When you remember the ocean, don’t forget about how it smelled.
It’s a hard thing to describe. Pleasant and unpleasant at once, clean but decaying. Salt and vapor, seaweed and fish; all the things the tide tosses, all the things the wind sweeps in to land. It’s intoxicating, but its fragrance is not like a flower, or like some exotic herb or spice. No, you would never wear this scent as a perfume. Even if you wanted to, you could never put something so alive in a bottle. This smell is half a feeling; this air is almost a drug.
It’s a cleaning smell. Damp, wild, melancholy and joyful at once. It empties you out, fills you up. It crowds out everything else, draws it out of you like poison from a snakebite, and it scrapes you smooth. It scours you with salt crystals, sterilizes the surfaces and planes of your insides with its brine, and it races through the dark whooshing passages like an echo, combs out tangled nerves, fills empty caverns of your chest with its silvery dankness. It is in the chambers of your heart, it is singing in your veins.
Ocean air is more than scent; it is your whole breath. It is all around you, a rushing in your ears, the shifting, tide rippled sand under your feet, the rainbow of beach-glass weighting your pockets, these are part of it. The footprints behind you are an offering to it, a tribute to the tide that will devour them come sunset. All the pieces of you that are too jagged to fit elsewhere, the sea sands them down to fit her curves, to nestle in the cradle of her waves. All your worries, your fears, your spurns; breathe them out here. Let them become wind, let the tide take them, turn them, and wash them in again for someone else to breathe, let them become a part of the sad and ecstatic scent of the ocean. Let them go.
Let yourself feel your transience, your infancy. Prostrate before the ocean more ancient than any altar; can you touch your own impermanence? In her song more ancient than any hymn, can you hear your funeral march? The immortal changing heartbeat of her waves is your mortality pounding in your ears.
Your life is so brief. The ghost-gray gull with silent wings and vengeful screams is brief, yet doesn’t know it yet. The whale whose weathered vertebrae are rising battered, salt-stained from the sand was brief, yet knew so many things you never will. Let yourself know your own wisdom and your own ignorance.
Yet know this: you are here. You are standing before the great mysterious sea, green and silver and black and dreaming. You are alive, you are awake, and you are breathing great gasping desperate breaths, and you are blessed with wonder at the same time as you are terrified by it. And when you think of the ocean, when you conjure this moment up in your memories: don’t forget how it smells.