I was born and raised in a small town on the eastern shore of North Carolina. My family has lived in the same 100-mile radius since the 1700’s, and we’ve always been water folk – sailors and fishermen. Though I’m not from the beach, exactly, I am from – and of – the water. My town is situated on the banks of one of the many small waterways that snake in off of the Pamlico Sound, the largish body of water that separates mainland North Carolina from the fabled Outer Banks, the barrier islands that are our connection to the Atlantic Ocean. I am also a Scorpio, a water sign (though you’d think we’d be fire, or maybe earth). While that is more of a commentary on my emotional state and my potentially deadly passions, I also feel a certain kinship with water. The spirit of it reaches out to comfort me. I am home on the waves, even though I can’t swim.
I grew up surrounded by water of all kinds – the wide drainage ditches that separated my father’s property from that of our neighbors, where I fished for minnows as a child; the pond in the back yard that housed my prized catfish, Claude, and a bevy of trained geese; the swamp beyond our yard that occasionally filled the air with its own particular earthy smell; and of course Pantego Creek and the Pungo River, wider here than parts of the mighty Mississippi, home to jellyfish and crabs, sailboats and yachts, tubing and wake boarding, and in my case, several rounds of failed swimming lessons. The smell of salt water will always mean “home,” and I am filled with acute, gut-clenching nostalgia when I imagine a quiet night, only the sound of river waves lapping to keep me company. I try not to think of the ocean. It hurts too much. But maybe it’s all that water that keeps my roots so shallow, makes it so easy for me to get up and move when the mood hits.
It seems to me that I feel about the ocean the way many people talk about feeling for their families. I often hear people talk about how bereft they would feel if separated by a great distance from their family, meaning the parents who gave them life, the brothers and sisters who tormented them as children, but later became the most trusted and loyal of companions. This is not my experience. My loved ones are not my roots. Mental and emotional distance can far outpace physical separation. There are many things that I miss about my childhood in Eastern NC, but not even one thing that I can think of to make me want to move back, save for a few precious evenings spent staring out over the Atlantic.
I wonder if it’s because I love the ocean so much that I cannot bear to think of moving closer to it. Isn’t that a strange thought? But it’s true that I daydream in equal parts about moving to Maine and moving to Arizona. I want great expanses of sky and land, and not too many people. Also, it strikes me that in places with too much water, and in places with just enough, a certain power dwells. It is the great equaling out, personified. And in both places my roots would be shallow, but happy.
Along with being a water sign, Scorpio is only the only sign of the zodiac that has three symbols, showing our possible maturation (not everyone progresses beyond the scorpion, our base sign). If we work hard at it, we tiny scorpions can eventually become eagles. After that, we are reborn again as the phoenix. Perhaps I have trouble taking root because I know it is my destiny to take wing. But still, I imagine I’ll sleep tonight with the sound of the ocean crashing in my heart.