Monday, November 28, 2011

Living at the Edge

Surf Series #9, 2009

I've long maintained that the real gestalt of living by the ocean isn't just a matter of surf and sand, but rather something bigger and more important. I've just not been able to articulate very well what that larger thing is.
I have always looked at the ocean as something that's bigger and more powerful than man, and that in being this way it keeps us humble against the world. A good romp in rough surf or an upending on a wave will remind you that you're not nearly as powerful as even the energy of the smallest wave.
But even more than that, the value of the ocean to me is it's openness, its limitlessness and it’s uncertainty. One day it’s calm, flat and lapping quietly at the shore. The next it’s standing up tall and dangerous and pounding anything it touches. An enduring part of the soundtrack of my youth is the roar of the surf on windy winter nights.
But on even the roughest of days there's still nothing but the curve of the earth to limit your view across the ocean to the horizon. It’s like a giant infinity pool with nothing ever on “the other side” to interrupt your view.
I like to think that the ocean is the great psychological expansion valve for those of us who live year it. When things seem tight and close, the boundless expanse of the ocean is there to let our minds wander and be free. I've wondered if the ocean is to us today what the American West was in the 1800s, a great, wide open expanse of new things and opportunity.
I’ve lived within a few miles of the ocean for most of my life. I once considered a job in St. Louis. But standing under Eero Saarinen's magnificent Gateway Arch and beholding the mighty Mississippi made me realize that even a great wide river does not an ocean make.
Now comes some more considered research that suggests that there's something to this "psychological expansion valve" theory of mine. In Dan Beuttner's new book, Thrive - Finding Happinesss the Blue Zones Way, a Danish school principal explains the exceptionally high level of happiness in Denmark, compared to other countries as follows:
"I think that part of the Danish happiness is that we're never more than 60 kilometers from the sea. That creates the sense that there are no obstacles and reinforces the freedom we Danes feel over our lives.“
Well said.  Maybe I was switched at birth with a Danish baby?


  1. I was born near the ocean in Halifax, Canada. I lived inland for many years.

    I really feel that much of what I enjoyed about living in Hampton Roads was being near the ocean, and the beach. I do miss it still.

  2. Makes perfect sense to me. There is something about all that beautiful water, stretching out before you...

    love that photo!

  3. Even though I love living in the Blue Ridge Mountains and we have some spectacular views from the ridge tops I'll always miss sitting on the beach gazing out to sea or across the bay.

  4. To the contrary, you have articulated it here perfectly and beautifully. Though I did not grow up living by the sea, and still can only visit ( though as often as I can!) , I have never been further than an easy drive, and I share your feelings.
    ( and I dream of living there all the time! I feel totally At Home when there. People rave about the majestic mountains, but it's not the same thing....)
    Your quote from the Danish book reminds me of something said in "The Architecture of Happiness" about man's inherent yearnings for the Blue Horizon...