Picture: from Colorado Big Sky, a painting by Jeanine Malaney.
I grew up on Vashon Island in the Pacific Northwest. We lived about a mile from the beach. Among the enduring images of my childhood are those of the long bus ride to school, a route that snaked around the island - down to the harbor, back inland, and then out toward the water again.
After we moved to the mainland, Puget Sound, the Seattle lakes, and the channel that connected them remained a regular presence in my life. Seattle, especially, had few straight lines; all the roads hugged hills and skirted waterways. I loved the sight of windsurfers on Lake Union, waterskiers on Lake Washington, ferries in Eliot Bay, and small boats heading out for a day's fishing.
It's been more than 14 years since I moved to my new home 1000 miles inland. A few weeks before leaving the Northwest I read Patricia MacLachlan's "Sarah Plain and Tall" for the first time. Sarah, as you may remember, had a hard time adjusting to life on the plains. She missed her home in Maine.
"My favorite colors are the colors of the sea, blue and grew and green, depending on the weather. My brother William is a fisherman, and he tells me that when he is in the middle of a fogbound sea the water is a color for which there is no name."The land where my Denver suburb is built rolls in much the same way that it would beneath Sarah's nineteenth-century Kansas farm. Yet with all the development one doesn't notice it as much.
"We do not have the sea here."
Sarah turned and looked out over the plains.
"No," she said. "There is no sea here. But the land rolls a little like the sea."
What you do notice is the sky. Clouds and colors and sun and stars play across it, draw one's eyes and spirit upwards in a way that doesn't happen on the coastlands where I grew up. I miss the Colorado sky when I am gone.
As Sarah says, "There is always something to miss, no matter where you are."
* * *
Do you know this poem? I learned it when I was in sixth or seventh grade and everyone in my class had to pick a topic on which to compile a poetry anthology. My topic was the sea.
By Ruth Lechlitner
This Kansas boy who never saw the sea
Walks through the young corn rippling at his knee
As sailors walk; and when the grain grows higher
Watches the dark waves leap with greener fire
Than ever oceans hold. He follows ships,
Tasting the bitter spray upon his lips,
For in his blood up stirs the salty ghost
Of one who sailed a storm-bound English coast.
Across wide fields he hears the sea winds crying,
Shouts at the crows - and dreams of white gulls flying.