, which suddenly seems easy in comparison.
I enjoy watching the changes that take place day to day and week to week. Even year to year. I’ve seen dozens more lion’s mane jellyfish this year than last year, and last year the fall foliage burst into life pretty quickly, whereas this year it took its time. The strength of the wind and the changing tides make every day unique. The water always seems warmer when it is high. This might not actually be true. Don’t listen, I’m crazy. I like to swim in the pouring rain.
Soon I will need to stop this daily dip into madness, which is a sad thought. Most people say I should have stopped a while ago, but I know my limits. Do I think I still have toes? Yes? Good to go. Anyway, the dock will be taken in for the winter soon and then things will get more difficult, as I’ll have to go in from the shore and get in sync with the tides. It’s a more complicated process, which makes it easier to give up. It’s also getting rapidly colder, as Maine tends to do in October, so that might inspire me to stop as well. When it hurts and I think I’m getting a brain freeze from the water, it’s time to say goodbye until late April when life in the ocean is bearable once again and I can leap into its chilly depths.
Editor’s note: My co-editor Madeline Motley is in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park hiking to remote beaches to census Hawksbill Turtles, but will be back in 2016 to graduate in June. For the moment I am on my own as editor, but I had a grand total of one suggestion for Rose’s post. Rose is an advisee and a second-year student at COA. Today in Bar Harbor I was at a town marine resource area meeting at the harbormaster’s office when I saw a barge pushing what I think was the COA dock towards winter storage. Starting tomorrow Rose may be stuck entering the water from the beach. – October 21st, Chris Petersen