If you travel by car from Portland, it takes about an hour to reach the Pacific Ocean. Lewis & Clark would be amazed at how easy it is. Yet for all our technology, the ocean remains a place of mystery and danger.
Looking Glass sang “my life, my love, and my lady is the sea.” No truer words have been spoken by a pop band. Yet the sea is a cruel mistress, calm and shining on top, but riddled with unseen dangers. Sharks and stingrays live in the sea. A tenuous truce between sharks and people is in effect (the Geneva Accords of 1953 gave the sharks the right to devour only those people who are deemed “annoying”). Whales live in the sea; they can swallow a little wooden boy without even blinking. Underwater volcanoes continuously change the seabed, making it impossible to make accurate maps. The high pressure of the depths will make a person’s head implode. Even if you can travel down that far without injury, rising back to the surface too fast will give you the bends. Legend has it that a vast underwater city of Atlantis exists, but no adventurer who has struck out for that destination has come back alive.
The surface of the sea has its share of dangers, as well. Storms at sea have claimed untold lives of sailors. Giant, tentacled sea monsters await the unsuspecting luxury cruise ship to pass their way. Areas such as the Bermuda Triangle exist solely to confound captains. Icebergs will jump out of nowhere to sink even an unsinkable ship. And for those unfortunate enough to live near a coastline, a tsunami can level a town in mere moments.
Even those of us living a fair distance from the sea are not free from its evil grip. I will tell you a story about myself. Consider it a cautionary tale.
I believe that I am married to a selkie. My wife and I have been married for a little over one year, and things seemed well. When we moved to Portland, I was under the impression that it was for many reasons. Little did I suspect that the most pressing reason was my wife’s plan on returning to her true home in the sea.
I should have guessed. When I first was getting to know the woman who was to become my wife, there was a mysterious trunk in her closet. I waited for an opportune moment to peek inside. I was shocked: it was her seal skin, neatly folded. I knew that if she grew tired of her life as a human woman, she could take her seal skin and return to the sea. This could not happen. I wadded the skin up into my backpack and took it to my apartment. My wife never mentioned missing it; I assume that she doesn’t check inside the trunk.
We were later married and have lived a reasonably happy life ever since. I have to be cautious, though. Sometimes I notice a quiet longing in her eyes. I have removed the skin from our house and put it in a safe place so she can’t find it when she is alone.
We visit the coast, but I am careful to steer her away from any memories of her previous life. When we saw sea lions, I quickly brought up how loud and smelly they were, then started talking about baseball. It was a close call.
So you see, the ocean may one day reclaim the woman I love. How can I be anything but leery of such a nemesis?