Highlands, NJ – June 11, 2013
The ocean rises in big swells that roll into the mouth of the inlet and crash against its rock walls. I watch them come and think of the small craft advisory blaring across the radio as I slide across their backs and slip into the blue beyond the last buoys.
There’s no way to sneak past the last thirty miles in New Jersey. There are no barrier islands or man-made canals. No rivers or bays. You have to go outside into the ocean, feel small, and pay homage to the Atlantic.
The waves lift me toward the sky like sloping, gentile hills. They’re smooth and glassy, so big that they tilt the world underneath me so I don’t see their size as much as I feel it, powerful and giant, moving gravity in an eight second beat. I watch them peak and curl into the beach, rising into points that turn nasty and slam on the shallows like a giant’s fist.
I scoot out to deeper water, stretching the blue ribbon separating me and the beakers, letting the shore shrink away. Lines of surfers wait with their thin boards, rising and crashing with the waves, but I don’t get to make mistakes. One bad moment, one angry giant, and the ocean will devour my world. I stare toward the open sea, watching the horizon and listening for any ripple of movement, any hint of foam and crashing water as I rise and fall, breathing with the waves as I glide north.
The burst comes from behind me, rough like breath punched out of lungs, but deeper, big and hollow. I snap my head around for a wave, but see a dark mass rising out of the water. It hangs on the surface for a moment, no real shape, just giant and black, waves spilling off it, foam swirling on the edges. Then my mind catches up to my eyes, focuses, transforms the darkness into a whale disappearing under the waves, fading back into the blue.
I stare at the water. I tell myself it wasn’t my imagination. I beg for one more glimpse, a shadow under the surface, something, anything, but it never comes. Nothing. Nothing but the sea, deep and blue, rising and falling, bigger than it has ever been before, saying goodbye with each breath, each moment, until thin dashes of buildings slip onto the horizon, until sunlight reflects off glass facades, and New York waits in the distance.