Late Summer: Sunset and Moonrise Magic

moonrise kayaking

Yesterday Molly and I went for a sunset kayak — a stunning finale to a beautiful breezy day with a bittersweet hint of autumn. We are nearing the end of this season of light.

Low tide meant a short paddle would land us on a grassy sandbar that only surfaces for a few hours a day. We spotted the little empty beach and made straight for it. After ten minutes of paddling we pulled our boats onto the rocky shore, spread a towel and settled in for the sunset show. No sooner had we clinked glasses when a rowdy trio of adult boys pulled up in small motorboat. Without so much as a ‘are we disturbing you?’ they unloaded their cooler and a gigantic speaker blasting bad music feet from where we sat. Rolling our eyes at each other then giving them side-eyes they ignored, Molly and I rolled up our towel and left them to the shrinking patch.

Back on my boat, I imagined what might have happened with different company – thinking who might have angrily engaged the inconsiderate nincompoops escalating the experience and our blood pressure. And surprised that I did not. Instead I felt lucky to be with good-natured Molly, peacefully exiting while exchanging jokes and laughter about the rude interlopers. Then, we felt glad to be sitting on the water instead of beside it. As the sun fell beneath the horizon, a full moon cast another kind of glow on the Sound. Intoxicated by the cocktails we sipped from mason jars and from the stunning scene unfolding all around us, we let ourselves be jostled about by the incoming tide. The sky took over.

The sun left a skirt of pink fading in the West. I looked East and in what seemed only a blink, I felt a shift, a change to night and something more — another season, another state of being. So simple and quick I might have missed it — whatever that moment was — no more, no less than a sense of something. Slipping my paddle into the water, I positioned my kayak head-on into the trail of moonlight as if I might follow it to somewhere beyond the horizon. Jupiter and Saturn appeared twinkling like the stars they might be mistaken for.

Closer overhead, flocks of birds passed across a stretch of sky as if on a feather highway. First came half a dozen egrets, long legs dangling behind them. Following the egrets came a larger flock of frantically flapping terns. The birds silently followed each other into the deepening blue night and I felt a reverence in their flight as if they might feel as grateful for the day as I. Were they off to sleep on one of the islands? Turning my gaze back to the water, shimmering like giant fish scales or sequins of dark blues and blacks,  heaving beneath us in giant breaths. And at the center of it all, a hypnotizing path of moonlight.

Molly’s boat was too far away for us to talk to each other but we were both content in our own meditations. But as the flash of blue and red police lights from shore signaled the beach was closing, we called to each other — agreeing it was time to paddle back even as the pathway to the moon enticed me away.

I’d been on the fence about going kayaking – laziness and a little chill in the air as my excuse. What I would have missed! Out on the water I marvel, dream, think and wonder  — about life — the present, the future. Last night I considered where to be and how to live this (last!) leg of life. But do we get to curate our own lives, really? So much is a crapshoot, the luck of the draw or whatever version of God or not, one believes in. Having moments like last night are enough for me. In spite of – or maybe because of the goofs who drove us out into the water, their Lord of the Flies like howls always audible as we communed with the poetry of the night.

Clearing the Way

Christmas Eve I cleaned my gutters. At least the ones I could reach from my rickety wooden painter’s ladder or by climbing up on our flat roof garage. I’m pretty sure I didn’t do this last year thus the great layer of sludge that, if I were that kind of efficient, organized person, would become perfect compost for my garden. Instead, I scooped and tossed the rich goop down below with a splat, trusting the coming rain and snow will wash it all away.

Reaching the gutters around the garage and breezeway entailed scooching along the edge of the roof – not exactly treacherous but some bone certainly would have cracked if I’d taken the 7 foot fall.

At first I was fearful wondering what the hell I was doing up there on Christmas Eve when I should have been baking cookies. But I moved carefully and stayed focused and in less than 5 minutes felt at ease.

Every year I try to do some pre-New Year’s cleaning and my gutters seemed a good one — a perfect symbol for my clogged psyche, heavy with sediment. While sitting on the edge of the roof, I pushed through some of it – including a good dose of fear and anxiety.

