The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever

Jacques Cousteau

365: Coming Full Circle

P3140043-3 The Waves Call Me Home on Day 365

Tears upon the shore
Laughter into the wind
Joy in the waves
A year swimming at dawn
A gift of a lifetime! 

The Bay at Dawn, Spring 2020
Body surfing at sunrise, Fall 2020
Sunrise from the Sea, Summer 2020
Sunrise storm rainbow, Winter 2020

In mid-March 2021 swimming at dawn for one year came full circle. I swam or immersed myself every day, at least once, for 12 months, four seasons, 52 weeks, 13 moon phases, 365 days. I am not a numbers person but I am proud of this empowering, totally unplanned, spontaneous achievement. 

Swimming at dawn evolved organically. At first it came from necessity. I felt driven to the Sea by Covid. The Sea welcomed me. Immediately it felt right, soothing, necessary. Once I started, I returned every day for more. Thirty days passed, then 60. I paused and wondered, Should I keep going? What's the point? I went back the next day and then it was 100, 180, 250. Maybe I can go a year? What a thing to do.

The idea of swimming through four seasons appealed greatly. Living on this coast many years witnessing tremendous winter storms, I wondered what swimming through those dark, cold wet months would be like? When would life every give me this opportunity again? I will try, I thought. I never looked back. Swimming at dawn became my enormous Covid pandemic silver lining. Here are some winter 2020-2021 images:

Powerful waves pound the Cove
Magnificant storm clouds threaten
Layers and layers to keep out the chill
Icy winds blast, neoprene gloves necessary

When the day came to close the circle, I felt full, flowing and abundant. Joy. In the weeks prior to this significant anniversary I imagined how I would celebrate this remarkable journey to the sea. What would be meaningful?

My partner kindly suggested that I make a permanent mark in a rock, something to show my presence for the year. Perhaps a wave engraved in stone or the figure of a mermaid? I contemplated this thought, but it didn't settle inwardly and take root.

Walking along the shore I examined different rocks, thought of different options, and contemplated the mysterious carved "merman," known locally as "O Sireno," whose presence at the pools has given me great comfort. Sculpted into the hard granite by an unknown dreamer from the past, I wondered many times who he might be.

Mysterious 'O Sireno' (in English, the 'Merman') carved on the rocks adjacent to the Bay, my favorite tidepool bathing place.

Impermanence, though, is what the Sea has taught me repeatedly this last year. Every single day has been different. The beach constantly evolves and reinvents itself - shifting sands, varying flora and fauna life cycles, tidal changes, wind patterns, currents, wave types hitting the shore, clouds, rain, sunshine. The two constants have been the Sea and Me neither one of us showing the same face or mood on any day. How could I leave a permanent mark when impermanence, letting go, surrendering to what is and acceptance of change have been the Sea's consistent lesson to me? Take it as it comes and go with the flow. Accept your impermanence and beautiful presence in this place, time and space that called you to it. Images of impermanence:

Magnificent foam sculpture, gone an instant later
Exact same place & time, 24 hrs separated
Low & High Tide at Mermaid Cove, Sun/Cloud
Riches of the constantly renewing shoreline

To honor the Sea's voice and desire, I chose to make a floral offering and bathe naked in the sea, immersing and feeling the sea's embrace around me, uplifting me. Feeling deeply connected to the natural world comes easily to me. Sea and mountain my favorite landscape. Immersing myself every single day for 365 days surrounded by sea and mountain only intensified and heightened this connection.

There is a feeling of absolute freedom and wildness that comes with the sheer liberation of nakedness as well as the weightlessness in natural water, and it leads to a deep bond with the bathing-place.

by Roger Deakin, Waterlog

A vision came to me one day as I walked to the beach – a timeless image of a woman on the shore, perhaps a priestess, going to the Sea bare yet covered with a scarf and adorned with nothing but flowers in her hair. She goes to pay homage to the great Sea Goddess and God and gift her body, spirit, heart and love to the Sea to whom she feels deep gratitude and reverence. Nature's child. Child of the Sea.

Humility I feel facing the Ocean, my teacher, companion, friend, lover, soul mate, wise counsel. This image became my way of marking a year of gratitude, reverence and humility towards Earth's greatest life-giving force, the Ocean. My circular tiara would be the year's cycle, the flowers the magnificent variety of experiences in their different forms, shapes, colors, aromas as well as their blooming joy representing my own flowering and growth throughout the year.

My mother was a siren.
My father was a sailor.
I am an ocean child.
And the winds of the waves are calling.
Calling me home.

by Conny Cernik
My circular tiara would be the year's cycle, the flowers the magnificent variety of experiences in their different forms, shapes, colors, aromas...

 A long-time friend asked me poetically (after engaging with my blog articles):

Dawn Swimmer,
have you thought
the waves might long for you,
as much as you long for them?
And that in the end,
there is only one longing?

