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Colossal Roughhousing in Boundary Pass

Monday late afternoon, the water was lively, spirited

The south-easterlies blew overnight across Boundary Pass from the San Juans. The power went out before midnight, and we huddled in a dark bedroom that wasn’t much in the way of trees outside that might fall on us.

The wind howled through the night and most of the next day. At the storm’s peak, the waves were driving swarms of logs, smashing them into the rocks at the base of the cliff.

On Monday afternoon, when the winds died down, I felt drawn to the water. I’m used to quiet water for my afternoon swims, but this was lively, spirited! The ocean was calmer but still a little rough. A patch of yellow sky had opened through the grey clouds in the west, somewhere above Sidney and Vancouver Island. The water on our beach looked faintly blue, almost iridescent.

I let the waves lift me off my feet

I waded out thirty feet from shore and stood in shoulder-level water. The waves picked me up as they went rushing by to crash against the rocks. They jostled, and I had to keep my wits about me to stay upright.

I love cold water at the best of times, but being shoulder-deep in these waves, I sensed a different personality in the ocean.

I thought I knew it so well! I’d felt the “benign indifference” of the ocean, a kind of sluggish power that commanded respect. The sea hid its strength while it held me in its arms, allowing me to enjoy my peaceful summer swim.

Colossal roughhousing

On Sunday, the ocean’s power and strength were much more forceful! It was nothing to be trifled with, but even still, there was no anger or vindictiveness. Lively might be the best word to describe it. It was almost as if the water was pulsing with endorphins after nearly 24 hours of colossal roughhousing.

My indulgence in the rough water lasted no more than three minutes. I thought I might be pushing my luck, so I headed back to shore. I wrapped myself in a towel and stood on the steps for a while.

This ocean we live beside is awe-inspiring! It’s one thing to watch the waves foam and crash from a living room window, a fire cracking away in the fireplace. It’s another to be in the water, to feel its power, let it throw you off balance, lift you off your feet, feel its penetrating cold.

The awe extends to the creatures that have found life and sustenance beneath the surface of the ocean. The great mother, the mother of us all!

In mere human terms

It’s natural to ascribe human characteristics to the ocean. Sorrow swirls in its waves and eddies. Poets speak of the sea as a cruel thief of human life.

The American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne spoke of the ocean as a vast graveyard:

The awful spirits of the deep
Hold their communion there
And there are those for whom we weep,
The young, the bright, the fair.

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I haven’t lost a loved one to an angry sea, and I hope I never do. Nor do I intend to die “at the hands” of the ocean.

A multi-faceted being

But after a decade of living alongside Boundary Pass, I’ve come to see the ocean as almost god-like, one of unknowable strength and enormity. It’s like a multi-faceted being that can be placid in the best of the summer days, to one of immense anger and terrible force in the fall and winter.

Yes, it’s natural to ascribe human characteristics to the ocean, but it is much larger than our human eyes can conceive. And like a god, its enormity, strength and power are beyond what we can hope to express.


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  1. “The Ocean” by Nathaniel Hawthorne. See the whole poem here.

2 thoughts on “Colossal Roughhousing in Boundary Pass

  1. Beautifully written—thanks for the inspiration. David

    1. Thank you, David! Lots of people say I’m crazy to swim in water this cold. A few more would call me crazy going for dip in such wavy conditions! But I really do love it. This water teaches me things!

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