“A beach is a place where a man can feel he’s the only soul in the world that’s real.”
— Pete Townshend, Quadrophenia
There is a concept within folklore that this world is divided into many worlds, such as the visible world we live in and the invisible spirit world. Other divisions include the world of the earth (the world which mankind lives in) and also the world above the sky and the world undersea. Standing on the beach at the ocean we are standing at the edge of our world, or rather, the edge where our world meets another.
We took a vacation to Sanibel Island, Florida, over the break between Christmas and New Years, and standing on the beach I felt that I was on the edge of the mystery. A few years ago I wrote a folktale that spoke of my feeling that the ocean itself is alive. There is so much life at the beach on Sanibel, reinforcing that image—I could feel that undefinable life before me under the waves, the ocean as “other”. On the first day here, small fish must have been grouping just along the shore because sea birds swarming in the air were diving into the water all day long, in addition to flocks of sandpipers running along the water’s edge, and pelicans, crows, the occasional egret or heron. Sanibel is famous for the amount of shells that wash up endlessly, day after day, and that too speaks of life under the ocean surface.
We look up at the sky and see nothing but sky, maybe some clouds. When we look up at the sky it takes an act of belief or imagination to determine there is a world at the top of it.
To look at the ocean is to see the other world right there, its vast surface concealing the world beneath, and whereas we are in a world of earth we have dominated and remade in our image, the ocean remains mysterious. The beach is the portal, the transition place between the world of Man and the mystery of Nature. Sitting at the water’s edge on our final day here I focused on this aspect of the beach as edge. The waves marking the transition point. The sound of the waves an audial fractal, if such a thing is possible, repeating without repetition, predictably and without pattern—each wave the call of the entire ocean, all of the waves together speaking with one voice.
I also wondered who is the guide? In folklore there are creatures that traditionally guide the adventurer who journeys between the worlds. The frog, because he can move from pond to land; the snake, because he moves from the surface through rock to the underworld. For the ocean off Sanibel, who is the guide? Maybe a cormorant? Or a pelican? Maybe it’s time to write a new story.
“Have you ever stood on a beach and watched the sea? It never stops. Day or night, the sea keeps rushing up the sand and flowing back. It’s always moving. Always changing. Like something alive. The life within the sea is also endless and forever changing. Beneath the waves is a world full of fantastic creatures. People say the sea has a special magic, a magic called the sea change. Let the sea catch you and hold you and you will become part of it, one of the wonderful creatures that live beneath the waves. To see this magic of the sea, you’ll need to learn a magic sea spell. First, imagine the sound of the waves. Soft and endless. Always moving. Feel yourself moving, rocking, with the waves. Back and forth, gently rocking. Imagine the smell of the sea. The lively salt air and cool winds, rushing across the waves, bringing the sea spray up to your face and inside you. Let the sea take hold of you. Hear the magic of the sea…” — excerpt from The Sea Change © 1997 Christopher Agostino
“Full fathom five thy father lies, of his bones are coral made,
those are pearls that were his eyes.
Nothing of him that doth fade but doth suffer a sea change
into something rich and strange.”
—Ariel from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Act I, Scene ii