The alarm always comes too early. An anxious dream cut short of its unpleasant conclusion. The body knows that at any moment the sound will come, and so it is tense. My alarm is the sound of a harp. But at 4 a.m., even the instrument of the angels can seem harsh.
I wake up and become aware of myself, the weight of my resting body, the warmth that means I am alive. I take a few deep breaths to wake myself and I imagine the waves as I hope they will be. My heart rate rises and the blood starts moving into all my organs. Of course, I must get up. I love this. The mind must convince its comfort-seeking body to go out and do its will so that it can flush itself with all the juices of happiness and excitement and the feeling of being alive.
I drive in the dark to a friend’s house. We spoke the day before about going on a local surf hunt. There is a sand bar that formed and caught our attention. An island of sand, in existence only for a day, or perhaps a week, that looked like it had a great potential to make a fun wave. It would require very specific conditions and it seemed we had gotten lucky. Today was the day to check it out. We met in his driveway.
Early mornings encourage quiet interaction. There is a feeling of restrained excitement, unspoken hopes, an understanding of possible disappointment that will come without blame, and there is quiet. Wordless hellos are spoken with the body only. Cups of coffee held in hand. Warm. Gear is loaded quickly and without sound into the truck bed. Hats and boots. Dry-bags. It is raining.
We pull onto the highway and drive. The orange dash lights give form to the things inside the truck. A knee made round by the glow. A ring on a finger almost sharp with its clarity. Street signs reflected on the wet road are elongated blurs. We park at a beach lot and begin the long walk. It is dark still. The air itself seems dark, as though not for a lack of light but because the air itself is a thick, dark purple. The beach is cold. The wind is steady. In the dark we can see the lines of waves running along the sand bar.
As it gets lighter, we surf. We focus on our waves, on the technical aspects of our surfing. I see my friends surf and know they see me and despite my greatest efforts, the ego chirps a little when I succeed. A selfish tendency finding its way into an act of purity. And then, from the shore, I see it. And my sense of self blurs and softens a little.
It is a cloud of billowing flesh drifting in the tide. It looks like a mass of silk fabric dumped over the decks of a ship into the sea. Bolts of tender pink and purple tangled and turned in on itself. Thin sheets drifting out across the surface. Thick folds moving in the more persistent currents. The surface a delicate fray of silk threads dancing in the ripples. All this draped over the massive framework of an ancient spine. This body had been developed over millions of years to swim, and now, even in death, it swims. The dead whale’s spine and mass rises and falls with the same fluid motion of the waves.
I am drawn in. As repulsive and rotten as it is, it is in the ocean, being washed clean as quickly as it breaks down. I walk into the water, up to my chest. I touch it. Soft. Cold as the ocean. The body of this whale, once an individual, arguably with a sense of self and consciousness, now dissolving into the sea. No clean defining edges. No skin to contain and separate it from the world around it. The line between flesh and water now indefinite. A seamless blending into its surroundings. The mind awakens to this. This sense of the self as separate from all that surrounds. The self is an idea. A belief.
Surfing now feels different. Important. But for different reasons than before. For the simplicity and purity of riding on the water. More honest and true in that it serves to excite the very particles we are made of. The sense of separation from our surroundings no longer so clean and sure. The universe made conscious of itself, with a responsibility to elevate itself. To draw the excitement, energy, and life from the little peeling waves and give it right back to its source. To shed it right back into the water from where it came.
The silk cloud drifts down the beach with the incoming tide. Birds stand on its billowing folds and pull at the reddest parts, tipping their heads back and swallowing. The seals swim along the beach in large families, faces pointed proudly toward their headings. We all catch another wave, feeling the energy of the ocean push us along, feeling the edges of ourselves less defined and more connected to the world around us.