No matter the coast, Atlantic, Pacific, or really anywhere the sea meets the land, people are drawn irresistibly to the water. There is something primordial about the attraction. Life came from the sea and we still retain this urge to return, even though, physiologically, we can’t go back. We can visit our evolutionary past only briefly, forevermore tourists in this watery world.
Whenever one goes down to the ocean there are people swimming, fishing, diving, surfing and so on. These explorers, however, are only dipping a figurative toe in the vast abyss of blue.
People come to the shoreline to stare into the undulating flatness extending to the horizon as if staring into the vastness of space itself. We sit on the edge of a liquid universe, only able to seriously venture forth with technological assistance.
The combination of the sky reflected in the rolling sea creates a seeming infinity of space, an openness, a spaciousness, that seems difficult to find on dry land. The periodic rolling of the waves on shore a kind of comforting white noise, almost hypnotic, the gentle roar of wind and wave. Cascading surf tumbles against the sand in a chaos of noise and froth, pushing up as far as it can reach, stretching out in a thin layer of water, erratic lines of bubbles and creamy foam. Sometimes the inattentive thought-lost wanderer is caught in a surge of cold, wet, reality. As quickly as it comes the water recedes, wetting the sand in a thin prismatic rainbow, drying in the warmth of the sun before the next wave overflows. Wash, rinse, repeat. A virtually infinite cycle played out the world over, starting long before humans arrived and continuing long past our departure.
Near the sea the quality of light seems to take on unique properties. The vast sky and sea surface act as enormous reflectors, imparting a strange luminous quality to the seaside. A fine gray spray pushes onshore from the ocean, coating everything in salty mist, diffusing the light. Brilliant sharp reflections of cresting waves intensely focus the sun.
Layers of cloud impart a a complete surface-to-sky grayness. The gauziness of fog envelops everything with a soft, white glow.
No matter the shifting weather or season there are always some individuals drawn to the magnetic attraction of the sea.
It’s these striking similarities that crossed my mind while traveling the north coast of California, down through Big Sur and again a few months later zig-zagging in and out of the numerous coves dotting the bays of Newfoundland, in the North Atlantic. The same, only different. Wandering across the reddish sand at Gooseberry cove, in essence, feels fundamentally the same as walking across the beige sand at Morro Bay.
In peoples mind's California is the land of endless sandy beaches, Newfoundland, ‘the Rock.’ These however are mere geological half-truths. While California does indeed possess many miles of beige, sandy shoreline, in many other places it is marked by shear cliffs or beaches consisting of almost razor-sharp outcroppings of conglomerated rock. California's famously active geology having laid them down so recently that the waves haven’t had sufficient time to take the edges off.
In Newfoundland there are indeed seemingly continuous coastlines of sheer rocky cliffs plunging to the turbulent sea. There are also many beaches. Some consist of an infinite melange of colorful, wave-smoothed stones, others as sandy as any California beach, and generally less populated as well.
The same, only different.
Summer sunsets are spectacular on either coast. Watching the sun slowly descend into the ocean at San Simeon is little different that watching it slip below the waters of Placentia Bay.
The western sky becomes a deep blue, the horizon transitions to intense yellow, orange and subtle pink as the light travels through ever more atmosphere. The sea appears to become calmer, the chill in the wind more pronounced. The first stars twinkle as the suns yellow disk slips into the night leaving us bathed in the gloaming.
Turning ones back to the fading sun, the sky from top to bottom transitions from blue to pink and purple. The earth a fading, ruddy, shadowland.
East coast, west coast, different in so many ways yet sharing the same essential qualities of light, wind, tide, the smell of the salt sea and the spectrum of colors that end each day.