I was lucky enough to spend Independence Day with family and friends at the beach this year. Despite thunderstorms that rolled through in the afternoon and early evening, we trekked out to the sand to watch fireworks on a distant pier.  Sunset is my favorite time to be on the beach, since I’m pasty of complexion.  I’m not so much a fan of the beach as I am awed and mesmerized by the ocean. As the light diminished, I watched the waves retreating until I could at last only hear them.  The smell of the brine still lingered in my nostrils as we rode back to the house.

The next day we spent most of the afternoon on the beach.  The kids ran around, dug holes, and fled from waves.  Sharks forced the sullen teen to leave her surfboard at home.  I had taken a book to read, but I never opened it even though it’s been a tremendous read so far.  I watched the waves for hours, watched the colors shift green, blue, gray.  I watched the rip tides suck sand out to sea, watched the breakers pound the beach, and gulls skim the water where fish broke the surface.  I looked out to the horizon and imagined myself aboard a boat with nothing but water on all sides as far as I could see.

For the most part, the surf was calm and picturesque, a sharp contrast to the storms the previous day. I’ve been at sea when the waters have been angry, and I was elated to reach shore safely. There’s nothing like the ocean to make one feel small, weak, and completely at the mercy of nature. Everyone I know who has spent any time in or on the ocean has memorable stories of close calls, times when they thought for sure they would drown.  Yet they still swim, boat, and surf.  It draws them back time and time again, more respectful of her mercurial power every time they witness it.  For me, it’s enough to stand on the shore and let the tide tug at my legs, feeling that might and the appreciation for dry land.

It the novel I’m outlining, the aliens love Earth’s oceans.  They live in the sea and in many ways are indistinguishable from it.  Its power is theirs.  They command the water cycle, the storms, and the lightning.  They thrive in the benthic pressure and are just as comfortable in the midst of storm clouds.  To most, their nature is as unknowable as mist and unpredictable as a hurricane.  Despite this, there is something about them that is essentially human, like the water in all of us, like the blood so close in its makeup to sea water.

I will miss the sound and smell of the surf, and I’ll think about it often as I write my book.  My awe will no doubt appear on my characters’ faces.  They will have their own stories of close calls before the book is done, and they will still be drawn to the ocean after experiencing them.