Earlier in the day I heard an inspiring interview on On Being interview with David Steindl-Rast – this wonderful sounding 90 year Austrian monk who has to be a good guy because he was pals with Thomas Merton. If you have time, read through or listen to the whole interview – you might find it inspiring too.

This bit resonated with me and I thought about it again while crouching on the shingles: “… anxiety has a way of paralyzing us… But what really paralyzes us is fear. It’s not the anxiety, it’s the fear, because it resists. The moment we give up this resistance — everything hinges on this trust in life. Trust. And with this trust, with this faith, we can go into that anxiety and say, it’s terrible, it feels awful. But it may — I trust that it is just another birth into a greater fullness.

That’s where I’m headed: a greater fullness. From my roof I took it slow, payed close attention and managed to enjoy the view.

On the Water Again

Freckled legs, thrift-shop crocs and my new ride.

I arrived at the beach just after 9:30 AM, determined to get out on the water before the holiday weekend boaters took over. Ten minutes after leaving the house, I pulled into a spot close to the boat launch — rolled my kayak down off the car, slung it over my shoulder by the seat strap and teetered down to the water. High tide was around 7 so the water was still close enough that I didn’t have to navigate too many slippery rocks. Wading into the water with my boat beside me, I slid aboard, scooted against the back rest and began paddling towards the Norwalk islands, grinning.

Twenty minutes from my door: heaven.

It’s been 2 summers since I’ve been out paddling and I refused to make this a 3rd. Fairly priced kayaks are the first thing to go at tag sales and last year, I never scored one. It didn’t help that I wanted something very specific. I am not a confident water person and had gotten used to the impossible-to-tip-over ocean kayak I’d paddled with my ex. Last year I searched tag sales, Craig’s List and asked friends – to no avail. This year, riding the wave of excitement and satisfaction and yes, financial freedom of Molly being done with college, I went to Dick’s Sporting Goods. For just over $300 for kayak, oar, jacket and straps to tie the thing down on top of my Subaru. David, our salesperson, was a prince – guiding me towards the right boat, attaching foam to the rack on the top of my car and showing me how to attach it tight.

My present to myself for Molly’s graduation.

The first few times out, I loaded up with Molly who thoughtfully stood by trying not to help. I wanted to know I could wrestle the thing myself. Finally, she couldn’t bear to see me struggle and with a flip of an arm, threw the boat up on my car. While she’s around, I’ll welcome that help. But this morning, I did it myself from start to finish. I doubt it looked pretty, but damn it, I did it.

I swam here. Briefly. The water is cold.

And this is where I went. I floated, I paddled, I watched the birds, telling them how lovely they were. It’s cooler out there with a sweet breeze easing the heat of the sun. Pulling up to a spit of land that disappears at high tide, I pulled the kayak up and swam, marveling that this sweet beach was all mine. I wonder how I let 2 years pass without this dreamy experience so close to home!

A spit of beach that disappears and appears with the tides.

On my first solo venture out, I alternately felt thrilled and terrified. Nervous that no one was behind me navigating, paddling when I got tired. If I go under, it’s only me and my fierce whistle! But even as huge motorboats bore down on me, I smiled like a buddha. On my own, blissful with the birds skimming across the rolling waves, the odd splash of a fish and yes, the roaring motors of boats. In fact, once I think they see me and will probably not mow me down, I love rolling in the heaving wakes they leave. And I wave, imagining they must envy me – moving so sleekly along, quietly moving towards the egrets in the tall grass, so very happy in my solitude. I would.

A Rock and a Dive

SAM_08301.jpg There’s a spot about 20 minutes paddle from shore, where the Sound pushes into and out-of the natural harbor between two islands. Depending on the tide, we sometimes get buffeted in a crash of waves. Pulling our paddles in, we gleefully surrender to the splashing. If the tide is low, we yank the boat across the crunch of shell and stones to the other side. We like to pause here and stare alternately at the horizon and into the surf. Sometimes we pick up treasures. On Sunday, this rock caught my eye.

photo-43 Doesn’t it look like it’s part of something much bigger, like a chunk of a cliff or something? I reached down and lifted it away from the round stones surrounding it and said to R, “I wonder if anyone has ever touched this before – and will anyone again?” I held it a moment longer, thinking about time and wondering how it ended up where the waves meet, then let it go torpedoing in slow motion down to the bottom. I waded on, thinking I might swim.

