The Ocean Is My Place

In order for you to better understand why this is so, I would like to share with you a poem I wrote:

The Ocean Is My Place

The Ocean is my place for it is there I find my heart.

In the everyday life of love and grief, I am enveloped by its strength.

The Ocean is my place for it is there I find my voice.

In the silence of loud voices, I am reassured by its quiet ear.

The Ocean is my place for it is there I find my balance.

In the push and pull of what I should be, I am steadied by the tide.

The Ocean is my place for it is there I find my rest.

In the angst of worry and what if’s, I am rocked to sleep by the sunset.

The Ocean is my place for it is there I find my music.

In the cacophony of dissonant notes, I am comforted by her song.

The Ocean is my home for it there I find myself.

In the crowded streets when I am lost, by the Ocean I am seen.

The ocean has and always will be my place. While I live about 45 minutes away (in the suburbs) from what I have always referred to as “the shore” (Jersey girl here);  it is the place where I find much of who I am.

As a young girl the ocean meant family vacations. It was a place of rest, relaxation, connection, time to play, and regroup. From the beaches along the Jersey shore, down the eastern coast to the Carolinas, as far south as Key West or up to the stunning New England beaches of Massachusetts and the shores of Nantucket Island. The beach has always spoken to me and grounded me. I think of bell hooks when she said, “When we love the Earth, we are able to love ourselves more fully” (hooks, 363). This resonates with me in that it is here that I feel most organic and even childlike in terms of my ability to think and feel with less of a filter. When I was a child, my father would call my sister and I fish as we would stay in the water for hours. Upon return to shore, our hands and feet were pruned and cheeks a bit rosy and salty.

When I look at the ocean, I feel an interconnectedness to not only the earth but to myself. Ever since I was a child, I would sit by the water’s edge and contemplate what I wanted to be, what I wanted to do, and I would compose my dreams and transform them from mere ideas into possibilities. I go there to think. It is why I especially love it in the off-season months. While I appreciate the hustle and bustle of the summer as children giggle and splash, I am able to decompress most when the weather is cooler, and I am wrapped in a blanket. Terry Tempest Williams captured this emotion for me when she said, “falling in love with a place, being in love with a place, wanting to care for a place and see it remain intact as a wild piece of the planet” (Williams, 16).

I have deep concerns for its ecosystem. I remember back in the 1980’s there was a lot of buzz about the future of our beautiful humpback whales. There have been oil spills (Exxon, BP, and others), the over-fishing that is leading to less and less resources and species of particular fish, the ocean dumping that has created catastrophic damage for which my generation will never see the full repair. I mentioned in one of my previous blogs that during my senior (high school) prom the beaches were closed due to pollution as a result of medical waste dumping. A few of us were thrown in the water (as a joke) and suffered the consequences in the form of rashes that had to be treated with antibiotics. My heart hurt even then to think…. I have this medication that will heal my body… what does the ocean have? What solution could possibly rid it of so much contamination caused by us? It has been assault after assault. Helpless and at our mercy, we show her little grace.

Conversations of conservation and protection come from a soulful place.  It is very personal. It is about mothering the land. It is about giving it back a small piece of what it has given me. It is anything but irrelevant as it is where I find myself, my family, and my sense of community. “Each of us belongs to a particular landscape, one that informs who we are, a place that carries our history, our dreams, holds us to a moral line of behavior that transcends thought” (Williams, 19). About eight weeks before my sister died I took her for a “sisters” day to the beach. We sat in our chairs (it was a chilly but sunny April day) and we talked and talked. We reminisced. We told each other our dreams. We laughed and we cried as she told me some of her wishes.

About four weeks later we headed back down there to a house I rented in order for her to rest and recover from the chemotherapy. She didn’t make it twelve hours there before we had to take her to a hospital where only eleven days later, she would pass away. During those twelve hours at the beach, she sat in her wheelchair on the porch and watched the water. She ate ice cream. We held hands and barely spoke. We knew what was coming but for those moments outside, we were connected to everything and our history was in every moment.  I watched her close her eyes as she breathed in the sea air as a small smile spread over face. She watched the boats come in, bend around the jetty and slowly glide into the harbor as if she was intently listening to a piece of music. It was always our favorite place. It gave to us endlessly. When I think of her in those moments, I think of Barbara Kingslover’s reference, “The window is the world opening into me. I find I don’t look out, so much as it pours in” (Kingslover, 1). To watch her was to know that we need the wild and that in those final days, it was the wild places that brought her so much peace and calmness. It is where I find her even now.

While I cannot stand with my sister in person anymore, I understand what Williams meant when she said, “This is the hope of a bedrock democracy, standing our ground in the places we love, together” (Williams, 19). Through our shared stories and histories, the commonality we share is the very bedrock upon which we can affect change and bring awareness despite our differences. It is where our stories can bring about change by evoking feelings of importance and the need for action.

As this was an especially personal blog, I wanted to share a song that I love by Edie Brickell (& The New Bohemians) called Me By The Sea.

