Out To Sea

I caught a song in the grocery store the other day. You know how it goes – there you are, somewhere between the pickles and the orange juice and the music you’ve so far largely ignored (due to the abominable selection) changes at first imperceptibly and then somehow, you find yourself humming without quite realizing which song and then you hear it and either continue humming along – maybe even singing along or am I the only one who sings happily off-key in the produce section? - or you shut your mouth, aghast at what’s emerging from your vocal cords. These days, supermarket muzak is a bit of a mixed bag – on the one hand, 80s music has officially become store entertainment and I’m a little worried about admitting just how much of that I can sing along with, on the other, sometimes you get the aural equivalent of a Twinkie.

But I digress. As usual. So I caught a song and it stayed with me not just to the cash, as they usually tend to do, dropping off me as I near the exit, but for days. Weeks, even, on and off. Beyond the Sea. Extremely hummable, but I’m pretty sure that’s not the only reason it’s with me still. I think it’s the sea thing.

What is it about the ocean that it exerts such a grip on us?

I grew up in an island nation, a country consisting of one peninsula and somewhere around 500 islands and no matter where you are, the ocean is never far away. It is there in the many Danish specialties involving fish, it is there in the weather, forever raining and cool and even when the sun is shining, a nice warm summer’s day is in the high teens (low 60s in Fahrenheit) and it is there, I think, in the national identity, never far from the Viking heritage. And I wonder if it is just people like me, people who grew up close to the sea, for whom it has this pull or if others feel it too, once they've seen it? Or maybe it's that we’re 70% water and the planet’s 70% water and if you think about that too long, you can really blow your mind...

I've always wanted to go to sea. I mentioned Cousteau last week - I was obsessed with him as a child and wanted desperately to join the Calypso when I grew up. Nothing else in the world seemed as fascinating as diving below the surface and entering another world. Well, except for that time when they were diving below the ice in the Arctic. I could never do that - what if you couldn't find the hole to get out again (I like to have an escape route)? I read books about going to sea, never tiring of one particular book about a family that sailed around the world, spending hours imagining life on a sailboat in the middle of the Pacific. I read about school ships, wanting so badly to be one of the lucky few that got to learn on a tall ship. And then there was Thor Heyerdahl and his experiment in ship construction and yes, the Vikings.

(Demented aside: ideally, when I die, I would like to be placed on a smallish Viking ship, surrounded by special items from my life and from the people who are 'burying' me and then I would like to be set aflame and pushed out to sea right around sunset. Nothing would feel more right)

There was a reality show in the summer called Pirate Master and although it was a pretty nifty idea, the practical application of said idea turned out not to be so fascinating from a game perspective. But I watched it obsessively, for the glimpses of the contestants crawling about in the rigging, high up among the masts and was there with them in spirit, deeply envious that not only did they get to have amazing pirate outfits, but they got to sail a tall ship. Because pirates are cool, almost as cool as Vikings. Sexy, even. Although I'm pretty sure that the actual pirates weren't so much, what with the scurvy, the lice and the likely touch of sociopathy, but we’re not talking about those kinds of pirates, are we? We talking about the sanitized version in my daydream and in that, nothing beats life on the high seas, the sails and the rigging, sleeping in a hammock, falling asleep to the sound of the waves lapping against the hull and the creak of wood.

I live close to a large lake now. A very large lake. A lake so big that the entire country of Denmark could easily be tucked into it and so big that you cannot see the far shore. But it doesn't count, because although the lapping of the waves sound a little bit like real waves and the screams of the seagulls start to approximate the real thing, the smell is missing. That bracing mix of wet sand, salt water and seaweed that is so intoxicating, calming and invigorating, all at the same time and lord, I miss it. It's home to me, the Danish sea especially, but any ocean will do. I'll go for weeks, sometimes even months, without thinking about it, but then I'll catch a song in the supermarket, see a picture on a website or there'll be something in the air on a blustery autumn day and all of me will yearn for salt water and the homesick will be so strong that I can barely breathe.

So it pulls at me still, after an absence of years, more than a decade since I’ve been near the sea and sometimes I wonder why or if it will ever let go, but at the end of the day, it doesn't really matter. Only knowing that it is home matters.