I’m not a big swimmer. Last summer I barely got wet. But the place and moment seemed magical, the water crystal-clear, inviting. Wading up to my torso, I flinched as the water lapped against my belly – so cold. I closed my eyes and tilted my head back to the sky enjoying the warmth of the sun cooled by a breeze. I didn’t really want to get wet – this felt too good. But I imagined myself floating-in rather than just looking at the water and the part of my body already submerged, felt invigorated. I opened my eyes. Looking at the surface of the water, I willed myself to dive in – and didn’t.

Why? I wondered at my reluctance. Why not duck in for a swim? Because I felt comfortable and warm and safe, my hair was dry and I didn’t have a towel. I hesitated because I knew I’d be shocked by the cold. Even though my discomfort would quickly pass into pleasure, I did not move.

Have I become a hobbled by comfort? I wasn’t always this way – I have lived on the edge — traveled alone, moving to other countries, a war zone, marrying an addict. Okay, I didn’t really know I was doing that last one. And perhaps that’s what happened. Maybe I lost trust in my judgement about risk, became hyper-aware of the repercussions of launching willy-nilly into adventures. Perhaps the years of hanging onto the roller coaster of my life took its toll, making me staid. Or is this just an expected symptom of getting older like grey hair and wrinkles? I know, I should, I want to – resist.

My mental chatter grew noisier than the churning of water until I stepped deeper and, feeling like I was being gently pushed, dove beneath the surface. A frozen blanket of silence enveloped me as I pushed myself through the current, finally coming up for air with a gasp. Laying back into the gentle waves, I floated.

The next morning, the stone was atop my computer. R had retrieved it from where I’d dropped it back into the sea. There it was, a reminder of time, of going beneath the surface and something bigger than itself.

A Pain in the Neck, Creativity and No Plans

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I am at the edge of an ocean of time: a week off from work with no plans! Yet, since joyfully levitating out of the store, I’ve already kayaked every day  (R was my Prince waiting with water-borne chariot on Friday) done Yoga on the beach, washed fresh oysters down with good beer while listening to live Jazz in the breezes off Norwalk Harbor. I’ve baked an apricot tart, concocted a potato salad with olives and shallots, and a lentil salad with red peppers, mango and the tiniest bits of kale so maybe Molly won’t notice. Plus R and I finally moved the messy piles of branches punctuating our lawn since the tree came down over a month ago. Fun, delicious and productive and my week has only just begun!

apricot tart

I love not having to go to work. Of course these days to myself are precious because I work full time but a few friends have recently retired and are coping just fine with their new time-wealth. I would too, but retirement thoughts are with my lottery winning fantasies: firing up every time I buy a ticket while keenly aware of the lousy odds.

Even with a dream job like mine, pausing to restore some life balance is crucial. A stiff neck has plagued me for weeks. No amount of rubbing or heat or yoga has eased it. I began researching acupuncturists and massage therapists but on Saturday, floating on the glasslike Long Island Sound, paddling to nowhere, I felt my shoulder and neck begin to unlock. Ah!

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While gazing at the islands, I remembered a time when my neck was so bad, I could not even turn my head: Bosnia. For months I’d put in 10 hours, 7 days a week. Work was simultaneously compelling, frustrating and sad. I was part of a peacekeeping operation with no effective mandate; essentially we were sticking our skinny fingers in a big dike. As happens ‘on mission’ or ‘in the field’ in the lingo of that business, work was my life and down-time meant drinking too much with the same people I’d just spent all day with. I never unwound – thus my neck muscles became so tight, aptly, I could not look around.

I’m no longer in a war zone so why is this happening to me again? I’m surrounded by books, regularly meeting people with common interests and I’m not usually stuck behind a desk. Most days fly by. Still, as is true for everyone I speak with these days, there is a lot to do and less time to do it in.  Friends employed in education, medicine, business and of course, self-employed authors and artists, are all working harder than ever for results rarely what they once were and certainly not as easily achieved. And thus we are stressed. Aren’t you?

