At the beginning of September the jellies appeared in the channels and waterways, large as dinner plates. Translucent pink and undulating. Fascinating and disturbing.
Just a few weeks ago, my Mom said, with tears in her eyes, "I won't ever get over wishing that you live in Indianapolis. I miss you. But I admire your extraordinary commitment to your paddling and surfing. There will be things that happen that keep you from it for a while. Do not let those things make you quit for good. Go back to it. I'm so happy for you that you found something you love and such good friends and a place where you really fit in."
A good wave, you know, only lasts for so long. And before you can catch your next ride you have to turn around and paddle over the bumps. My Mom had eerily good timing with that advice.
I packed my bags and headed for the left coast, arriving in California in desperate need of distraction. I bought a ticket and walked into the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
"What exactly do you do?"
"I'm a copy writer. I write about plants and paddleboarding"
I wandered around the aquarium. Generally I don't like to know what's swimming around under me. These tanks the size of my house seemed safe, though. My ocean is the Atlantic. Giant kelp and sardines have nothing to do with my salt marshes. The brittle sea stars and spiny urchins washing around the "reefs" aren't the oysters attached to pier pilings where I paddle. Giant sea turtles swam with rays above my head while bait balls of anchovies swirled below. I sat, transfixed, and watched silvery flashes flow through underwater forests.
"So after Succulent Extravaganza you're going to the Battle of the Paddle?"
"What is that?"
People ask me, sometimes, if my worlds ever overlap. How did I get into writing about one thing or the other.
They were, are, both things that I love. Things I love with my whole heart. Nothing makes me happier than plants. Nothing makes me happier than the ocean. They are things that I love that I turned into my life's work.
When you let something so beautiful so far into your life, when you let it wrap around you and grab hold of you, the capacity for joy is so great.
So is the capacity for hurt.
The very last part of the aquarium that I explored was the Jellies Experience. "Only someone who doesn't surf would think that a giant, grasping, floating monstrosity of a jellyfish would make a perfect centerpiece for an exhibit," I thought.
You had to walk under that:
to get to this:
I fear jellyfish more than sharks. There are so many more of them. They stick. They wrap around you. They sting and sting and sting until pry them off and scrape their tentacles out. Sharks, they don't want to be near you. Jellyfish, well, they'll take whatever is in reach. They're resiliant. Indiscriminate. Seductive.
This summer I wrote and photographed a book on miniature gardening. With my plants I created tiny seascapes.
I sent my sister a picture of this garden with a replica of my paddleboard and paddle floating above it.
"You have such a weird life," she wrote back.
I talked to my Dad after I got back from California. "How's training going?" he asked.
We talked about how strange it was that I was getting ready to paddle a 31 mile race and my sister was celebrating her two year wedding anniversery with her husband and her 15 month old child.
"If you told me, ten years ago, that I'd be obsessed with something called paddleboarding while making a living as a writer, I would have told you that you were crazy," I said.
"Every time I think I know what will happen in the next five years, I'm always proven wrong," he said.
I decide: even though there are jellyfish in the ocean, I'm going to keep jumping in.