Not Painting the Sea

Being in British Columbia made me wish that I was a painter. Despite usually feeling like my words are sufficient to paint images in people’s minds, these views had me speechless which happens very rarely.

One day I went hiking with my family and left them to continue the trail while I climbed down to the rocky beach. Kicking off my sandals and walking out onto the rocks, I feel more like a foreigner than anything else. My feet are soft, from summers spent on sandy shores in Georgian Bay, years of running through Beausoleil Island and Killbear Provincial Park. This pebbled beach, rolling under my feet and pricking the soles when a bit of shell peaks through, it feels different. It’s hard to believe this is the same Canada I know and love.

I get to the edge of the water, breathe deeply through my nose, inhaling the salty smell. This too is new. Canada, from sea to sea to sea, for me has always been a land of lakes, where I can dive deep, look up and watch the sunlight filter through the marbled green and blue water. I will not even try to open my eyes in the ocean.

The waves lap against my toes and my feet remind me that they are hurting on the rocks; the sooner I go in, the sooner I can float and let them rest. But the water is cold and it is not a hot day. My favourite black bathing suit, which I’ve been carrying around for days hoping to get close to the ocean, has been left in the car. I didn’t expect this hiking trail to led me to the water. Still, my red jumpsuit will dry quickly I suspect and I don’t know if I’ll get another chance to swim this trip. Now or never.

I clumsily walk into the waves, trying not to fall. A little girl runs toward the water a few meters away from me; clearly she is BC grown because she doesn’t even flinch at the rocks splaying out from under her feet. Her grandma trails behind and we look at each, smiling. I remember that I now look more adult than girl.

“Is it cold?” She asks me.

I smile again and nod. “I’m trying to convince myself to do it, just to dunk and get it over with.”

“It’s not bad, come on!” the little girl is kicking and splashing between us.

She’s right. My legs and feet have adjusted and I know the rest of me will too as soon as I convince myself to get in. I turn around to face the shore, count to three and fall backwards into the shadowy, rolling water. It’s a trick that always works but my breath still catches for a minute as the cold water engulfs me.

And then I let myself breath deeply. Lake or sea, water is water and I always feel at home when I’m floating. My clothes billow out around me but for some reason, it doesn’t feel scary, like swimming in clothes sometimes can. My lips taste the salt and my hair, loose and long, fans out around me, bits of it sticking around my neck and chest. The grandma has taken the plunge too and she and the girl are pretending to be dolphins; I can’t help but grin, remembering all the hours I spent kicking and spinning in the lake back home, sunlight dancing in patches on my skin, as I pretended to be a mermaid. To see me now, in the sea itself, long hair and bright eyes, I can almost fall back into the fantasy.

I start paddling out, awe struck by the mountains on the horizon. It’s this moment that leaves me feeling without adequate words, this moment where I curse my “lack of creativity” and wish my fingers knew the secrets of replicating the Artist’s greatest works. It’s a view all made of blue, the sea the sky and mountains layered in the distance. As if someone started at the bottom and ran out of ink as they shaded skyward, the mountains rise in groups of bluish gray, getting lighter as they dance towards the sky. Mountains always seem to me to be to be vibrating with their own rhythm and life, despite their strongly grounded roots.  The trees here look different too. Like Christmas trees in fairytale giants’ homes, they cluster around the base of the jagged hill. From far away, they don’t look green, but rather almost black, a contrasting border to the mountain shades. How wondrous it is that this fairytale view too is the country I call home.

I’m not sure how long I floated there, thinking about how small I was. Just floating in the sea and wondering at the mountains. Eventually my family comes into view over the ridge high above the beach and I know it’s time to go. My uncle is coming down for a minute; I think he wants to touch the sea before we leave. As I climb out of the water, my hair and clothes suctioned to my body, my uncle and the little girl’s mother on the beach are staring at something just behind me. My uncle points and I turn around.
“Orcas” someone shouts.

I stare at the horizon, straining without my glasses to see something far away. To my surprise, I see a fin rise up much closer than anticipated, maybe 100 feet or less from where I had floated minutes before. I watch, mouthing “wow” to myself again and again, unable to come up with anything else, as the rolling waves reveal three orca whales passing by close to the beach. I can hardly believe how lucky I feel; I shared water with these creatures. Their smooth black and white bodies are clear to see, despite my lack of distance vision. My uncle is trying to get a picture or a video but I feel rooted to the rocks, my tender feet forgotten. I want to be present in this moment with Creation. The rollercoaster movement of the orcas, up and down, coming into view further left each time, feels like a gift, handed specifically to me by the Creator. Lord, if you wanted me to fall in love with B.C., you’re doing a really good job of it.

Eventually, we can’t see them anymore as they round the corner of the island. The women tells us that despite coming here, to this beach, every summer of her life, she has never seen whales here, not ever before. I can’t keep the smile off my face; what a gift God has given me today. My feet could dance, even on the rocky shore.

I grab my shoes. I take one more deep breath of ocean air. Nature has so many smells and I’ve grown to love each one. From the mossy dampness of the forest, when you crawl out of your tent in the quiet morning after a storm, to the sprigs of lavender that dot the path in the meadow in late August, to now this salty, brisk, wild smell of sea in British Colombia, a new puzzle piece in my Canadian mosaic. I take one last look at the view. Even though the whale friends have disappeared, this view can hold it’s own for awe and wonder. The mountains in their magnitude, crashing into the bluer sky and melting into the untamed waves evokes in me gratitude, hope and a sense of adventure that fills my soul and reminds me, the way something beautiful does everyday, how glad I am to be alive.

I feel a moment of sadness, knowing that I am not a painter; I will never be able to replicate with misty edges and smudged colours, this picture that my mind will slowly let fade. But it’s ok. this feeling of foreignness and home, of wonder and of awe, of being small and one with Creation. This feeling will come again. I serve the Greatest Painter and He is always sharing with me His favourite pieces of art.

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