I can still remember the smell of the ocean in the small village where my mother was raised. The mix of salt air, mussels shells and caplin rolling up on the beach was comforting. The darkened tangles of seaweed clinging to rocks and the sun rippling off the water. The silence of this village broken only by the odd motorboat going by or the yells of a parent to a child. People walked around this community to visit one another and didn't drive as we would today. They would "dodge" up the road just to see whose strange clothes were hanging on a clothesline. The people of this town knew each other better than most family's knew each other.
We would investigate every inch of this town just being typical boys. One thing that always fascinated us was the ocean. Our friends would go to Florida and other "exotic" locations for vacations and we didn't. We went to Newfoundland. They brought back bottles of sand, seashells like on TV but most importantly, they got to run out in the ocean and play!
The beach by Nan's house didn't have sand. The only shells I saw were mussel shells and the one time we tried to "frolic" in the water ended up being a slip on a slimy rock, the shock of near freezing water and a crab bite. I couldn't understand why the ocean around Newfoundland was nothing like the same ocean around other islands.
We would see the power of the ocean with the summer gales that blew in and we would see the serenity of the ocean with the gentle glide of an iceberg or the flip of a whales tail on its surface. We would go out in boats with relatives and catch fish and collect lobster pots. The ocean never allowed us one dip.
When I first visited a country where you could run out into the ocean it was very disappointing. I was 16 and my mom and I went to the Dominican Republic. Neither of us had been anywhere like this before so we had no idea what to expect. It was hot and it smelled different. Not like Toronto nor like Newfoundland. It smelled like flowers. It was nice.
We went directly to the beach and were taken aback by the colour of the sand and water. I had never seen white sands and had no idea what it was like to walk out into the ocean without feeling the sting of the freezing waters off Newfoundland. It was warm, it was so warm. It felt unnatural really. Like the entire country had been peeing in the bathtub and I was swimming in it. There was a lot to take in but the one thing i had not expected was that the water was salty, burned my eyes and there was fish around me. There were things I was stepping on and couldn't identify and people all around me were screaming and freaking out. I was in my flippers, snorkel and goggles and the local kids seemed overwhelmed when they saw me. As I approached the break where the ocean got deeper and darker I sensed the local children pointing at my feet. I actually pondered giving these poor kids my flippers but then I realized they were owned by the hotel and not mine to give away. So, as I lifted my foot and pointed to the flipper I suddenly saw what indeed they had been pointing at.
Now I really don't know what was between my feet that day other than that it was a long dark serpent like creature and I instinctively swam away from that spot like a good Newfoundlander would. I swam like I had never swam before. I lost every piece of gear that I had gotten from the hotel and my mom claims to have watched me swimming to shore at breakneck speeds. It was like a movie in fast forward and the entire swim back to shore I could hear the Jaws theme in my head.
I dont swim in the ocean anymore, nor do I wonder about it. The ocean is not my world and I respect that. Just as I don't want to see a whale or shark at the mall, I will stay out of the ocean. So I learned a valuable lesson that I carry to this day. It doesn't matter if the ocean is cold or warm, it is still the ocean. It is a place of this earth where I am not meant to be, kinda like Iran or North Korea.