A Father Of Good Intentions…
I often tell people I’m a Colorado native. In truth, I moved here at the age of 6. I was born in Massachusetts. As a child, my father spent his summers in Gloucester, MA playing at Cressy’s beach, eating fried clams from roadside stands, and absorbing the persuasive scent that is the sum of wooden pier pilings, fish scales, salt water, and sea breezes. In the early part of my childhood, my father ensured I got to spend time in Gloucester savoring those same experiences. My father raised me with a reverence for the sea, and all things lobster.
In 1968, partly due to business, and partly due to a desire for an expanded outdoor life, my father moved our family from the east coast, to Colorado. From an early age he had me involved in outdoor activities; camping, scouting, and skiing. In truth, I never liked Colorado – or appreciated it. I saw the snow, the cold, or anything which might threaten my core temperature as a foreboding aggressor. I was a beach boy at heart.
Salt Water Exposure…
My father ensured that we did spend time at the ocean. On trips to Massachusetts, Oregon, and Washington, I was transformed when I experienced the sea. It was a trip to San Diego though, when I was 11 that would change how I would see my life – for the rest of my life. It was during that trip I felt what I can only describe as a sense belonging for the first time in my life.
This is the first time I identified the difference between being on nature, and being in nature. Yes, I could stand on a mountain and ski down it. I could pitch a tent on a hillside and witness a simple view. However, to be inside the ocean meant I wasn’t on it, I was a part of it, and that changed me.
On our return from San Diego I had a hard time sleeping at night. Something so wonderful, that had become a part of me in a short time, had been taken away too soon. I had become resentful to live in landlocked Colorado; a resentment which would fester for another 12 years.
I have a clear memory of awakening in the middle of the night once in middle school, having dreamt a glorious dream about playing in the ocean and the comfort that brought me, only to realize it was just a dream. I cried myself back to sleep, and woke the next morning in a state of sadness that would linger for weeks.
I spent time in the school library looking at books with pictures of surfing, sailboats, and oceanscapes. These brought me moments of wonder. Television and movies that took place at the ocean always took president with me. I watched Flipper, Gilligan’s Island, and even McHale’s Navy relentlessly in reruns, all the while planning my escape.
No Mountain Magic…
As clearly as I remember that ocean dream, I remember my mountain realities. My father, with the best of intentions, had me on skies at an early age. Though I never resisted it, I have no memory whatsoever of a pleasurable day in the wind and snow, though they did account for many of my weekends. And then there was Boy Scouts.
I am grateful for the survival skills I learned in Troop 5 – the only area scout troop that regularly camped in winter. That I had to learn how to make snow caves in 60 mph winds, and wash up in 30 degree river water did not scar me, though it did form the me that I would not become as an adult.
Rescued By The Coast Guard…
With life as a gym instructor doing little to offer security in my early adult life, and life in Colorado doing even less to support my inner waterman, I would eventually sign a piece of paper that would change that. On surrendering my soul to the US Coast Guard, I knew one thing was certain; that I would see the ocean every day of my life.
From Cape May to Key West, and a few spots in-between, the Coast Guard provided me the opportunity to plant my toes in the sand, find my ocean solace, and gave $400 per month for the privilege. Though Coast Guard life wasn’t always easy, I was able to find peace daily by looking at or riding on the sea.
It was being at sea most of all which consumed me. I always felt humbled and appreciative of my life when there was no land to be seen. I once remarked to a shipmate several hundred miles into the Gulf of Mexico, as rough seas and waves crashed around us,
“These noises are ancient. Among the first sounds ever made on the cooling Earth, was the sound of waves crashing into other waves.”
During my time in the Coast Guard I would marry a girl from Colorado and we would return there when my enlistment ended. We often joked that I was an Aztec, and she a snowman. One longed to worship the sun and the water, the other the mountains and the seasons.
While married, we bounced around the country on frequent whims, catering to one another’s geographic mood swings. We would live in coastal Mississippi, Colorado, Arizona, and California.
Home Again Home Again…
For 15 years after my divorce, I lived in San Diego – the land of that childhood vacation that drew out my appreciation for waves, and initiated my resentment toward mountains and winter. For 15 years I enjoyed surfing, hiking, cycling, kayaking, picking my own oranges, and patio lunches – year round.
When I made the decision last May to leave San Diego and return to Colorado to be closer to my family, it was heartfelt. Leaving behind relationships, some quite dear, was hard. Willfully leaving behind the ocean was a self-administered kick to the gut.
I will always remember turning my back on the ocean for the last time as a San Diego resident. There would be no holding back of tears. I wept, openly. During my first few weeks back in Colorado, I awakened at night several times, in the same way I had as a child dreaming of the ocean, and cried myself back to sleep.
Walking The Walk…
I would eventually settle in the mountains near where I skied, camped, and hated all things cold as a child. Something unexpected happened though, on my arrival. The mountains began to move me and humble me, and in ways they never did as I grew up here.
Three times daily I take slow walks with my dog, looking down upon the community, the reservoir, and the snowcapped peaks adjacent to the town of Nederland, Colorado. During these walks time has slowed down for me. The chaos that circulates in my head, previously held in check by the sight of pelicans riding air currents produced by ocean waves, has been soothed by the greatness of these mountains I resented as a child. Three times daily I am compelled stare in wonder as terra merges with troposphere.
Lessons Yet To Be Learned…
Do I love the ocean any less for my new found appreciation for these mountains…? Certainly not. I am still sad at times when I crave to paddle out, sit on a board, and dangle my feet in the kelp as I wait for the next wave. I have simply expanded my value set. As just one of the billions of bit custodians of this Earth, I am learning to appreciate her more – regardless of where I stand. Let go the now. Touch the next. Be well… rc
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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head. Oh, and there’s this from Adam Cohen, son of Leonard and no relation to me. Enjoy…