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Dunes on the Ocean

I got stuck in traffic on purpose today. I ended up staring at the gassy facade of the Adobe building for about 15 minutes as the light from the setting sun cast an amber glow across the Wasatch mountains. I was following closely behind a semi traveling at half the speed of anyone else. It probably drove the people behind me nuts, but I didn’t care because the last minutes of Patrick O’Brian’s HMS Surprise were playing from the Audible app on my phone and I wanted to finish it before I got home.

Being the creature of technology that I am, I usually consult the oracle of Waze before choosing my homeward route, but since lately it routs me around the Lehi area where every “me too” technology and network marketing company in Utah is clamoring to setup shop, I decided this route would nicely fill up the remaining 45 minutes I had left.

Enjoying the end of this book was just the symptom of a thought that has plagued me for some time. Most of my life has been spent living among the sage and red rock of the Utah desert. The quiet isolation and scorching wonder of a place unfit for the survival of all but the wildest specimens of humanity appeals to my inner Magellan. It is a place of dangerous beauty, filled with life unseen yet largely ignored. Despite this fondness for the desert I am not drawn to it like I am to the sea.

I experienced a recurring dream of the ocean growing up that others thought was a nightmare. I loved it and some nights I relished the thought of going to sleep in anticipation of having it. I would sink down into the depths of the ocean, not needing to breathe and be surrounded by fishes and cephalopods of all kinds. Sunlight would fade and all I saw was darkness until the pressure of ten thousand leagues brought sparkles to my vision that merged into the blinking phosphorescence of deep creatures. Eventually I was squeezed out of existence and the dream would end.

This dream might explain why I liked hiding in enclosed, dark spaces and why The Abyss is still my favorite movie. After 15 years I resist finishing reading Das Boot because in my mind I can live under the ocean in a steel cigar if I don’t reach that last page. I might even be writing this from a submarine now if my clinical depression and accompanying pharmacopeia barred me from joining the Navy’s nuclear program. I don’t regret any of this, it just is.

(An amusing side note while I am on the topic of submarines) Sometime around 2004 or 2005 I was on a date at the Clarke Planetarium walking among the exhibits when out of nowhere my date blurted out something to the effect of “I hate submarines and would rather die than be stuck in one.” That was our only date.

I’m sure I was perfectly nice for the rest of the evening, and she probably doesn’t know or now care about the reason it ended, but looking back that seems like a rotten reason to not give someone a chance. In the height of an obsession, however, that included reading Hitler’s U-Boat War by Clay Blair and watching the Director’s cut of Das Boot with my brother Dave, I didn’t have a choice.

The point I was trying to get at earlier, or rather the open question in my mind is why a desert rat like myself is so drawn to the sea? Most of my vacations are to one beach or another. Almost every picture on my walls is either of, at, or near the beach. Nautical fiction is one of my favorite guilty pleasures but I’ve never been on the open ocean and have no idea what it would be like to see nothing but blue in every direction. The only sailing I’ve done was either in a community pond barely larger than a swimming pool or just outside the marina on the Great Salt Lake, yet sailboats and the sea are among my favorite things. Maybe it is human nature to long for places and things outside the realm of our day to day subsistence. If I was raised in a New England fishing town instead of suburban Salt Lake City, perhaps I would dream of living in the desert.

All I know right now is that my next 17 Audible credits will most likely go to the remaining Patrick O’Brian books and that my wife and I look forward to our Canon Beach vacation next summer with what will be our nine-month-old daughter. She won’t care that I’m writing this with a blue fountain pen, or that the ink is the color of a soft, cloudy sky reflected off the waves, but maybe she will grow up to enjoy the desert and ocean just as much as I do.

 

 

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