Happy Place

Recently I’ve been thinking about those creative visualization exercises. You know the kind: You close your eyes, cross your legs, rest your hands on your knees, breathe deeply, and imagine yourself at your happy place. My happy place is always the same: It’s a shallow, warm bay on a woodsy stretch of coastal Alabama, where my ancestors built a home 100 years ago. My extended family gathers there every summer, and there’s an undeniable magic about the place. For someone who's moved around her whole life, just being in a house that's been in the family for a century provides a relatively rare rooted feeling. As I was told when I was growing up, any ghosts therein are my ancestors. "And they love you," my mother would say, as I lay awake too scared to sleep. Why not just say there's no such thing as ghosts? The art of telling lies has never been a strength in my family. Back to the happy place; well, there are two of them, in particular. One is a small swim deck—a little freestanding dock—out in the water (the actual swim deck was taken out by a hurricane several years ago, but that’s the great thing about visualization exercises—your mind puts it right back where it was).  The rustic wooden planks are solidly set above the water enough that you can stay dry, but close enough that you can dangle your legs down into the water you want to. In real life—not in creative visualization life—this swim deck is where I accepted a marriage proposal, sitting under the moon with my sweetheart and a glass of wine. My second happy place isn’t really a solid place at all, but I go there in my mind and also in person a couple times a year: I paddle a bright orange tandem kayak out into the bay, with or without my husband, my sister, a niece, or a dog aboard, and I when I get a good distance away from the shore, I pull the paddle up, set it across my lap, and I just float. I close my eyes to listen, but not for long: There’s a lot of life to see out there. Dolphins surface, coming close and curious. Mullet jump into the air, away from some unseen predator beneath the water’s surface. Pelicans bob on the water, like big ducks. I hear the muffled sounds of conversation on the beach, and the noise of sails and flags flapping. The quiet, unobtrusive way a kayak moves through the water gives you powerful awareness of the surroundings; there’s a lot you miss when an engine is running. I love how low it sits in the waves, putting you right on the level with anything you’ll encounter out there.

I have just learned that my happy place has oil in it. While some of us are more culpable than others (BP!), if we’re looking to blame, we have to look at ourselves, too. Eating a meatless diet is one step toward environmental responsibility. But there’s so much more to the puzzle than what we eat. (My minivan comes to mind.) My heart is broken for the many, many people whose livelihoods have been ruined; for them, the coastal south is not just a happy place, but absolutely everything.

I'm going to my happy place in person later this summer, and I expect to be better informed soon. For now, I will repeat this quote that I filched from another blog—one that locals have cobbled together to keep those of us far away informed as their grassroots efforts emerge.

"The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach — waiting for a gift from the sea." —Anne Morrow Lindberg