There once was a woman who lived by the sea. All her life the salt waters had sung to her. The echo of wave whispers was her earliest memory, woven into the fabric of her being. Her dwelling was a hut high on the cliff, overlooking lace-foamed turquoise depths. It was made from what the tides had brought her and, over time, had taken on a shape of it’s own that blended into the land like a crouching animal at rest but alert. Most days she could be seen scanning the horizon, singing quietly to herself or to some distant tribe of creatures only she knew, while collecting flotsam on the beaches where the waters kiss the land. Her fingers would make treasures with what the waters washed up for her: wind chimes, wave charms, weather fanes. In the evenings she would make a driftwood fire and tell the stories each thing she had found let her see, sometimes to those who’d come to listen and share that flickering warmth, or to the waves and the stars themselves.
No one really knew where she had come from, for at the age of about nine she had been found on the shore of a grey sea in amongst windswept dunes and had not been able to tell anyone how she had got there or whereher family might be. It was noticed that she seemed to listen to some far off calling from over or under the water, stretching her neck so her ear was closer, more tuned in, to what ever she was listening to, until she would nod, perhaps smile a little, and carry on playing or singing her strange songs. She was thought to be a gipsy child, left behind by mistake or perhaps on purpose, or that some ship wrecked adventure had brought her to these shores, and people were a little afraid of her. They named her Marina, for the sea light that shone in her eyes. Out of the kindness of those who live intimately with the fickle flow of fate, they looked after her as much as she would let them, learning to appreciate the precision with which she seemed to know when the sea changes and wild weather were approaching, before even the gulls or old sea dogs could smell it on the wind. For the rest, they let her be. And so, for a while, she lived wild and happily enough amongst fishing nets and clinker build boats, not noticing the tugging call that every ebb would slip and suck a little deeper into her bones.
It was not until one year a summer moon, full and yellow in a milk-warm night, lit a path of such bedazzling light onto the sea stretching out into the future, that she felt that outgoing tide’s pull and acknowledged the deep longing that was singing in her blood. Her own moon-flow had echoed tides and season for some time and she was woman now, following her inner knowing, strong and free. Walking tall on wind swept shores through sun-slipped rain and bright light, she found empty places where only the seagull’s call led towards the messages left written in the ripples and patterns of weed and sand: her map to navigate by. And in her dreams she felt more then that she heard, a deep reverberation rumble softly like the song of crashing waves, setting her nerves on fire with the tingling knowing of home, somewhere out there to be found. Steady, steady following her map and that midnight- melody her feet danced her lightly along the coastline of lands she never saw. Edge-Walker she, long hair bleached by weather and woven with feathers and shining shells, kelp-skirted long brown limbs crusted with salt spray crystals: listening always to the sea she headed South with the wind and West with the sun towards warmer land and bluer waves.
Then one day, the land had stopped and she had found herself on tall pale cliffs with goat-path tracks leading down to the water’s edge. The sun was warm and gave the herb-filled earth-scent wings to mingle with the seabreeze and she had felt reluctant to turn the corner back. Instead she’d started singing to the sea again, like she had done so long ago when her legs were shorter and the water had been a different shade. With each breath the waves had whispered their answer of patience and of changing tides, so she had waited and watched for what the flow would bring.
Around her fire, women had come looking for wisdom or treasure, cures, spells and stories; medicine all, and men had asked the same or for some time to spend in her company. Youths of springtime, Beltane lovers, gentle fathers and wise old men had shared her bed from time to time and drowned a little in her eyes. Few however, had touched her heart, which was so full by now with slow deep songs of wet wave-filled horizons that only those who are true navigators of love could ever hope to reach or swim those depths.
One morning, on a following breeze, a sail filled with the sun had come a-floating into view, and as the day wore on, had steadily come closer, though the cliffs harboured no mooring, and the water was too deep for anchorage. Within the lee of the land the sails had flapped in protest of the breath of wind bereft them now, but still it came, this brave mad boat, carried on the current of the incoming tide. On board, a dark skinned man had flashed white teeth in laughter, which drew her down to the beach, to see him wave ahoy while dropping sail. Calculating recklessly or with the confidence of one with total trust in all his skills, he let the momentum of the breakers carry his vessel onto the pebbles. The hull, so used to liquid touch, protested loudly at the sudden solid rub of stone and sand and came to a jarring, careening stop. There he was before her, as if the haven of her arms had always been marked upon his sea chart. And in his dark eyes a burning, like glowing embers, and on his tongue the language of sunsets, and in his hair the scent of far off exotic places. His touch like desert wind, hot and hungry, drew moisture to her skin and painted her pleasure in colours she could not have imagined. His kiss ignited the spark of her desire, growing rapidly to a blaze that was a beacon on the horizon for all who looked into the West that night. It was rumoured ever after in those parts that the sunset lingered deep into the night that day and ever since, fires are lit each year on the cliffs to mark the occasion.
Their passion was steam under the stars, for if she was water: creating, flowing, dissolving, he was fire: consuming, transforming, warming, and they were well matched. But still, when sleep took them, wrapped together like sea weed on the sands after a gale-filled night in winter, they seemed to cling together with the same desperation held in the fleeting solidity of the moment those wave-plants ripped from their roots and elements. For still she could hear that old familiar calling; song of the sea, deep ocean booming, resonating in her bones and dreams.
One evening, while the blue smoke of her fire stung in their throats and drift-wood sparks crackled their joy to finally return to light and heat, she’d asked him to choose three things from amongst the sea-gift objects she had found and she would tell their meaning.
The first had been a piece of wood, beautifully white and polished now by long sanding of salt water, sun and stone, that once had been the branch of an old and mighty oak, that stood for many decades watching out into the wind on solid ground, well in land from the coast. She read the lifelines in the wood and felt the story of how high and wide the branches of this tree had reached into the sky, creating homes and food for many things and beings. Standing proud and strong through gales and droughts, with roots so deep into the crystal heart of Earth, the tree had been a re-assuring point of reference for all who lived near its shade. Until one day the floods had come, released from some much higher place, where sea winds had pushed moisture filled clouds and torrents caused the flash-flood streams. The water had dissolved the earth that held the roots bound tight and safe of that old oak which had seen so much of time and sky and life forever shifting all around while it stood still. It had not taken long for water’s hungry mouth to suck the strong foundations out and crashing down had come the tree. Smashed up, some bits were carried off towards the sea, where this branch had lain and was gently stripped of bark and edge until it now was smooth and shaped like sculpture, telling of the way that all things change.
Next he’d chosen a length of rope as thick as his wrist with flaying ends like chewed out liquorish root, which smelled still faintly of tar and shipyard works and whispered of the forces it once held at bay. Trusted by all whose hands would make it fast, great ships it held, ocean liners, ships of sail and trade that longed to travel all around the world. This rope had tied them onto land and held them there against the tug of tide or push of gale, and even stretching strong against the eager pull of engines roaring to be moving free. Until one night a tidal wave had swept into the harboured walls and lifted up the ship it held, ripping the rope as it tried to hold on against the flow so strong, one by one it’s fibres pulled and tore and then it dropped into the sea. There it learned the slow flow journey of the tides it once had stopped the ships from following. Now it tells softly of how none that really want to move can ever be kept tied for long but are best set free.
Last he’d picked a red pebble with a patterning of whitelines, and it had told her of how once it had been mud and deep deposits of bone and chalk. Of how it had become a mountain tall pushed high by the relentless movement of Earth’s plates shifting on their lava bed, so long ago, beyond the measurings of men. Then time’s slow teeth and ice and sun had ground away the cloud-capped heights and washed it bit by bit to sand and sea. And now it rolls in each caressing ocean wave, sighing of how nothing ever dies but changes always, how ever slow; energy’s flow that pulses in the stars makes mountains into sand and ocean beds into tall peaks of land.
They’d laughed into each other’s arms, feeling all of space circling around them and they the still point of the centre. They’d left those treasures on the small beach to make love more fiercely alive then ever before and for the first time in so long she did not hear the ocean’s song that night.
