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Water, water everywhere

October 13, 2023

Si Ting Chen

Bodies of water are some of my favorite places on the planet. Here in Brunswick, I love watching the Androscoggin River change throughout the year, from near stillness on fall mornings to raging rapids of snow melt in the spring. Lakes are neat too. I know some people don’t feel the same, but I love the feeling of mud squelching between my toes at the bottom of a lake.

As much as I appreciate the silky embrace of fresh water though, I have a soft spot for the briny sea water that leaves you feeling like a pickle. My affinity for saltwater probably stems from growing up by the Atlantic Ocean on a peninsula that clung to the mainland by its fingertips. I spent many days on the beach, racing the waves and getting crushed by them, washing up to shore alongside the seaweed.

As I grew older, I began to interact with the ocean in other ways. My class walked to the beach to observe the habitats of endangered piping plovers. I listened to orchestral recordings of Debussy’s “La Mer” as a budding musician. I learned how the moon creates the tides and that tidal differences vary across the world, with some of the greatest tidal ranges not far from us in the Bay of Fundy.

But it was through literature that I really found myself deepening my connection to the sea. I first read “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in my sophomore year of high school, and it quickly became one of my favorite written works. With its nautical imagery and impeccable rhythm and rhyme, I fell in love instantly.

“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is a famous poem, but until I actually read it, I had believed my grandmother herself created a well-known phrase featured in it that she has said to me since I was very small: “Water, water everywhere, and all the boards did shrink; Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.”

My grandmother would tell me the latter half of this stanza anytime I asked for a glass of drinking water. But that context is part of what makes her use of the phrase ironic: There was certainly safe water at her house, but on our peninsula, we were surrounded by the unrelenting, and often unwelcoming, waters of the sea.

Perhaps we are all on our own boats navigating the unrelenting, and often unwelcoming, seas of life. Life can get turbulent and overwhelm us as the chaos of it all leaks into our boats. We—or at least I—start to panic at the sight of this water pooling on the floor and at the thought of the imminent dangers such tumult welcomes. It becomes easy to let go of your boat’s helm, to forget where the tools to patch leaks are and to flail in the discomfort of the universe’s uncontrollable currents.

Sinking deep into the chaotic waters may seem like the only solution. But you can also try to come up for air, to do whatever you can to weather the turbulence until it calms. You might not be able to swim, but you can stay afloat.

I’m sure my grandmother did not intend for the jug of water in her kitchen to become such a fraught symbol of adversity. However, she has shared her years of life experience, memories and love with me in our time spent together over glasses of water. She was one of the first to encourage me to test the waters, to not fear the ocean and the unknown, but to embrace it in all of its imperfection.

So although my favorite color is blue, I’m a Pisces and I grew up by the ocean, my admiration for bodies of water comes from the loved ones in my life who have shown me that venturing into the water isn’t as scary as it seems. Water becomes beautiful once you accept that it has a mind of its own, and that is what makes it so special.

I’m no Samuel Taylor Coleridge when it comes to navigating the vast sea of words, but in my mere nineteen years, I’ve learned a little something about navigating the many waters of the world.

Julia Dickinson is a member of the Class of 2026.


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