essays by Shé

Posts Tagged ‘ocean’

Fish Friend

In Love on September 6, 2022 at 1:19 pm

Green, silver, tiny, and in my face. Quick fish darts to my mask: once, twice, three times. It is possible to laugh through a snorkel tube.

I’ve seen at least 25 species of fish this morning. This one’s about an inch and a half, if that, two-tone: mottled green along the top half, silver along the bottom. When I float awhile, arms outstretched before me, it snuggles against my skin, rapidly finning to keep close. Big eyes, relative to its body, with a teeny undershot jaw. Cute little tail, pale.

We look at each other a long time. How would it describe me? There was this huge creature! Like a turtle without a shell. Weird limbs, attenuated, with small flippers at the ends. Very pale, except for fine seaweed at a knobby end near the torso, above humongous eyes. A couple dark blue and black stripes, crosswise.

We’re all mysteries to each other.

Blue Reflection Two, acrylic on paper, Shé 2022
Blue Reflection Two, acrylic on paper, Shé 2022


In Love on June 21, 2022 at 1:22 pm

“Paint the ocean,” said my dad, but I didn’t dare. His huge 3D map of northern California covered a wall of his house, sans sea, and I was afraid to screw it up. I was fifteen.

Back in kindergarten, though, I painted a picture for my mother every day, so she would be alive when I got home. She was pregnant and bedridden, and the story was that she would die if she got up. (She often got up.) My favorite painting from that era was thick lines of alternating orange and brown hues, creating a square tunnel effect. A family friend was impressed, “Perspective!”

Eventually Mom gave birth to a healthy baby boy, whom I called Didi. Painting pictures faded, and Didi became the artist. Later I painted my face and body, then became an actor-dancer, proficient in character make-up and costumes. Then a writer, painting with words.

One day my young artist friend Maureen left her body suddenly and for good. Shocked, I signed up for art class, as a way to grieve. One of my pieces featured actual seaweed and stylized ocean folk. During a summer job, I painted scenery for a teen-written performance piece, and helped another friend with a mural.

Then a girlfriend got the idea to make a fish ladder out of a wooden utility ladder. (We lived in salmon country.) She created a school of beaten copper fish and asked me to paint water on the ladder, from sea to stream. I put it off, thinking, again, that I didn’t want to screw it up, but she persisted.

It was gorgeous.

I’ve always loved color and texture and shape and design. I created letterpress books bound with ribbons, elaborate guerrilla poetry pieces and flotillas, and painted sea creatures on furniture. I whitewashed the walls of my Hicks Lake shack in broad swooshes, and, in Flagler Beach, added cinnamon-colored sand to pigment, experimenting on big canvases. A Hawaiian friend gave me a tube of gold Liquitex for my birthday, and I had a field day.

The extreme joy of painting is anchored in the fact that I don’t have to be good at it. I can just do it for me. Just for fun.

Elizabethan Ocean Woman by Shé, acrylic on canvas, 2022

Turtle Patrol

In Love on May 30, 2022 at 3:11 pm

Don’t do it, I think and grab their ankles, just long enough to get their attention. We surface, and I spit out my snorkel. “You need to stay fifteen feet away from sea turtles.” One of the girls seems to listen, but the other quickly sinks below. Fortunately, the young honu (green sea turtle) is gone. Neither girl says a word to me, and I watch them swim away, still furious. What right do you have to chase a wild creature in its own habitat? We are visitors here – show some respect!

Anger doesn’t drain away until I sit on a log onshore and meditate. Why does this bother me so much? The girls were happy to see a turtle. Could I have handled it differently? No. Turtles are my children. I will not have them harassed.

I’d been snorkeling farther out, gently following (not chasing) a school of pale yellow pert-nosed fish with dark vertical stripes. They surrounded me as I floated. I was blissed out, and heading in. Then I saw the honu, rising for air. And heard the excited yell, “Turtle!”

When they chased it, I chased them.

Years ago in Florida, I donated to the local Turtle Patrol. In return, my aunt and I “adopted” nests. I sang to my eggs, visited daily, and cleared away obstacles between them and the sea. At night, I checked for predators (crabs, ants, raccoons). Despite all this, many did not live. The loggerhead nest had been relocated under a bright streetlight and they got disoriented when they crawled up out of the sand. They could not find the ocean.

But when the remaining eggs were excavated a few days later, more than 80 babies emerged and began their determined march to the sea. My heart was so full and proud. “Go go go! May you be free and wild and happy!” Sometimes I gently put a foot down to keep one from going in the wrong direction. “No, no, sweetheart. Thataway.”

Perhaps I was putting my foot down with the turtle-chasing girls last week. I probably startled them, and I guess I wanted to. I sat on that log a long time, but never saw them again. Was I going to explain in a gentler tone? Talk about turtle social distance?