Their love had flourished as they initiated each other into places further and deeper then either had journeyed into alone. Flowers grew along the headlands; spin-drift and sea-pinks, liver weed and wild orchids, filling the small hut with their fragrance. But if she was of the ocean, he was of the land, and if she was content to wait and be, seeing what the flow brought her there along those cliffs, going with the changes while staying still, he felt the tidal rhythm urging his restless soul to wander all the seven seas to new exciting lands. The light of their loving brought up the dark places of the deep oceans of the heart for both, and storm rocked the heaven of their loving. They fought and stood their grounds, neither willing to trust the other, neither willing to let go, to surrender, instead tearing with teeth of anger at the threads of love between them, unyielding, sharp and shielded. An impossible stand off with neither quite brave enough to journey all the way into becoming what might be possible between a man and a woman.
So one day, his vessel stocked, his head heavy and the sunhigh up in the deep blue sky, the calling in his body became too strong and he knew he had to leave her if she would not follow. Raising sail with the ebb flow, and without looking back even once, he set out for the widening sea. Up on the cliffs she’d watched him go and with him went her heart, breaking open like the bowl of the horizon and all her love the waves between them. How could she ignore the deep dancing in her that listened to that endless calling, the slow song of longed for home and watch him go like the setting sun, never to rise and light her world again? Before his silken sail was out of reach she’d flung herself into the waves and swam, her body made for this, one with current and salt sea ripples. Riding gulf-streams and following the tidal rip out into the deep to catch him still.
The elements were with her, for with the dimming light the breeze had died and while the sun was setting red and made the fires of the sky, she’d reached his hull, singing. But when she tried to touch her hand up to the deck, she found it was no longer there, her form had changed, her soul’s skin shape now true: her body of the waves. Perhaps as once softly foretold by tree and rope and stone that night of flickering fire and star filled love, perhaps her fate always awaiting her and him just the catalyst of love’s opening. What else would have finally made her swim out beyond the horizon of the land?
She did not know what to do at first and tried to call to him, swimming around his boat, anxiously trying to understand what had happened to her and how to let him know that she was there, now that her eyes saw in a different way and she felt her body less defined by boundary. It was then that she heard it clear, as if in answer to her calling, the bone deep thrilling, booming, haunting sound, in the waves and of it, singing her name in a new tongue. There seemed to be such a sweet slowness to the song that for the first time she could grasp the meaning, like remembering a childhood language or the sounds surrounding earliest life, which, though not heard since babe-hood, are yet instantly recognisable when heard again. From deep below it came closer, till bubbles jellied in the waves and broke the water’s flow beside the boat in one loud fountainous blow and the mountainous rising of a great whale rolled up out of the sea, summoning her to follow. Barnacled and ancient, with eyes of watery mystery deep beyond song, and wisdom of star lit bioluminescence. Silent shifting magnetic poles guiding its long journeys, lonely through the deep ancestral womb waters of the Earth, to find the frenzied feeding feasts and meet the mate to dance into the sky with, suspended weightlessly. Then dive back deep together, into the blue unending flow, which always welcomes back those born of it. Whale had come for her.
On board he’d heard the wet whale breath and quickly came up out on deck to see his love there in the swell beside the hull. For how could he not know her, though her tall limbs were fins and her body changed and smooth, belonging to this ocean realm. Their eyes met across the bow and through his tears that fell salt into the sea, their souls kissed. Forever joined in one perfect moment underneath a rising moon that bore witness to their farewell.
And he would find her time and time again in every woman he would love in lands far away or near, during his life path’s wandering. For it is true that every woman carries in her something of the sea and he would look until he found that echo in each one he meets.
She, whale-woman, rolled over in the waves’ salty embrace to look up one last time into his face before she filled her lungs and dived down deep into the unknown worlds below. Following her kin, her tribe, who ride the slip-streamed currents of the oceans all around the globe and know the joy of surface light as well as the dark dense cold hold of the dreamy deep, where all of life and even heart beats slow rig ht d o w n
Where songs swim further and echo longer then they ever could in air and are heard over distances unbelievable to man and travel beyond time. She sings there now to all her kin, of love and life, her journey resonating in the mix where she belongs; home, where finally her songs make sense.
By Katinka Soetens