Time and tide

Simon Smart reflects on his enduring love for the ocean, and the awe and wonder he feels when faced with the ravaging beauty of the sea. 

When my wife and I were first married we rented a small apartment in an old block that looked over Manly’s Cabbage Tree Bay. We’d go to sleep at night to the sound of the water lapping the ocean wall a few metres from our bedroom. All year round we would swim, surf or simply observe the hypnotic rhythms of the ocean right at our front door. There was no laundry or car space in that unit, but even then we knew it would be the best place we would ever live.

I grew up in the country but always felt most at home once I had the smell of salt water in my nostrils. The beauty and mystery of the ocean captured my imagination—the coastline serving as a kind of orientating and magnetic force.

The marine biologist Rachel Carson found in the ocean “a sense of the unhurried deliberation of earth processes that move with infinite leisure, with all eternity at their disposal.” I think I know what she means. There are age-old rock formations up and down the coast that are comfortingly familiar to me and my surfing mates as places to safely launch into a point break. Submerged boulders we know to avoid at low tide. My kids know these, and their kids will likely know them too when I am long gone.

Time and tide. There’s a spirituality attached to the ocean and the people who are drawn to it. It’s often undefined, but it’s hard not to feel a sense of awe and wonder—a sense of something beyond us—when faced with the ravaging beauty of the sea. Perhaps it’s one way God reaches out to us. Our frailty set against his might and generous power. The lavish gift of being alive.