I know there’s a problem brewing when I wake up on a Sunday morning worrying about something that is job related: what school order is due? will I have enough books for an author event? I’m afraid I’m a “good girl” making me a great employee and it’s challenging to have ME be the most important boss, to be the ‘customer’ that matters most. It doesn’t matter how great or exciting the job is (I have had both) my subconscious is best fueled by creative, not task-driven juices. To get there, I need a daily routine, a time set aside to pay attention. Only when I do this can I sustain a rich interior self throughout the day, no matter what I do.

I want my first thought on waking to be about whatever I’m writing, not job issues.  In the past, I obsessed over my painting or sculpture but the form of art is irrelevant.  My stiff neck has alerted me to the importance of nurturing, sourcing and keeping alive and well, the sorcery of where art comes from. I need to look and really see the world around me while also digging down deep inside. There in that gazing within/without, lays the magic and the bliss. That’s what I’m after this week – to get back to that daily practice of being.

Yesterday, I was gabbing with my beloved and brilliant sister and she reminded me of Walter Mosley’s slim little book, This is the Year You Write Your Novel. He recounted how he always got up early to write before going to his bill-paying computer programming job, thus ensuring he gave his best to himself. The old, pay-yourself-first wisdom taken to another level. I credit Mosley’s book for inspiring me to diligently do the same, and I did, getting up every morning to write my memoir – yes, in a year.

I have no plans this week but hope to wake to no one’s story but my own.  I may also get a massage.

Lost and Found in the Long Island Sound

DSC_1138Yesterday, strong winds curbed our kayaking ambition. Rather than venture all the way out to one of the islands, we floated out only as far as the sandbar. A 10 minute paddle away and marked by sea grass that disappears completely at high tide, this spot is where we go for short trips when we want to get on the water, content to be jostled about. At low tide a nice little beach is exposed and we can park the boat up on the sand. We wade through the water, watch the birds, the clouds, the waves, the shimmer of light and shadow on the water, dig our toes beneath the sand. We don’t talk much, absorbing the bliss.

Yesterday, overwhelmed by the beauty I said, “There’s something magical about this little spot, isn’t there?” It feels a bit like that patch is ours.

2012-06-06 07.02.38The tide was heading out it was still too high – no parking the kayak yet – but R hopped out into the water to stretch his legs and let the current swirl around his knees as I paddled over to the grasses, the plastic boat heaving but held steady by the Moses-reeds. Peaceful. Finally, I floated back to R and we agreed to head back. With the kayak and my gaze pointed towards shore, I felt R climb in and pushed my paddle into the water.

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“Wait. We have to go back,” R said. “I had the car key in my pocket and it must have fallen out. We have to look for it.”

Silently, I guffawed. The Long Island Sound still around our calves even at the most shallow spot around us.  We’re supposed to look for a key in the water? Certainly a case for lost causes, I thought. Were I a believer I’d be praying to Saint Jude. In any case, I hopped out of the boat and began scanning the rippling water, grateful that these days, it’s clean enough to easily see the bottom.

“It’s my only key. I only have this one left,” R said philosophically with a smile, not ready to get despondent yet.

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At least the tide was going out and not in — the sandbar would soon be exposed — instead of disappearing even more underwater with an incoming tide. Still, this was no gentle retreat. The water billowed around us, the sandbank churning broken clam shells, stones, mussel shells with each new wave. Creating, I thought, new layers for us to dig through. I flashed on the rest of our afternoon sifting through our beloved sandbar, surrounded by piles of wet sand. Or maybe we could enlist some guy with a metal detector to lend us a hand. We’d have to kayak him out with that crazy apparatus to save the day. Maybe.

Zeroing in on a dark object, I plunged my hand into the water hoping this might be the rubber end of the car key. Mussel shells look a lot like car keys in a foot of water. I took off my sunglasses hoping to see a little better. A few minutes later, a flash of what might be metal was the inside of a piece of oyster shell.

