From the sea the old man comes. I didn’t see him enter, only exit, as if he had never been on land. He is brown and round, his belly protrudes over skinny legs, and his back is bent. He is nude, and moves slow. The old man is holding himself upright with a wooden walking stick that supports his fragile body against the advancing and retreating waves, holding him firm in the eddying waters about him. But then, momentarily, he sways, he shuffles. My body tenses, ready to rescue the old man if he falls. But he does not fall, he only marches on, inch by inch, out of the sea, onto the shore. Victory.
Until recently, my knowledge of the ocean was limited and mostly abstract. Being raised on the plains of north-western New South Wales, the blue I knew was of a pale sky whose hue was dulled by a bleaching sun, and the waters I knew were the same colour as the earth. The Castlereagh River was to our children’s eyes its own world of adventures and discoveries. If what they say is true, that a person’s true homeland is their childhood, then the Castlereagh is my true homeland.
Naturally, throughout my life I had seen the sea, swum in its beaches, eaten its fruits, but only as a tourist sees a new city, walks its streets, and savours its cuisine. But when I moved to Spain’s Atlantic coast, to the verdant peninsula of O Morrazo, there I found a people who lived by the sea, with the sea, in the sea, and from the sea. There the sea is both a workplace and a playground, labour and leisure. A sea that was benevolent in its offering, merciless in its taking; its mood both serene and severe. Its colours change by day, from a vivid blue of a sun-shining day to a lifeless grey when the sea fog rises.
There I saw a sea that was spectacularly beautiful, and there I learnt the geography and sociology, the lifeforms and the language of the sea. Look at the old man emerging from the shallows, look at his salted skin, his insistence on feeling the force and freshness of the waters, and you see the seduction of the sea.
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