I was never an enthusiast for ocean wading, but after viewing Steven Spielberg’s Jaws I was definitely phobic – chiefly, but not solely, about sharks. One summer I was vacationing in Gearhart, Oregon, which was having an “El Nino” wave of unseasonably warm water. The normally chilly Pacific was abnormally tepid – like a lagoon under a tropical summer sky – very unusual for the northern Oregon coast, even in summer. Strangely frequent shark sightings, even of Great Whites, were being reported.
In his short story The Lake, Ray Bradbury writes how water is like a magician who cuts you in half – the solid upper half above the waterline, and the wavey, less solid lower half. I, however, was not to experience that illusion, because the surf that day was such that, coming to just above my knees, it did not allow my submerged portions visibility. I waded out far enough that the land receded from peripheral vision, so that all I could see was ocean. Visually, I may as well have been all adrift upon this summer sea, and the thought came to me that there was nothing – literally no land – between me and Hawaii.
Then my thoughts turned to the volume and opaqueness of the water I was standing in. Almost anything could be beneath that water, and I would be unable to see it. Old debris… a submerged log, perhaps, that would bump or trip me on the next surge of waves… don’t sharks bump their prey before attacking? What other living creature, naturally equipped with aquatic vision and kinetic skills that I did not have, might be in the water with me – its presence totally undetectable, until it touched me… or a fin broke the surface…?
The water was warm, the day perfect, but I was done. Slowly I turned my back to the indifferent sea, onto which I had projected fears – fears that were mostly the inheritance of one finely-crafted film…