Once I was a mermaid.

We are preparing for a weekend winter storm here and as I make a checklist of the things I should pick up for supper and plan for the things we can get done around  the house while we’re stranded, I’m feeling grateful for this unfinished home and worried about the families on the east coast braving winter weather after enduring such a devastating storm.

Sometimes we feel so safe here in the middle of the world, landlocked and grounded under familiar skies that promise nothing less than snow and wind and lightning and rain and winds that we lean into.

Winds that hold us up some days.

Sometimes that sky swirls and rages and touches the ground, scaring us, but not surprising us.

Because out here that sky is predictably unpredictable, but never has an ocean wave washed over our homes. Never has a river swallowed us up.

Never have I been forced to run from a storm.

And I can’t imagine it. I cannot imagine the ocean, a world so mysterious to this prairie girl, deep and powerful and dangerous and magical, splashing over my neighborhood, remodeling city streets, breaking down buildings, rearranging houses and changing my world.

When I was a young girl I used to sit on the granite rocks on the top of the hill beside my grandmother’s house and pretend that I was a mermaid swimming in the sea. I imagined those rocks were coves at the bottom of the ocean, the biggest stretching so high that the tip jutted out of the water, allowing my mermaid self to sit at the surface and look out at the mysterious landscape of the shore.

I don’t know why I wanted to be a mermaid. At that point in my life I had never touched the ocean, never felt the sand under my toes or tasted the salt of the water. In my mind the ocean was warm and clear and as fresh as the lake I swam in on hot summer days. I imagined the waves gentle and calm. I imagined whales making grand appearances on the surface. I imagined big ships and sailboats gently rocking between waves. I imagined diving with colorful sea creatures–giant turtles, yellow fish and orange sea horses. I imagined myself with long flowing hair and a sparkling tail, breathing under water in a world so colorful and crystal clear. So different from my own.

It never occurred to me that I could become seasick on my first boat ride across and ocean bay when I was seventeen.

I never dreamed the power of the waves could knock me down and roll me across the sandy ocean floor. I didn’t understand the sting of the salt on my skin or the bitter taste it could leave on my tongue.

I never thought my first encounter with a dolphin in the wild would find me as a grown woman on my hands and knees under the breakfast table of the cruise ship, nose pressed to the porthole glass, crying with excitement and wonder as the creature jumped and splashed and swam alongside our giant boat.

Our world is so big.
Our world is so big.
Our world is so big.

I see it on television, snippets of elation and suffering, misunderstanding and sacrifice, disagreements and hopefulness on the faces of people on top of mountains, inside skyscrapers, under the heat of a desert sun, along suburban streets and next to the ocean.

And I am landlocked and tied to a place that’s tied to me, under a sky that’s spitting out snow and threatening to blanket us in white for days on end. But I am not scared of the snow. The snow is my ocean and I feel like that mermaid I used to pretend to be, sitting out on a rock far away from the rest of the world that looks so small and mysterious from the unchangeable distance.

And as I say a quiet prayer of thanks to the prairie, I add a reminder to not hide too safely in the familiarity of this place that I dismiss the power of the ocean and the people who love the shore.

Because once I was a mermaid.

6 thoughts on “Once I was a mermaid.

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