Work Cited:

hooks, bell. Touching the Earth.

Kingslover, Barbara. Knowing Our Place .

Williams, Terry Tempest. “ ‘Home Work’. Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert.” 2002, pp. 3–19.

7 Replies to “The Ocean Is My Place”

  1. I would like to begin by telling you what a beautifully written, heartfelt poem you shared. I was especially moved by the following verse which seems to summarize the main focus of our assignment and you phrased it eloquently.
    “The Ocean is my home for it there I find myself.

    In the crowded streets when I am lost, by the Ocean I am seen.”
    It is interesting how many people, like you and your sister find comfort engaging with water in general. I always thought it was a primordial instinct. We are born from water, I could not help but see a poignant correlation between your dear sister’s terminal illness and your place of choice to celebrate the last phase of her life.

    Today as I am writing this…something relevant occurred….
    Every week for a month, my grandson has been asking to go back to this location off the highway that is only accessible by hiking.
    In the distance he could see what looked like “treasure”. There was a section near the island that he thought had some interesting relics, maybe worth “lots” of money etc. He just came into the house, disappointed, it turned out to be garbage that people had dumped…….I am not sure that the short video will play.

    1. Catherine –

      Thank you so much for your kind words. I agree that I have always felt the connection to water is instinctual.

      Something I did not address in this particular blog was that she died from mesothelioma. It is a type of cancer that you get from asbestos exposure. She was a school teacher so it came as a shock to us when first diagnosed. It is a more common disease in individuals that work construction or perhaps were exposed through contamination that occurs during major events like 9/11. It can also be found in things like insulation. She had VERY rare form which made the case even stranger. She had peritoneal which means it was in her stomach. Only about 500-600 people a year get this. It means that she would have had to ingest it. The culprits were thought to have been make-up or more likely – talcum power.
      Talcum powder (baby powder) is often sourced in mines that also contain asbestos. The FDA finds it acceptable to sell this product as long as the traces of asbestos are minimal. To think we use this product on babies is horrifying. I cannot name the company at the crux of this – but you know it well.

      As a result of massive law suits (settlements ensued only to have them close that section of the company – claim bankruptcy and reopen elsewhere) against them, they have stopped sourcing the talc from those areas for products sold in the US but continue to sell the old recipe over-seas to other countries.

      The crazy thing about all of this is that it is found in SO many products sold in the US that are primarily used by women. If you want to read more about it I have linked an article below. You can also check other products that have been found to have asbestos in them. (link below)

      It breaks my heart to think your son was hoping to find treasures and instead found garbage. We can learn so much about seeing the world through the eyes of children. His experience must have been a sad lesson in the lack of care others show for our environment. Maybe he can start a beach clean up with his friends and family?

  2. Teresa,

    What a beautifully written blog post that has touched me in many ways. Your opening poem allowed me to resonate with the connection you hold to the ocean. There is truly something about the sound of the crashing waves, the songs of the seabirds, the feeling of sand beneath your feet, and the entirety of the presence with Earth’s most abundant natural resource. As someone who lives in Southeastern Massachusetts, the coastline is very near. I often find myself taking a ride down to the area of Horseneck Beach to escape reality and stare out into what appears to be the never-ending carpet of blue. Thank you for sharing your personal anecdote about your sister, I am sorry for your loss. From the memories you have shared just in this blog, it seems like the ocean has brought you many treasurable moments and fostered an even deeper connection to the landscape that informs who you are.

    You mention an important point in connection to Williams’ bedrock democracy as you state, “It is about giving it back a small piece of what it has given me.” What a powerful point to make. As the years continue to progress and we continue to favor advancement in technology and money in our pockets, it becomes easier to be displaced. In the process, we are selfishly contributing to environmental degradation practices aligned with oppression to humans and non-human animals as well. Joni Seager has a wonderful book titled, “The Women’s Atlas” in which she explores the various systematic practices contributing to violence against women. There is a particular unit in which she calls, “Don’t eat the fish!” where she discusses the number of health implications in which women have been victims due to mercury exposure. Seager writes, “Mercury, a powerful neurotoxin, accumulates in the marine food chain. Pregnant women have long been warned about the dangers of eating certain fish. In addition to the hazards facing the woman herself, mercury consumption can cause severe developmental disorders in the fetus. High fish-consumption cultures and communities are at particular risk” (121). I include this quote as there are several things mentioned that can be analyzed from an ecofeminist perspective in addition to understanding place. Mercury is being introduced at elevated levels to the aquatic ecosystem. This is not only harming women who may be in contact with the water dependent on cultural practices as well as those who rely on the ocean for survival and nourishment, but it too diminishes the livelihood of non-human animals and the landscape itself. This is accelerated with the increase of displaced persons, place + people = politics. The increase in pollution is not a mistake, it can be avoided and is inflicted through power imbalances and disconnect from nature in society. It is not until we realize as Kingslover tells us, that we need to stop and think as our choices affect lives that are not our own (2002). Understanding the place that informs us and carries our history is crucial in becoming activists in preserving the sacredness of the Earth and our bodies. Your own connection with the ocean demonstrates just this as you honor the value of place in our own lives.