             -George, my friend

Reading his words, it felt presumptuous to me, to think that vast Ocean, this incredible force of nature, would long for me, insignificant as any other bit of the sea - phytoplankton, kelp, fish, water. Upon further reflection I thought perhaps the Ocean and, by extension, the Waves, do long for all the creatures that make up its vast mystery. What would the Sea be without its complex, expanisve network of life forms? Yes, I do feel one with the Sea when I am in it, the Sea Mystic. Perhaps it does long for the embrace I return to it when it rocks me in its bosom recognizing me now as one of its tiny but not insignificant occupants or visitors. 

And, as his second question suggests (a later addendum) in the end, on the morning of Day 365, the Sea welcomed me with longing and helped me celebrate this special closing of the circle on an incredible year. Yes, we are made of the same stuff, interconnected, one, connecting and interacting in mysterious ways speaking intuitive languages of body, atom, and element.

What I call 'primordial soup' - what we're all made of - and I simply another bit floating in it

 At dusk the evening before the swim I walked around my yard gathering flowers to make the floral tiara - fragrant yellow, orange and white freesia, purple, yellow and white daisies, powerfully aromatic jasmine, wild purple hyacinths, red-orange fire lilies, purple violets, lilac periwinkle, a branch of soothing lavender and a sprig of rosemary for remembrance of this remarkable year. Each flower I picked brought joy and memories of the different swims of the past year, a unique blend of shades and textures. I imagined them joining me in the sea.

Each flower I picked brought joy and memories of the different swims of the past year, a unique blend of shades and textures.

I invited my dear family who has put up with their partner and mother heading off to the sea every morning for a very long time. My rhythms have impacted their rhythms. My tidal surges and ebbing flows have as well. While mostly a solitary journey over this last year, I have had company from family members from time to time. On Christmas morning my three children and partner all went and two even joined me in the water! My university age son came at dawn one morning in summer as did my 17 year old daughter on another summer dawn morning. 

Most often I would leave my partner comfortably dozing as I would slip out of the warm bed into the dawn light. I am grateful for the occasions he made the effort to come (and the truth is I often wanted and needed to be alone) and when he did, he took some lovely photos. My youngest (an early-bird like me), has been my most constant companion and photographer, especially in the second half of the year on weekends when weather permitted.

Sunday dawned and all were "up and at 'em". Emotion welled in my eyes as I felt buoyed by their love and support. I made the wreath and off we went down to the sea. Magnificent puffy clouds, tinged with dawn pink, accompanied us and slowly processed across the sky, a gentle breeze blowing. Passing white-throated, yellow-tongued calla lilies, we harvested two adding to our curious floral procession to the Sea. I felt my excitement mounting.

Greeting Dawn on the morning of 365
Our curious procession of family and flowers heading seaward

Reaching the dune, the Ocean's powerful resonance filled our ears. Cresting the dune, the Bay was magnificent with some fabulous, powerful waves breaking upon the shore. My awareness of the moon and its impact on the tides and sea has grown significantly this last year. By coincidence it was New Moon with 2-3 hours to go on an ebbing spring tide! I saw waves that would have intimidated me more a year ago, but not today. With my eyes trained over the last year, I knew their strength was clean and manageable. A rush of good adrenaline coursed through my body as I imagined myself within them.

Gratitude and abundance filled me. I felt flow and relaxed. Everything felt right in this now very familiar beloved space. My senses heightened. This is where I feel good. Stepping onto the beach time slows, taking on a magical, otherworldly quality. 

The Sea gently whispered to me as I walked across the sand towards my changing spot: It's okay to let go of what has been, welcome what is to come and live fully what is! The lunar phase matched these sentiments: new moon marked the ending and beginning of a cycle paralleling my own closure of a powerful phase and the beginning of another.

Down at the Sireno rocks I undressed, leaving my selkie skin upon the shore, put on my tiara and began by immersing myself in one of my beloved tidepools. Over the course of the year, especially in winter, when the Sea shouted at me to stay away, the tidepools became dear companions and teachers taking me to new places along the shore forcing me to discover their wonders and look further within myself.

Then I grabbed my blue and yellow scarf and became the priestess I envisioned, guided by the sea goddess Amphitrite, and felt the Sea's power enter my soul.

I adore the powerful sensation of the waves crashing at my feet. A bit audacious, I test the Sea, risking that I can read the signs and not be knocked down. I walked out upon the Ocean's doorstep, knocked in my way, and thanked the Sea for this incredible journey as I called the waves unto me. The Ocean wrapped its gentle grip around my ankles and welcomed me back again.

Then I spoke to the Sea one more time upon a rock facing the open Ocean, reliving and remembering many moments of this magnificent year.

I carried the lilies with me down the shore to a safe entry spot. Letting my scarf go I walked into the Sea, feeling its marvelous silky embrace. Depending on the tradition lilies can symbolize devotion, purity, motherhood, rebirth. As I walked into the sea, arms open wide, trusting and embracing the unknown to come, I felt all of these things - priestess, virgin, mother, crone, newborn. In retrospect, I realize I had became a sea mystic. 

