"Today I reached the sea. While I was yet many miles back in the palmy woods, I caught the scent of the salt sea breeze which, although I had so many years lived far from sea breezes, suddenly conjured up Dunbar, its rocky coast, winds and waves; and my whole childhood, that seemed to have utterly vanished in the New World, was now restored amid the Florida woods by that one breath from the sea."
Frankly, my reaction to that passage when I first read it was that Muir was tired, worn out, and delirious. And maybe he was. He became very ill with typhoid shortly thereafter. But he was also making commentary on the fact that great bodies of water, and the spots where they meet the land, are very similar the world over.
"Forgotten were the Palms and Magnolias and the thousand flowers that enclosed me," he continues. "I could see only dulse and tangle, long-winged gulls, the Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth, and the old castle, schools, churches, and long country rambles in search of birds' nests. I do not wonder that the weary camels coming from the scorching African deserts should be able to scent the Nile."
To really fully understand what Muir was talking about, you have to visit a beach or fondly remember a visit from earlier in your life. Whether it's a sandy or a rocky beach, if it borders a large body of water (an ocean or a great lake), the experience that overtakes all the senses is like no other. It's a universal experience--largely the same, no matter what continent or hemisphere (with the exception of a beach in winter!).
Even the plants are similar--Grasses, Sedges, Willows. While the plants shown here were found along the Lake Michigan shoreline, they'd be similar on the U.S. East Coast, the West Coast, or even a coast on a different continent!
The Sea Pea (Lathyrus japonicus), for example, is a legume native to temperate coastal areas of Asia, Europe, and North and South America. Also commonly called Beach Pea, Circumpolar Pea, and Sea Vetchling, it ranges around the world on marine coasts and inland shores, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
Even gardeners and botanists need a break sometimes from the tangle and fray of abundant plant life. Nothing beats a day at the beach to appeal to our minimalist tendencies ...
The drag of the waves on the elements of the beach.
A child's creation--labored over for hours, and gone with the flash of a tall wave or the heavy foot of a wandering mammal.
Evidence of man and his companion; his best friend.
A solitary bird feather--sparkling in the sun, filtering the sand, and fluttering in the soft breeze.
Small rocks and shells unappreciated and ignored, unless we stop to take a closer look.
And the slowly setting sun, making long shadows on the sand and beckoning us back for another day ... as they did when we were small children, begging our parents to "please, please, please" let us stay at the beach just a little longer.
"How imperishable are all the impressions that ever vibrate one's life! We cannot forget anything. Memories may escape the action of will, may sleep a long time, but when stirred by the right influence, though that influence be light as a shadow, they flash into full stature and life with everything in place."
~ John Muir, "A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf"