For reasons I can't specifically put a finger on, I seriously dislike that slogan. Maybe it's because I see it everywhere I go, even in wisconsin occasionally, and whenever I see it my mind is instantly cast from wherever I may currently be back to the calming, rhythmic heartbeat of the waves slapping the shores, the warmth of our star basking me in its unrelenting heat as I bob on the gentle swells, sun bursts of light twinkling off the crests like a resplendent net stitched with scattered jewels, and in that moment I'm cruelly reminded that I'm not there. Super disheartening.
So here I sit on the shores of the emerald coast, under a pier on the beautiful fine white sands of Okaloosa Island, FL, a short distance from where we're staying in Destin. The pier stretches out for roughly a quarter mile, reaching it's finely constructed concrete and wooden arm, packed with deeply tanned fishermen hauling in their dinners, out past the shallows, grasping for purchase along the continental shelf. Two dolphins can be seen breaking the surface as they gaily play in the water. To both my left and right, the beach stretches out what seems to be infinitely. In this moment I've realized that if there's one thing I know about myself beyond any shadow of a doubt, it's that I feel the very tidal pull of the ocean in every fiber of my being. I am meant to live the Salt Life 😱.
Now, those of you in my close circle will be reading this and say: "Dude, you're terrified of the ocean. Egad man! Consider the angler fish." As if any of my cohorts would exclaim Egad!😅But I do hear you, and thank you for reminding me that somehow those things actually do exist. I can just do my level best to hope and pray the intense pressure of the deep ocean which created those seemingly mythological nightmares continues to hold them and their psychotropic, hallucinatory counterparts firmly within the confines of their watery, leagues deep prison. Were they ever to make or break the surface, I would most assuredly lose my one true refuge.
So what is it about the ocean then? Why should I be so forcefully drawn to what my son refers to as "the swimming pool that covers the entire world"? I can't say fond memories are what keeps bringing me back because from the first time I went I was enamored. I believe it has to do with the laid back and welcoming attitudes of the people around coupled with the intoxicating smell of the salty air and the rhythmic heartbeat of the organic machine powering the infinite abyss, lapping ceaselessly against the shore.
I think Disney erroneously snatched up a slogan meant for another destination. I find it relatively difficult to either attain or maintain a foul mood while in the presence of, in particular, the emerald coast. My "happiest place on earth" comes complete with crystal clear water, the green tint fading gradually from what my son calls the emerald fields to the sapphire fields as the depth plunges suddenly and steeply beyond the piers.
The sound of the waves crashing on the beach calls to a part of me I don't fully understand but I know it places within me a deep sense of ease, as if the waves themselves are washing over me, penetrating those dark hollows where my frustration and shitty feelings are holed up in their eternal bastions, the waves wrapping them in the forceful arms of the undertow and washing them out to sea to be processed and destroyed in the great blue oblivion.
Also, contrary to my highly irrational fears of being somehow set adrift on the infinite expanse, forever lost amongst the roaming gangs of errant sharks amd massive hurricane driven waves only to be deposited amongst the hundreds of thousands of corpses keeping company with the creepy crawlies on the ocean floor, I find it extremely comforting to gaze at that elusive point beyond attainment where the sea and sky embrace. That one place out beyond the reach of people, where there will never be an overabundance of unnecessary "stuff" polluting the skyline; unaltered by the trappings of our modern society, our almost genetic impulse to see empty space and fill it with junk as though that will miraculously fill some void within our own beings.
Maybe the answer to my question "what is it about the ocean?" is this: With all the hustle and bustle of our lives, the constant changes of work responsibilities, the turmoil of interpersonal relationships breaking apart and dying, the often times chaotic routines of raising children while keeping a marriage together (I could go on but you get the point), the ocean reminds me that, more than anything, life can simply be about nothing and that's perfectly fine sometimes. There's no need to incessantly fill my schedule with, often times, irrelevant menial tasks just for the sake of doing something. I can take the advice of the ocean and just go with the flow. Salt Life reminds me that it's okay to ease off of the throttle and simply be.
Or maybe, and I give a tip of the hat to Alex for bringing this one up, I love the beach/ocean because of the lesson it has to offer us. Regardless of how hard you/me/we fight against the suffering we experience in this life, we will always lose unless we fight the battle correctly. Should you find yourself adrift, farther from the shore than you maybe meant to get, and you start to struggle against the waves then you will surely drown. However, if you keep a level head, maintain your composure and work with the current instead of against it then you, with a little bit of work, will end up back on the shore, problem solved.
I'll leave out with this... if you've never taken the time to visit the emerald coast, please afford yourself the opportunity at your earliest convenience. I started writing this on the beach of Okaloosa Island and finished up in a condo we found on AirBnB that I'm sharing with AJ and the kids as well as AJ's niece and her step mom, Crystal. Split between us this is a pretty affordable trip and well worth the money/effort. Although Destin isn't the only city to visit on the emerald coast, it's the one I'm called back to over and over again. Whether you like to swim, golf (or mini golf), play, relax, dine, dive, fish (pier or chartered deep sea) sail, you name it and Destin seems to have it. They are a city kept alive by tourism yet they still maintain a humble coastal attitude.
In case the watermarks aren't clear, AJ took the pictures and added some input for the post itself. Teamwork makes the dream work and we are definitely a well operating Team!