To Live By The Sea

“Now that I’m of a certain age, I’m following a piece of old Irish advice in going to live by the sea:
‘It stops old wounds from hurting. It revives the spirit. It quickens the passions of mind and body, yet lends tranquility to the soul.’”
– John Huston

I’ve been so lucky. When I was 14-15, my folks and I lived by the sea in Southern Peru for a year and a half, during which time we sailed on it, fished in it and dug for Peruvian artifacts on its beaches many times. I grew fond of its sounds and smells, and always fascinated by its power and the incredible diversity of life it sustains. While the Rocky Mountains was my first love, I grew to love the sea as well and have found contentment in my life in either place.

I first saw the Pacific Ocean in San Diego when I was 7. Mom and I sailed on the Atlantic when I was 14. I saw the North Sea when in Holland in ’86 and B and I have visited the Adriatic from both Italy and Croatia.

So I’m no stranger to a few of the seven seas. The year we lived in Southern Peru was magical, partly because the beach was two minutes away, and we could see the great expanse of the Pacific from our front porch. One of the American girls there, Jane Walker, (whom I had a crush on) and I sometimes packed a lunch and rode my moped down to the beach to sit in the shade of one of the outcroppings, listen to the surf, enjoy our picnic and throw rocks at the goony birds. Remember, we were 14 at the time. In special times like that I think perhaps the sound and smell of the sea slowly gets into one’s blood. I know it got into mine.

Living by the sea is a unique experience for many reasons. Having lived inland for nearly all my life, I’m conscious of how different a person can feel when they are near or on the ocean. Living by the sea several short times of my life, always memorable, always unique. Two summers on Cape Cod, ’67 and ’68… ah, those crazy, wonderful, drug-soaked ’60’s. So glad to be a part of them.

Down on the lower Eastern tip of the Cape is the cute little town of Chatham, where I played the bars for those summers. Being just out of college, I was in total cruise mode while contemplating how to jump-start a career. (Which I ended up stumbling into anyway.) Five other guys and I lived in this little boat house on Pleasant Bay, several miles north of Chatham, for free! The boat house was owned by the owner of one of the bars & restaurants in Chatham, Skinny George. We were all pals and he basically said, “You guys stay there as long as you want, just leave it as you found it.” And of course we did, leaving it quite a bit better than we found it two summers later.

The boat house on Pleasant Bay

There were four “stalls” in the 3rd of three rooms of the boat house. Each stall had a single bed and a small shelf against the wall. In the main room, there were two stalls above, which one had to climb a small wooden ladder to access. In hindsight, it was amazing how well we lived together for those two summers without a problem in the world. Perhaps we knew what a special place we had fallen into, and what a special, temporary time in our lives it was… for each of us.

My “roomies” were most interesting… Duke, a law graduate from Brown, just detoxing from school. Bobby, studying Russian at Harvard so he could become an interpreter in Washington D.C. Rich and his brother Mike, both excellent chefs from Boston who were down there cooking in Skinny’s kitchen for the summer, and the Silver Fox, Timmy, an older guy who bartended at Skinny’s bar in town.

Duke would become a successful lawyer in Orlando, and owned a big boat. I don’t know if Bobby ever became a Russian interpreter or not. Skinny finally sold his bar in Chatham and bought one in Florida somewhere. I became a composer/piano player in Atlanta.

And what does all this have to do with the sea?? Oh god, everything! It was always the glue that pulled us back to it, that often calmed our raging hormones, our personal differences, and even subconsciously reminded us that we were in the right place at the right time, and that the darkness of our futures was, in fact, in very good hands, and that for this short and special time, life was simply ours to enjoy and taste, without worry of what the future might bring.

A typical day there, for me, was to arise around 8-9, throw on my swim trunks, walk out into the water at the edge of the boat house, dive in, and wake up in the cool, wonderful waters of Pleasant Bay. Such a luxury! A quick shower, some eggs, then take the boat house dinghy out into the bay for a short morning cruise. A drive into Chatham for lunch at Skinny’s with some of the crew, then back to the boat house for a nap.

Our Mother’s Lounge band, featuring Jimmy Helms, jamming on a Saturday afternoon in the doorway of the boat house

Mid-afternoon, a little weed and hit a golf ball up and down the beach, for no good reason. Just seemed like the thing to do. Occasionally Bobby and I would drive into town, find a basketball court and play some one-on-one. On Friday afternoons, most of the guys would be at the boat house, as there was a fisherman out in the bay who pulled in Quahogs, (Co-hogs) an edible clam, from the bay to sell in town. One Friday afternoon we waved to him, he waved back and motored over to the boat house to say hello to us. He was a great guy, fun to talk with, so we pulled out a bottle of Tequila and all took a few swigs, out there on the beach in front of the boat house.

That day went so well, it became a Friday afternoon tradition all summer long. When the fisherman was finished for the day, he would come over to our beach, give us some Quahogs, which we would eat right there with a little cocktail sauce, and we would all chase them with the Tequila. I loved Friday afternoons!

Again, the sea. And it wasn’t always peaceful, serene. Storms would blow through, pounding decent waves up to and beneath the boat house. But see how quietly it became such a significant part of our lives back then, the almost invisible magic it brought to our daily existence. The sound of its small waves would wake us up in the morning, and would be the last thing we heard going to sleep every night. It quietly, almost invisibly bound us together in that beautiful way that even my sweet memories of it can’t do justice to.

Ah, to live by the sea!
What a heavenly life it can be!
The sound of the waves, of the sea birds and such
The sights and smells I’ve grown to love so much

To live by the sea becomes part of our lives
Like breathing, and loving, and feeling alive
The waves sound like Mother Earth, breathing and sighing
The gulls sound like humans, laughing and crying

The sea becomes part of us, part of our being
As each wave reminds us our reason for living
On boats, it can toss us around like a feather
Much as our life does, in all kinds of weather

We live by the sea now, and all I can say
It brings peace and contentment to us every day.
So if you would discover how sweet life can be
Then I highly suggest that you live by the sea!

Steve Hulse

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