The Joy of the Sea is Embedded in My Blood
Joy in life and the waves is what South African artist Lyn Northam transmits in her Wild Swimmer piece celebrating her life on this glorious planet enveloped in the salty richness of the sea. While many things change over the course of one's life, Lyn demonstrates how a love of the sea is an eternal affair and offers unlimited, continuous opportunities for new growth and exploration. Enjoy this lifelong sea swimmer's reveries and her 71st birthday's swimming adventures. You can find Lyn on Instagram as @lynnorthamart
The Joy of the Sea is Embedded in My Blood
by Lyn Northam, FSASA
Exhilarating and extremely fresh on a chilly September 2020 morning here in Cape Town, South Africa, I was in the sea as the sun came over the mountain at 6:50AM. What a way to celebrate my 71st birthday! I stripped down and immersed myself in the cold water. With white foamy bubbles swirling all around my face, my favourite sensual experience, I began to reminisce and look back in time with much gratitude. I reflected on the fascinating way our lives evolve and what we end up doing; it's often simply a series of God incidences. Little did I know the further adventures in store for me over the course of my birthday.
Born inland in South Africa last century, in Johannesburg, the sea was a yearly holiday highlight. Driving there, whoever saw the sea first earned a chocolate Crunchie! It was a great incentive for a child to stay awake. The sea became embedded in my blood.Visiting Paradise Island off the Mozambican coast at 16 opened my eyes to an underwater, tropical wonderland. I remember swimming wearing only canvas shoes because of the coral. We didn't use flippers. The shoes weighed a ton once wet! One time a chill of fear shot through me when a manta ray swam between my sister and me but how lucky we were to be close to such extraordinary creatures! Glorious corals of many colours and exquisite fish galore surrounded us and reinforced my longing for the sea and stimulated my imagination.
As a young woman facing choices about her career, I dreamed of either being a marine biologist or a nursery school teacher. Since there was no sea in sight, I spent 20 fulfilling years as a teacher!
Life works in mysterious ways and 48 years ago I relocated to Cape Town for love and it brought me back to my beloved sea, a true bonus! It was an awesome place to bring up children. Endless rock pools to explore and learn about the world through the comings and goings of the sea. A once in a life time experience I'll never forget was when my son caught a shark egg case that hatched in front of our eyes. We could see the bright pink egg sack floating behind it. What a memory!
I also body surfed to my heart's content for years. Being in and around the sea kept my joy alive. I tried surfing at 40 but I decided that it required too much power and let it go. I challenged my fitness many times in the annual long distance ocean swimming race The Fish Hoek Mile until the danger of great white sharks called a halt to that race a few years back.
In 2019, a return trip to Zanzibar Island off the Kenyan coast of Africa for my unique 70th birthday, rekindled my new passion – returning to my marine roots below the surface through goggles and snorkel (too old to scuba, I was told). During the immersion God surrounded me with a huge shoal of silver moonies or angels as His birthday gift to me. I cried into my goggles in gratitude!In December 2019 a miracle happened when the highly knowledgeable Lisa Beasley, with her underwater camera and torch, came into my life. She invited me into the local tidal pool (St. James) to see sea life through her macro lens. I witnessed an octopus in an overflow pipe, a quadri-colour nudibranch (snails without a shell very difficult to spot) just 2 inches under the surface of the water and a sea hare laying spaghetti looking eggs. How would I have seen these well camouflaged creatures without her attuning my eyes to them? I am hooked as a new era of marine biology unfolded before my eyes. Each immersion is a revelation and surprise the key element. Each outing becomes a treasure hunt… I have yet to see a pyjama or shy shark. And during each immersion I learn something about myself related to my fears and reactions as I go deeper into the ocean, one breath at a time.
Reading Craig Foster's book Sea Change: Primal Joy and the Art of Underwater who spent a whole year swimming (without a wetsuit) with an octopus, and filming her whole life, in the very area I snorkel moved me and reinforced my desire to remain connected to the sea. I highly recommend his Netflix documentary My Octopus Teacher which encourages building bridges between the human and natural worlds. As a consequence I made a key decision – to swim daily, very early in the morning, sometimes with the stars, in my own home outdoor swimming pool without a wetsuit, right through the winter regardless of the weather. I've done this for 230 days of lockdown at the time of writing this. Amazing how the daily swim heightens ones senses and thrills one's body.
I am now inspired to get into the sea in our unique kelp forests, regardless of sea temperature, to explore the little surprises from fan worms, different coloured sea anemones, urchins, whelk eggs, miniature strawberry anemones and the coveted nudibranchs. As you can see in the nine photos above (all taken by Lisa Beasley), each nudibranch is a beautiful creation – the gas flame, frilly, polka dots, and stripes on either black, blue, orange or cream bodies. Nestled between kelp roots or on colourful sponges (from a few millimetres long to about 2 centimetres long), I feel blown away when I spot one. Each snorkeling trip ends with me pouring over my new collection of marine animal or Nudibranch books, to tick off my "lifers."
Even 2020 during Covid lockdown my major longing was the sea! My husband and I took a holiday to Stillbaai at the coast, with friends in the middle of winter in May 2020. I snuck into the sea to have those white foamy bubbles swirling all around my face. I felt totally rejuvenated to carry on…
As an artist and beginners oil painting teacher (for the past 13 years), I can see over time how this underwater world has crept into my subject matter. I sense that the need to get into the sea is becoming more obsessive and deep. It's a thrill beyond measure and God's creations are wildly special!
This reflection brings me back to my birthday and the second half of the day after that first morning swim which evoked all of these loving sea memories. Being an artist I decided to spend another part of my birthday sketching the view on a very secluded beach in Cape Point Nature reserve. While I envisioned a peaceful sketch, it turned out to be quite eventful! A rogue baboon crept around a sand dune and reached into my sketching bag and stole a plastic bag containing my best water colours and ran off to the top of a dune to tear it open thinking it was food! I was so mad and desperate. But artists will do anything for their equipment! I threw him a naartjie (a type of citrus fruit) as a diversion tactic and decoy. I had to walk past him with a half metre gap between me and the edge of the dune. It's amazing what one will do for three tubes of water colours and a box of colours! Luckily the baboon left my bag up there and dashed for the fruit. A friend suggested to me later that maybe he was a budding artist. I retorted that I certainly wasn't into interviewing prospective pupils for next year already!
While this huge adrenalin rush ended the peaceful, idyllic flow of creativity, it became another opportunity to swim on my birthday. After packing up I cooled off with another fabulous swim in the sea to calm down. What a cheeky baboon! Another birthday to remember.
I'd like to end by commenting on the amazing links I've made on Instagram that have opened up my life to more beauty and possibilities. For this I thank each one of you, especially:
@dawn_swimmer, @lisambeasley, @helen_walne, @wildbluevetty, @haydn_undersea, @seachangeproject
Now at 71, as of Sept 2020, this is how I feel and how I see life in large part thanks to the sea and the lessons I've learned:
The world is my oyster!! Or my nudibranch!
Live life victoriously,
And touch the world…
Pick more daisies,
Less stress, more ice cream and more sea swimming…….
What a beautiful article Lyn, written by a beautiful soul
What a beautiful blog post my dear and precious Aunty Lyn x your love for nature and ocean and all things beautiful have meant more to me than you will ever know!!! Thanks for teaching me to smell the daisies and dance in the ocean x 🥰