    If you were interested in reading more about the statistics of mercury pollution and the effects on population or more of Joni Seager’s work in general, this is the citation information for her book:
    Seager, Joni. The Women’s Atlas . Penguin Random House, 2018.

    Kylie Coutinho

    1. Kylie –

      Thank you so much for such a thoughtful response. I think the beach for me is a “full body” experience in that it is not just about the mental reprieve it gives me – but you are so right – it is the smells, the feel of the warm sand on my feet, the way the waves rock you, it is everything!

      To your point about the fish – I remember when I was pregnant with my daughter 22 years ago the doctor told me to avoid fish, especially tuna which was my favorite due to the levels of mercury. I was floored! I did research and was horrified at what I found. I still think about it when I eat it even now. It is so so so sad think (as you said) that this was not an accident.

      I said to my husband last night that the thing that makes me most upset is that none of this is part of the “natural” evolution of the ecosystem. There is nothing natural about any of it. We are catastrophically impacting this planet on so many levels. Pollution, dumping, over-harvesting, etc. The list goes on and on and the end goal/reason is always the same – greed/money and the inability to find or learn other was for us to sustain ourselves.

  3. Hi Teresa,

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful poem and personal connection to the ocean. Clearly it is more than just a physical place for you; it is a source of strength, inspiration, and comfort, especially during times of grief and sorrow.

    ~ Please accept my deepest condolences to you and your family.

    As Terry Tempest Williams notes, falling in love with a place means wanting to care for it and see it remain intact (19). Your personal connection to the ocean gives you a strong motivation to advocate for its protection and act towards its preservation. It is a place that holds a special significance to many people. For some, it is a source of tranquility and calmness, offering a sense of grounding and balance amidst the chaos of everyday life. For others, it is a place of exploration and adventure, full of mystery and discovery. And for still others, it is a source of inspiration and creativity, a place where they can connect with their innermost selves and draw upon its vastness to create something new.

    I appreciate your concern for the health of the ocean and its ecosystem and the way you reflect on human impact from oil spills to overfishing to pollution, and the need for conservation and protection. It is important that we all take responsibility for protecting and preserving this valuable resource for future generations. As you pointed out, our actions have a significant impact on its health, and it is up to us to make sure we are taking care of it in a sustainable way.

    Clearly the ocean will continue to hold a special place in your life and inspire you to make a difference in the world. Your words remind us of the beauty and power of the natural world, and the importance of preserving it for generations to come.

    Thank you again for sharing your thoughts and experiences.

    Works Cited

    Williams, Terry. “Home Work.” Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert, Random House Publishing, 2002, pp. 3–19.

    1. Thank you Rose.

      I think the ocean provides so many different things to each of us. You mention creativity, discover, mystery – its all so true! Seeing it through the eyes of children is always so much fun because it gives a different perspective. I wrote a children’s book (which has yet to be published because I am awaiting illustrations) about my nephew (my sister’s son) who is now five years old. It is about the adventures one can have at the beach. It is a tribute to her as well as my love letter to my nephew. Thinking about what you wrote – it encompasses so many of the things you mentioned that the ocean/beach can invoke.

      I am extremely concerned about the ocean. Taking this course has definitely raised my awareness within myself – meaning – I feel a much stronger need to get involved. I have been looking at Rutgers University which does tremendous work in the field of environmental sciences inclusive of marine biology. Check out the link below! It is for the Rutgers Maine Field Station. I am heading there tomorrow to see what it is all about. I am hoping someone will meet with me. They are doing a lot of work to chart marine life, track changes in migration, investigate pollutants and microplastics in the sea life, chart rising sea level as well as research many other aspects of climate change.

  4. Hi Teresa,
    I first wanted to say thank you for sharing your story. It was truly touching and I am so sorry for your loss.. The connection that you have to the ocean and the memories you have while being there is something quite special. I can feel the love and passion you have for the ocean through your writing and poem.
    There truly is something about being in the ocean that makes you feel a part of something so much greater. The calming sound of the crashing waves, the seashell treasures; I agree that the ocean brings a childlike wonder.
    When you compared having medication to heal your body after you were thrown into the polluted water, to the ocean not having any “medicine”, I thought that was a really eye opening statement. Just like how Utah is described as being “whittled away” in “Home Work” by Terry Tempest due to off-road vehicle use, threats of oil and gas drilling and luxury homes and communities being built, the ocean is suffering from humans too, everything from oil spills, fishing, dumping, climate change, and waste. It is heartbreaking to see. After I watched the Youtube video you included, it reminded me of the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Human error was the reason that millions of gallons of oil were released, affecting marine life, wildlife and habitats. It makes me think, how many times does something like this have to occur before we put a stop to it? Below I linked an article from the Ocean Conservancy called Honoring the Women Who Led the Response to the BP Oil Disaster if you’re interested!

    Thank you again for sharing with us all.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *