During my two years of grad school in Ann Arbor, I lived with one of my fellow students, the delightful, hilarious, and ingeniously clever Margaret Lee. Several months ago, she pitched the idea to me of a co-written blog called salt and fresh. She grew up in L.A. and currently lives in D.C.; she’s the saltwater girl. She is in love with the sea. Me; well, if you’ve been reading this blog, you’re already somewhat familiar with my obsession with freshwater. We wanted to start a blog based on well-told stories; “conversation ecology,” if you will. A place to “catalyze new conversations, thought, and explorations of and about water through the provision of curious facts and good writing that moves outside of stereotypes.”
Today is World Water Day, and the official launch of salt and fresh. In honor of its birthday, I’m including my introductory post there below. We’ll be updating that blog at least weekly (get excited for Tuesdays!), so please add it to your favorites list or whatever you kids do these days – and if you’re interested in being a guest writer, let us know!
(This blog, in search of water, will continue to live on as well, and I will continue to update it at infrequent and utterly random intervals.)
How I Got This Way
Originally Published on Salt and Fresh on March 22, 2016
I keep trying to write about how I feel about water, how I got this way, but every time I try it comes out sounding unbelievable and overly sentimental. When you try to go too big in writing, and wrap your arms around the unwieldy sum of twenty-eight years of throwing yourself giddily into crashing waves and poking tip-toed into spring-fed creeks, everything falls apart. At least for me. Other writers, better writers, would doubtless be able to accomplish this feat, but for me, I think the only way to talk about something so big is to forget about the bigness and instead assemble a neat collection of individual treasures.
Last week I was at the ocean in Connecticut, on my way from one place to another. I tried to roll up my jeans and wade in, but I was wearing skinny jeans. Skinny jeans are horrible for spontaneous wading. So difficult to roll up any appreciable amount. So I was standing in the baby waves, toes crunching over the thinnest orange shells, and soon my jeans were so wet anyway that I thought, “Hey, why not,” and I handed the contents of my pockets to my trusty companion and dove in. It was October and the beach was scattered with red and brown leaves and I was enveloped in the blue-white surf, jeans and all.
I came out dripping and rich and was surprised, as I always am, at the taste of salt in my mouth.
I’m a freshwater human. I have been pushing the boundaries of my rolled-up pants for as long as I can remember, but usually in Lake Michigan, or Lake Huron, or one of the thousands of smaller lakes that were liberally awarded to the state of Michigan (usually by glaciers, but sometimes by beavers, or men, or tectonic activity.) On the large peninsula I grew up in, our mitten of a state, you’re never further than 85 miles from one of the Great Lakes and, it’s said, never more than six miles from some body of water.
So as a child, I counted water just about as a member of the family. I dug holes in the beach sand until I was kneeling in lukewarm water. I built driftwood dams in streams that flowed to my version of the sea. I wrote painstaking treatises about the best ways to maximize your fun while wave-swimming. I skinny-dipped in shallow, forest-shaded creeks, where fallen leaves bumped into my floating limbs. I ran across hot dunes until my burning feet hit salvation. I scrambled over lichen-crusted balsam shelves to the clearness of Lake Superior. I threw myself off cliffs frosted in blueberry bushes and reveled on the way to the green depths below.
After college, I kept leaving my lake-studded state. I spent a season in northern California, where the deep, clear bowls of mountain lakes appeased me. I spent three summers on the island of Isle Royale (and believe me, three summers is more than enough to fall in love.) And then I went to the deserts of western Colorado. And it was beautiful, and eerie, and smelled deliciously of sun-roasted pine needles, and when I came home to the shores of my beloved Lake Michigan I felt a comfort unspooling in my blood, the filling of a need that for months in the desert I’d been trying to appease with dusty puddles.
Now I’m living in Minnesota, which does well for me. There are those 10,000 lakes. There is Lake Superior a not-far drive away, and I can ride my bike to the Mississippi River.
I think I tried to get too big again. Let’s focus on one moment –
And the moment I’d like to pick is the one just after you’ve pressed your hands together into a fish-nose point and launched yourself into the face of an oncoming wave.
You leave the wind behind. After a moment of stunning noise, everything is nearly silent. You’re not sure, really, if the few sounds that exist are things you can hear, or things you can feel.
With your eyes open, the world is blue, and green, and white.
You are embraced.