The thought of the ocean stirs so much inside us. I’ve always described my understand of the ocean as one based on fear, a fear of the ocean’s power, of how deceptive it is…yet how beguiling. It’s a place of life but…it’s a place of death. We grew up on this shoreline, in the picture below. We understood the beauty, the vast power of the tides and currents. But gradually I became afraid of what the ocean represented.

The Bay of Fundy: winter high tide on the beach where I have my earliest memories

Fear Itself

A few years back, I did a radio show, CBC Fear itself, about what we are afraid of, and what this fear means, how we deal with fear, how we can befriend fear and find what’s underneath. You can take a listen here.

My producer even talked me into going scuba diving. I was fine learning in a pool. When we did a dive in the ocean on the South Shore of Nova Scotia – yup, I had an underwater panic attack.

‘Safety of the Pool’
Photo by Peter Reid

All I could think of was how vast and unknowable the ocean was…as I looked around it stretched endlessly. The endlessly was what scared the crap out of me. The ocean was endless. I wasn’t. A humbling moment. You can take a look at the short ocean dive here.

Mermaids Everywhere

These days I feel like I’m transforming into something unexpected, a middle aged mermaid. Courage is going through fear. Swimming even when you want to drown. As a child I was not afraid of the ocean and swam in it, hoping to encounter a mermaid. When the water was too rough to swim in, I would stand on the rocky shore hoping to see a mermaid’s head popping out from the top of a glass green wave. I did see seals and of course, to me, they were the selkies my grandmother told me about. 

Three Mermaids: garden mermaids, safe from the ocean and yet…longing for the ocean.

Various Shores

It’s the awe of the ocean now, rather than simply afraid of it. Fear, yes, because the ocean is dangerous, ha ha. It isn’t our friend. It isn’t rooting for us. The ocean heaves and swells, lies becalmed, whips up into a gale and a tempest. Home to life. Taking life. It’s a massive and unknowable force of nature. 

My life long relationship with salt water is primarily with the Bay of Fundy, a massive bay the Atlantic Ocean pours in and out of. This is the land of the highest tides in the world, where the Bay swings around to the Minas Basin which almost completely drains at low tide, soft ombre sandy beaches.

I love the primal rocky beaches of the Bay of Fundy, where I grew up, and the contrast with the sandy beaches of the Basin, not far from my childhood home and yet a world away. How can the land and sea change SO MUCH in less than a thirty minute drive? On a baking hot summer day on a beach on the Minas Basin, it can be a different world on the Bay of Fundy shore, a chilly breeze gusting, sweater weather. 

The Sea in Her Blood

Last night I was supposed to do an illustrated talk about the impact of the sea on Watermark, on my writing, as a part of an exhibition called The Sea in her Blood, at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. (I spent so long prepping for this as the attenders of this lecture series really like illustrated talks!) My big brother, who is a historian and curator at the Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, was doing the introduction, a family affair.

Back-to-back storms blowing in from the Atlantic, and so my talk was rescheduled to February 25th. February storms are no surprise but these three weather systems remind me of the rogue wave phenomenon–three massive waves in a row, the Three Sisters. It’s an appropriate metaphor for life these days, huge and unexpected forces at work, rolling over us. All we can do is swim, with purpose. Float, with purpose. Pop out of those glassy blue waves.

Be the mermaid that you are, pals. The sea is in your blood.