At the same beach a few months ago, a larger turtle had crawled onshore. A guy my age was worried about it. I took a look and reassured him. “That’s normal, she’s resting. But you need to stay fifteen feet away.”

“Because?” he asked.

“The law,” I said, and walked away. Hawaiian law (and Florida law, as well as the federal Endangered Species Act) protects sea turtles. So what am I, turtle patrol?


Loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings head for sea, Flagler Beach FL USA 2019
Loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings heading for sea, Flagler Beach FL USA 2019

Essay #50: t(r)ooth

In Love on May 3, 2022 at 1:19 pm

I lost a tooth recently. Well, that’s not exactly true, I know where it is: off the coast of Kaua’i. I swam it out from Polihale State Park, past the breakers, and dropped it in the celadon water. Thank you!

53 years ago, give or take, I found a shark’s tooth on Myrtle Beach, way over on the east coast of mainland United States. Are we even now?

It was tooth 24 — mine, not the shark’s — right in front of the lower jaw. There was no trauma that I know of, it just slowly began to erupt, to rise up out of my crowded mouth. Although, as a pre-teen, I begged for braces on that bottom row. After the orthodontia was removed, my teeth slowly, over the years, moved back into place, the front ones a little more crooked, just as before. I’m guessing #24 finally got tired of living sideways and said, “I’m outta here.” Either that or the other teeth booted her out.

I don’t much care for crowds either, and try to avoid them. I park a fair distance from grocery stores, tend to surf or snorkel early, love to be out after dark. The stars! The quiet! The spaciousness! I remember walking down the middle of Santa Monica streets as a teenager, relaxed and free. High school was hard: noisy, crowded, scary. Who are all these people? I’d gone through a much smaller elementary and junior high with groups of familiar children, most of us in the same classes.

So why do I live in a tourist destination? The warm water and astonishing marine life. Yes, I have to travel through Stepford (aka Princeville) to get to the best snorkeling, biking past golf courses, manicured resorts, and construction crews. “Good morning!” I say, “On your left!” But once I’m in the Big Blue (actually green at Hideaways), I am home. “Good morning,” I say to the black and white polka-dotted fish. “Aloha,” I call to the sea turtles. “I see you,” I tell the flat, camouflaged sandfish on the bottom of the ocean. “Yikes!” I avoid the toothy hot-pink eel poking out of the reef. I hover nearby — out of biting range — and eventually she closes her mouth. I’m too big to chew.

They are family, more so than my own species. I hate to leave, so wear a shorty wetsuit and hood to prolong my stay. By the time I crawl out, my skin is pruned and my body cold, aiming for the sun. Sometimes I sit in the shallows, laughing. That rockfish! Perfectly still. “You don’t see me. I am a rock. Begone.”

When I am in the ocean, I do not miss my tooth. I have plenty. No one remarks on its absence. Actually, no one remarks on its absence on land either, but I’m more self-conscious. Maybe I need a boat, the better to spend even more time at sea. I hear the dolphins are friendly. Maybe they can spare a tooth.

OneBlueHeart, acrylic on canvas, 2020
OneBlueHeart, acrylic and glue on canvas, 2020

Essay #10: mothering

In Love on May 9, 2011 at 3:53 pm

I woke up yesterday feeling like I finally got it, the whole mother thing. If I need mothering, I can do it myself. After all, who better than me to know what I want? Expectations of my mother dropped away – freedom!

Today I feel like I did before: angry at her, and sad we’re not talking. Damn revelations.

“No shame, no blame, everything is beautiful,” said Meg before leading an improv exercise. An excellent motto. Perhaps I’ll paint it on my car.

I did not call my mother on Mothers Day. I am trying to do what I actually want to do, instead of what I should do. Today I am suffering guilt and anxiety. I don’t want to hurt her, but I am tired of hurting me.

Taking care of myself is trickier than I thought.

Early on, I learned not to have any needs that couldn’t be met by my mother. I learned not to want.

But I am human. I want and need — despite my best efforts — shelter, love, support.
And when she couldn’t or wouldn’t help me, I thought I wasn’t worth helping.

Wrong splenation. It only meant that she — one woman — couldn’t help me, not that I shouldn’t be helped. Where’s the damn village when you need it?

The fact is, I love my mother. It’s just taken me a long time to catch on to the fact that I don’t need her, nor does she need me. She can mother herself. I can mother myself. She is no longer my source of nourishment. Nor am I hers.

But I keep fishing in the same tired stream. And just over the hill behind me is the ocean.

Part of me wants to stay by the stream, even though I’m hungry. A misguided sense of loyalty, love, and hope keeps me sitting here, even though I can hear the ocean roar. Occasionally, I hike over the hill, jump in the sea, remember who I am, and who I can be. But I always return to the stream.

And maybe that’s okay for a time.
I’ll just leave my fishing pole behind.

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