Impossible. No way we could find R’s single key in all of this churning water and shifting sand. I thought again of lost causes, of Saints, of prayer – something I don’t do much, vague as I am in belief. Yet I have a sense of not really ever being alone, of being watched over. Mostly, by those that have loved me. I do believe in love and think it impossible that love can just disappear, poof! – be gone.  Sometimes, I’ll have a silent chat. And yesterday, while poking around for a key in a sandbar, I did just that. Maybe that’s a prayer. And maybe it’s just a coincidence, or perhaps just luck — but in all that water swirling around on our magic sandbar, I found the key.

Really.

 

A Year in My (Fantasy) Life of Retirement

In another 8 months, my daughter will be off to her new life as a college student. This imminent change for both of us has cooked up a veritable soup of emotions but also, a sense of possibility about what adventures might also be awaiting me. My dreaming was inspired by this list of “best places to retire” article on this morning’s Yahoo page. I can never resist reading through their choices, imagining myself in any of those places. Forbes’ list launched me into a full-fledged fantasy about what I might do, of course, (since this is fantasy) if I could indeed retire. Once an expat, the itch never quite goes away. Here’s my plan:

Call me a scrooge, but still reeling from 15 years of holiday retail, I’d give all the Merry Christmas business a miss and disappear to Japan where December 25th is basically a day to eat クリスマスケーキ pronounced “krisumas-cayki”.  After ringing in the New Year in lovely Kyoto, traditionally a time of cleaning and contemplation and ringing a big old bell at a neighborhood temple (details here) it’s off to find the warmth of the sun.

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Definitely time I went back to Bali. (thanks Yukiko for the great photo) Creativity is everywhere in the hill villages of that tiny Hindu island in Indonesia. (please note: I was a pre-Elizabeth Gilbert visitor) I imagine a month of writing, eating, walking, while reveling in the sound of gamelans, the rice paddies, waterfalls and the brilliant smiles of the warmest people I’ve ever met. And the food is good.

Next, all the way to the bottom tip of Australia.

courtesy of trip advisor
courtesy of trip advisor

Tasmania is where Jenny, one of my most missed and dearest friends in the world lives. We are friends from Kyoto days – and I have never laughed so hard and so often with anyone in my life and that alone makes this a trip to take. Bonus that it will be summer there and Tasmania looks incredible with wild beaches and incredible bush.

After exploring around the South Pacific, (Fiji? Papua New Guinea maybe?) it will be time to make my way back towards spring in the Northern Hemisphere. First stopping for some good eats and the crazy energy of Hong Kong and a little exploration of South East Asia. (Laos?)

Spring comes early to the incredible coast of Croatia and Montenegro. I long to marvel once again at the Adriatic light, the most remarkable spectrum of sea colors. Ideally, there will be a sweet house (or this incredible place looks fine!) looking out at that rugged landscape where I will write and maybe even paint for a month or so.  I imagine the scent of eucalyptus, the light, the soft breeze through the cypress and the crystalline water lapping over the rocks. I’ll sit here and read, stare, swim, doze…

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Next, a visit to Greece. I haven’t been since becoming entranced at 18 when I landed on the island of Paros and could explore no further. There is an art school there so even in November, although the tourists were gone, I discovered a dynamic arts community. It was as if I had been drugged by the sweet lavender air – the days drifted into one another – exploring the rocky hills, the restaurants, the retsina? What was it about that place? I’d like to see if I’d feel it again. And – to eat the food! To, as I did a lifetime ago,  wake to the fisherman slapping octopus against the rocks.

Italy always calls to me. Perhaps I can make that visit with Molly – a pilgrimage to her birthplace in Puglia, to the hospital in Brindisi and if we can find them, meet up with the doctors who saved her life. Then, up north to a villa – in Tuscany or here less saturated Abruzzo.  I’d invite my Studio 70 sisters for one of our creative retreats. This would do nicely, don’t you think, gals?

19I imagine our days overlooking the hills, dinners of incredible food and endless red wine. Still, we’ll wake early and find our solitary corners to drink too many cups of coffee and feel inspired. Bliss.

