Erik Larson

Nov 24, 2008

The Sea

People were scattered around the beach, laughing, drinking, warming themselves with daytime fires as he walked along the shore and into the rocks, around a bend, and then out of sight. The sun was beginning to set out across the expanse of the Pacific; the orange horizon bent with the curve of the Earth. It is beautiful, he thought.

The sea surged over partially submersed crags, charging forward quickly toward him, swirling with turbulence and a power that crashed onto the shoreline boulders he walked among, only to retreat again in swirls and froth into the depths. It is not safe, he thought. It is beautiful .

It washed up over his feet, barely, and he stood and breathed deeply. But the rocks, now slippery, failed him, and he slipped. He hadn’t considered this; his only precaution was not to get too close, to avoid getting knocked down by the surging sea. But he just slipped. And into this monster of sea he went.

When the currents pulled him out, like flotsam, his chest heaved as he flung himself back toward shore. He thought to cry out but decided instead to swim. Swim. It was just panic. It was just panic. The shadows on the shore had grown larger and the thought of struggling in this immense leviathan of blackness approaching from above and below was too much. It was just panic .

When he reached one of the boulders, partially submerged, he felt lucky that it protruded for him momentarily above the surging water. He climbed onto it, heart pounding, gasping. Out of the sea he grew calmer, and then he almost laughed, realizing that he’d not (until that moment) thought of the horrific maw of large sharks coming up to him from beneath. He had been consumed with not drowning. A triumph of sorts. Moments later the sea came again, and his white bloodless hands slipped off of the surface as he was pulled again into its awesome power. It drove him violently forward toward the boulders, and helplessly he was flung onto the jagged rocks. But this did it. In this moment he grasped a protruding crag and clung fast as the sea turned back again in its endless cycle. He was alive.

His boots were gone. He walked, wet, shaken, barefoot, back to the beach. A large camp had stoked to life a bonfire, and grinning faces circled it, laughing, talking. He walked up, and smiled, and said hardly a word all that good, long night. It was beautiful.