Brainwashed By Nature - 09.13.99

The whole thing seemed completely crazy. Not only was I in a European country for the first time in my entire life, but I was staying with relatives of my family less than two miles from the sea. We'd walked down by it earlier in the day and then drove to a place nearby where part of an old church had slid off a cliff into the water. Fascinated by the deep water, I walked along the shoreline for nearly an hour, climbing over large rocks and poring over everything that washed up around me.

Like I did when I visited Florida as a child (and nearly any other time I was by a large body of water), I picked up as many flat rocks as I could find and tried to skip them off the surface of the water. With the tide against me, I wasn't fairing so well at all, but once in awhile I'd get one to hop almost perfectly over the small waves that were coming in. Jellyfish were stranded everywhere along the route we were walking, but there was nothing that I could do for the fleshy-looking pink masses unless I wanted to get stung. I'd pick up pebbles every once in awhile and drop them on top of the globs and watch them wiggle, see them jiggle.

We went on like this for awhile, then walked back up to the house to eat some dinner. After it was over and we had sat around talking for awhile, I decided that I should get out and try to get a little bit of exercise. Although I was on a long vacation, I still felt some silly obligation to stay in shape. It had been nearly a week since I'd done anything remotely resembling exercise and combined with all the food I'd been eating, I wasn't exactly feeling very lean. After changing into some more suitable clothes and telling everyone which direction I was headed (I hadn't been there that long, but I didn't want to get stuck wandering the countryside just in case I took a long turn).

I started with a slow pace through the countryside and it was just about right. My food had settled, but my last several days of slacking had taken its toll and I couldn't keep up my normal pace. Looking around, I found that the slower speed worked just fine anyway, as I was really more interested in looking around at everything than anything else. There were wheat fields on my right and left and sunflowers popping up everywhere. The road that I was on was paved, so I soon started looking for something a little less mainstream.

After jogging for nearly a mile, I found a dirt road leading off the pavement and decided to follow it towards the sea. I noted the turn in my head and again started looking around at my picturesque surroundings. I was now on a thin path that ran between more wheat fields and straight ahead of me just over a mile and a half was the sea. I wanted to run directly down to the edge of it, but the path went directly into a field ahead of me. To my left, the path broke off again into a much smaller (almost unrecognizable) path that ran parallel to a fence inside one of the fields of wheat. Not wanting to turn back or run directly through the perfect field of wheat, I took the new trail and found myself running a trail that was cross-country enough that I had to watch my steps even closer lest I put a foot down wrong and twist an ankle over two miles from my starting point.

After nearly another mile through the rough path, I hopped a short fence and jogged out through a random driveway until I had again reached a dirt road that had gotten at least moderate travel. The winding coastline was getting even closer on my right hand side and within 10 more minutes, I had reached the church where we had been about 3 hours earlier. I took a break from the jogging for a moment and walked past it and onto a path in a grove of trees on the other side of it. The sea was now just through the trees and down a bank on the right of me and I could feel slight wafts of a cool breeze wafting through the branches at me. It was refreshing and I again stepped things up a notch to a jog again.

The path split several times within the trees and each time I took the one on the right each time. Before I knew it, there were only a couple trees and a huge drop-off separating me from the water. I glanced over as much as I could without running into something and soon came out of the trees and onto another place where the path wasn't worn very well. The tree buffer on my right had now disappeared and I was jogging within 10 feet of a 100 foot (roughly) drop off the chalk cliffs and into the green sea.

I wanted to get to a point where I had the best possible vantage point of everything and within another mile I had reached an overlook point that I had seen jutting out into the ocean when I was on the shore earlier. There were now no trees around me and I was literally standing on a chunk of land that stuck out a fair amount further than anything else. To my left and right were sharp drops and directly in front of me, the cliff made a gradual slope downward for about 10 feet before dropping off as well.

Instead of feeling my usual fear of heights, I walked right out to the edge of the cliff and stood for a moment taking everything in. It was kind of hazy out, but I could see boats out on the water far in the distance.

When I looked straight down into the water, I was surprised by just how much I could see despite my height above it. For being such a large body of water, it was some of the clearest that I had ever seen and every once in awhile I could even see a large fish swim by. I sat down there on the cliff and dangled my feet over the edge in front of me onto the slight embankment. I looked back behind me once when I thought I heard someone, but turned around again quickly and was transfixed by the water.

The strange thing about it all is how much I felt my feelings changing just by looking at it. In the past, I'd always been somewhat afraid of large bodies of water like the sea or an ocean. There was something about not being able to see through the water (except for a few select locations) that really bothered me. Whenever I had actually gone swimming in the ocean, I'd never been able to relax because of it. No matter how hard I tried, I always had the feeling that something could be swimming around my legs and I would never even notice it. Not only that, but many times it was hard for me to move around much once I was in the water for fear that I would step on something unknown because I couldn't see the bottom.

I remembered someone telling me one time that the way you felt about the ocean was the way that you felt about love. Before I knew about the correlation, I summed things up in three words saying that it was cold, dark, and uninviting. Remembering what I had said and how I reacted afterwards, I kept staring into the water and almost felt my body being pulled towards it. It was one of the most ludicrous feelings in the world and I'll never be able to explain it, but for several moments while sitting on that chalk cliff overlooking the water far below me, I actually felt like standing up and diving in. There was always the rational side of my brain that kept me from acting, but the other half kept replaying the scene of me flying through the air to my watery destination over and over again. During a couple slight moments I felt my body leaning forward just a little more than it should have.

Not only was my brain acting logical, but it was also acting out of self-preservation in not flipping over completely and giving in to my strange urge. First of all, if I would have jumped from the place where I was standing, the deepest water that I could have managed to hit was only about 15 feet or so. Even a class diver would have had trouble pulling that off. To add to the concern, there were some really strange currents just meters off the point and swimming (even if I had been lucky enough to survive the jump) would have probably been a moot point.

But, as I said before, I never really seriously considered it, but instead sat there for quite awhile longer and stared downwards even more. The steady motion of the water against the rocks below and the combination of random environmental noises led to one of my most soothing meditations ever. On the jog back, I couldn't get it out of my head how such a beautiful, tranquil environment seemed to cause such a physical response in me. Not only did my usual fear of heights dissipate, but a normally imposing body of water seemed more inviting than a back yard swimming pool. Funny how natural beauty is sometimes.