We’re waiting at the baggage carousel in the San Diego airport. A small boy, perhaps two years old is playing on the floor by my feet. He’s engrossed in his game as the automated exit door behind us opens. His head whirls toward the door, a wide grin on his face. He shouts to his parents. “I smell sea water!” The homing instinct of such a young human is astonishing. Visions of ghostly grey people walking out of the ocean and onto the land confront me.
In the post dawn silver light I roll over and see my reflection in the mirrored closet doors of my parent’s home. In this gentle radiance I look ageless as if by design the house will allow no feelings that are not pleasing. I think of my invincible aging parents who the night before stood in the kitchen, my mother leaning into my father’s chest, his arms around her, their teasing and loving banter, the familiarity of 65 years.
I throw on my clothes, start the coffee and open the door to the garden. I’m drawn forth by the delicate breeze and bow my head to take in the scent of the first rose bush. Though the many varieties are remarkable in their size and beauty they do not all smell. It is the roses with the strongest scent that capture me. Mere beauty does not stay in one’s mind. It is the limbic emotion and connectivity that holds one to both object and person.
I save the visit to the plumeria bushes for last. It is the smell, the taste of coconuts and pineapple. It is the memory of Oahu and Kauai. It is the memory of my new husband and me newly pregnant in bed in a tree house in the mountains, staring out a window wall into a jungle 27 years ago.
I walk into the front yard where the wind carries the scent of sweet alyssum. I inhale it like my last breath wanting more than my lungs will allow. I walk down a street lined with orange and lime trees drunk on the perfume of citrus blossoms. I bury my face in a tree and wonder if passersby will consider me mad.
A ten minute car ride brings me to my beloved Moonlight Beach. Here I walk the shoreline abandoned by all but a few seabirds. I note the red plastic feet of a lone pelican who strangely shares the halting walk I’ve adopted with my graceless hip. I walk like a pelican! I put my feet in the surf and scoop up a handful of sea water to smell it. I’ve been thinking about the little guy’s sea water since I left the airport. I taste it and rub it into my face. Why? Sea water is our blood. It was in the veins of that child and I feel it inn me. I never leave the ocean without wondering how I can live away from it.
Rock piles that rise randomly from the shoreline resemble Buddhas from afar. Stone outcroppings reveal the faces of creatures rising from the sea. I train my eyes to see patterns in the sand, catch the meter of the waves and study the movement of the birds.
I climb the cliff and drive a few blocks into town, the windows down. I catch a whiff of meat cooking on an open grill. Though the thought of any creature murdered for the meal of another makes me sad, I love this smell. It is the smell of Aspen Colorado on a cold snowy day. It is the smell of my feckless and fabulous youth or at least three years of it. Memories of hippie culture among a collection of fascinating and disparate people from a fantasy world in a magical place long gone to me now rise to please and tease me.
I turn back to the present and sea water. Though the ocean is where time began, it also has a quality that informs one that time does not end nor like to be measured in between. Grateful for the steady hand of the ocean breeze on my shoulder I slow my step and cast my eyes backward to the vast and empty horizon. It’s too easy to fall into the senseless rush of minutia when senses turn away from one’s nature and into the fray. I recall the child’s delight in coming home.