Yesterday was day 333 of swimming daily at Roaring Beach. During the preceding night I was awoken by thunder, lightning and a noise only made possible by terrific winds howling through trees. The Tasman Peninsula was being hit with gale force winds gusting to 90 knots.
Trying to photograph mountainous seas in salt spray laden air while bracing against a continuous barrage of walled winds proved difficult through the whole day. The image above of an 8 meter (25 foot) breaking wave caught in a flash of dawn sun, although demonstrating a particular moment, does not fully convey the immense powerful story that was happening all around. Sound, taste and smell were equally demanding of attention as were numerous other senses.
As if this wasn’t enough sensory overload, I experienced an event that would literally define what it means to live “Life on the Edge”.
Despite the immense wildness and extreme potential danger of going into the surf, I did.
It was initially actually fun and completely different to any of my previous surfs. I would follow the retreating wave down the debris laden sand, wait an anxious moment and then catch the 8 foot tall frothing incoming wave and let it shoot me back towards the dunes and, several times, up into the creek bed behind the dunes, so powerful was its force.
After 45 minutes of mashing with this outrageous surf, I rather cockily got out of the water, feeling more than a little proud for having braved the severe conditions of this, the 333rd day of my commitment.
With flippers off and wrist strap undone, I was swept up by a wave…..
I had actually seen the wave coming; had even judged its ability to reach me. I had guessed wrong. The volume of the surge behind the wave was the unknown factor. It had stayed hidden until I found myself being lifted up off the sand, buoyed along like a cork.
Moments earlier, I saw this wave begin its roll up the beach and I figured there was enough time to skirt along the sheer wall of collapsed dune to a safer vantage point 100 or so meters further down. Jumping off from the rocky outcrop of about five feet tall onto the sand below, I had gotten about twenty feet along when I saw that this particular wave was now half way up the beach. From all the many thousands of beaching waves that I had seen over the past twelve years, I mentally calculated its speed and height and guessed that, at best, it might just reach my ankles.
Within seconds, though, the thought “Oh, shit” was severely flashing motor neuron warnings as I was suddenly, totally out of control, flippers in one hand, boogie board in the other and floating towards some hellish end to my life.
Lucky for me, though, the divine goddess of the sea decided to give me another chance and not force me to pay too heavy a price for my hubris.
The actual incoming wave was so massive in volume that, instead of immediately carrying me directly back to the sea, its continuous inward flow pushed me laterally along the vertically sheer wall of eroding sand dunes and, as luck might have it (or forgiveness) deposited my hapless body on top of the same rocky outcrop I had just jumped off. Then, rid of me, this wave washed itself back out to sea.
I could go on…… The point I want to make, however, is that I never panicked or later felt stupid or angry with myself. I knew I had been in real danger, but there was an acceptance to it. I had made a mistake in judgement, but survived to tell the tale. Hopefully, wisdom and humility were part of the learning.
To truly live “life on the edge” requires an equanimity or balance between safety and danger and knowing how (and a willingness) to engage either.
I believe we should all try to live by Thoreau’s quote “In wildness is the preservation of the world”. As without, so within. The wildness within our own personal worlds has to be nurtured so that we don’t entropy into becoming domesticated house cats or politicians passing legislation condemning our rain forests to charred hillsides.
Our soul’s survival requires it. Our society requires it. Jung writes:
“…the lack of meaning in life is a soul-sickness whose full extent and full import our age has not yet begun to comprehend”.