Many people use the word "mystic" pejoratively, to indicate someone who is seriously and deliriously out of touch with reality. As a student of religion, I say the opposite: Mystics are the ones who have actually gotten in touch with what is real. They have powers of receptivity and sympathy that are particularly acute. They are porous and have the ability to be so open as to stretch beyond the usual small and protective ego, and they are often unusually courageous.

by Thomas Moore

Then, I let them drop and began to swim. I swam into the oncoming waves that jostled, lifted and buoyed me keeping my tiara above their grasp. Finally, I let go, surrendered to their power and submerged my head releasing my offering of deep gratitude to the Ocean letting the waves carry away the tiara as I sliced forward heading out to deeper waters. 

Pausing, I turned around towards shore, bobbing up and down, looking towards the rising sun through the incredible clouds and spied my dear family on the shore watching me, loving me and supporting me. Forming peaks and crests, I watched the waves in their infinite shape shifting, flowing around and over me, the light glinting, distorting and swirling across the surface. I, a lucky witness and another element, of this stunning canvas. 

Brought back to reality, I saw my partner break into a quick march down the beach, and, I found out later, he was looking for my beautiful scarf which the offshore breeze carried into the water when I released it. Alas… it became a sacrifice to the Sea, a small price to pay for such riches of experience.

The Sea lifted, tossed and played with me in the luscious, heavy swell, it's powerful roar ringing in and delighting my ears. It's hard to imagine a more magnificent swim as I floated, swam and dove under the waves within the Bay. Diving down, rising up and exhaling into the rising sun felt like pure bliss. One of life's magic moments when time stops and I felt one with nature's raw, awesome beauty. I thought, I don't want to stop going to the Sea.

As I swam back towards shore to play my favorite game of 'driftwood' in the crashing waves, I passed the floating calla lilies and then I spied my drifting floral tiara. Delighted, I put it back on and pulled strongly towards shore passing more flowers floating in the waves as the surge lifted and rocked me along. Up and down and up the beach I let the waves carry me with the foam, like a nearly weightless piece of kelp, relishing once again in the release and surrender to this much greater power. I suppose it's a form of prayer, my way of worshiping and offering up my spirit to the vast forces that surround me – water - from whence we come as we're born into the world and which continues to rebirth and baptize me again and again.

Notice the yellow freesia in my right hand
Playing joyfully at the shore, driftwood

Now on the shore I feel my weight. Gravity grounds me. The sand sticks to my skin and hair (sure to appear later in my ears and cascade to the floor when I remove my hat and socks). Water droplets bead on my skin. I rise up again look back towards the water and can't resist another leap back into the waves emerging on the other side to swim up and over several more incoming sets. A yellow freesia floats by and I pick it up. I carry it with me back to shore, passing daisies and the periwinkle, feeling deep gratitude for this gift of Sea, family, beauty, life, adversity and my own perseverance and strength that carried me to the Sea day after day through a personally trying year set within the Covid pandemic.

Drying myself off, I quickly put on my hats, buff and two layers of leggings as the inevitable cold starts to set in. Thinking about it, in 365 days of going to the Sea at dawn, I can't think of a single day that I regret. Many days, I looked out the window at the cold, rain, wind and storm and thought, Can I do this today? Overcoming the resistance, I found in the vast majority of cases that it was almost always better than I thought it would be and worth the effort.

Now, that I've come full circle, I sense the external and internal tides turning. The cycle is coming to a close as I wrap myself up and shiver, as I do. My fingers and toes white and numb with cold is the small daily price I pay for this glory.

My family patiently waits as I gather my things and we follow our tracks back up to the dune, I spy flowers littering the shore and my bare footprints still disappear into the Sea.

I thought Day 365's swim would end there but as the day drew to a close I decided to walk back down to the shore alone with the setting sun. The beach was quiet. The last visitors leaving as I was arriving. Passing the Bay where I had swum in the morning, I relived the magic as I continued to a favorite pool that gave me views of the setting sun. The Sea pounded the barrier rocks that have protected me many times over the last year as I observed and gazed thoughtfully for a long time at this deeply special place I feel strongly bonded with. Peace, joy and bittersweet feelings filled me as I immersed one more time bringing full circle to this unforgettable day and year.
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Comments 1

Guest - David Rogers (website) on Saturday, 10 April 2021 18:29
Thank you, and good vibes to you

A very english yogi here - such a beautiful piece of writing and superb photos. Thank you for sharing to me via instagram - I took some time to honour your time and energy writing this, and of course, honour your process. Thank you, and much kind regards and good vibes from one yogi to another !

A very english yogi here - such a beautiful piece of writing and superb photos. Thank you for sharing to me via instagram - I took some time to honour your time and energy writing this, and of course, honour your process. Thank you, and much kind regards and good vibes from one yogi to another !
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