Along the coast, the wind was steady, giving the trees that stood two or three hundred yards back from the shore the chance to continue, with their low rustling, the rhythmic chant of the gulf against the sand. Youngsters, in the reckoning of trees, with only a rare few older than that time when Camille wrought such destruction and split Ship Island into east and west; yet a live oak for all its fable longevity grows up fast, and unlike human being who sprint into adulthood and find themselves winded by middle age, these impetuous trees become real elders ahead of forest schedules, laughing with their great arms outstretched over two or three generations of their offspring, who struggle in their mighty shadows.
It is with a great and satisfied sense of perversity that I pay for my gift shop purchases, at a shop just down the street from Beauvoir, the now-museum home of Jefferson Davis, with a wad of five dollar bills, Lincoln-side up.
Yet the ocean itself (which is not the ocean, but the Gulf, says my mate) knows no north and south, no coon-ass or cracker, no redneck or Freedom Rider. It may be the Gulf, and not the Sea or the Ocean, but I sense the presence in the waves that crash lukewarm over me of Lir, of Kanaloa, of Poseidon and Neptune. It is that great mass of liquid that connects us, fluid that knows no real master or nationality. In the gift shop again I look over the rows of seashells available for purchase. Product of the Philippines, one is stamped. I laugh. As if the Philippines were required for this mollusk to come into being.
When I was 17 years old, the age that my daughter approaches now with great anticipation, I spent almost all my waking hours in or at the ocean. That was when I truly became an introspective soul, I think. In the face of the sea’s constant Music, spoken words become superfluous and strange.
Away from the shore now, back home in New Orleans, I sat down to read a book; and immediately fell asleep to the gentle sounds of surf remembered; a long sleep, filled with dreams of connections and endless tangents, of currents that hide beneath the surface and feed the cold depths with light by osmosis.
I wonder — to compare the thoughts of one who has never experienced the ocean (and I’m sure there are a great many such sad and deprived souls) to one who has lived and played in its great shadow. The great religions of mankind, those that must be written in books and given form on a weekly basis, must have been conceived inland.