By then it’s time to return to Connecticut to plant my garden at my sweet house and catch up with loved friends. Of course the groundhogs will still eat most of what I plant but I won’t mind as much. As I’m retired, there will be no excuses not to host all the dinner parties I always imagine – set at our lovely table out back. The sunflowers (these past years, eaten as seeds, every one) will be bountiful.

GardenLots of kayaking out to the islands and long overdue trips into the city to museums and restaurants and visits with missed friends and family.

As summer wanes, it’s time to hit the road again — into the groovy AirStream of my dreams DSC_0152_800x531_for a leisurely trip across the States. I know it’s terribly muggy in Kentucky at this time of year but that just makes everyone move slower – savoring the sweaty nights of catching up with more missed friends from Studio 70 days. We’ll sit along the muddy banks of the meandering Ohio River as if no time has passed but rather just been an endless current of connection unbroken by time or space. And of course, like the old days, we’ll discuss time, space, art.

Then, meandering across the US – (the northern route this time) – popping in to National Parks (check out the webcam of Old Faithful!) oldfaithvcA few weeks of luxuriously visiting friends, making new ones, browsing bookstores and thrift shops, farmer’s markets.

Now it’s autumn — a good time to tootle along the Pacific Coast — hikes through the (to me) exotic landscape and perhaps landing in an idyllic spot overlooking the ocean — to contemplate, walk, write — somewhere temperate – Monterey area maybe? I remember a summer spent in San Francisco – and again, the light and sweet air smells.

And as we roll into December it will be time to head back to Kyoto again – to get ready to ring in another year of itchy-foot plans. India? Definitely Morrocco…

What would you do?

Summer Torpor Respite

Steamy-hot days seem to wilt everything but the weeds. What’s left of my vegetable garden is being swallowed by renegade grasses and the border of browning hostas and now-skeletal daylillies is barely visible behind pigweed and chokecherry.  The unruly mess of my garden taunts me as I search out a shady spot and a breeze to read the paper. I should weed-wack, mow, clip… but just can’t. Yesterday, it was almost 3 by the time we rallied enough out of our torpor to take the kayak out. We agreed we’d only loll about near a sandbar — no paddling out to the islands. So that’s what we did.

A patch of bliss.

We have a favorite spot not even 10 minutes from our launch — a teeny island that disappears with high tide. Yesterday, the timing was right and our sweet patch was there to welcome us. As planned, we lolled about: floating in the salty shallows, stepping across sandy boulders.

Breezes sent an occasional wave of chatter through the sea grass, a pair of terns swooped through with flirty calls, punctuated by plaintive screeches of the odd gulls. As we stood on the still-wet rocks and watched the Sound move out and the sun go down, the rocky stretch exploded with mini-geysers. Clams! Alas, faster than we could dig with our hands through the rocky muck, they disappeared. Next time, we’ll bring a spade.

The grittier view that reminds us where we live.

What Next?

As my daughter enters her last year of high school, I’ve joined her in pondering the question: where do I see myself in 5 years time? While I love this little house and neighborhood, the idea of no longer having to stay in one spot or to live life according to a school calendar, excites me. So just like Molly, I am researching and dreaming.

While floating out on the Long Island Sound, Rob and I sometimes concoct crazy ideas. He likes barges and imagines us living on this big metal stretch planted with a garden. No groundhogs – I like that. But where to dock? I’ve trawled around houseboat blogs that make it look enticing, but honestly, I think the perpetual rolling motion of being on water would get to me. I love a few hours of heaving-about but mostly, prefer land.

So my latest favorite fantasy involves a RV. Vintage Airstreams appeal to us  but we’re more inclined toward the less-cool, all-in-ones rather than dragging something behind us.  Tootling around at our leisure, we’d explore the country, scour garage sales and thrift-shops for hidden treasures we’d then turn into lamps, chairs and tables to sell to Anthropologie-type stores.

Tetley could come with us… but who would feed the birds?

Welcome Summer

Like clock-work, the heat cranked up, the clouds inflated into magical shapes, and the fireflies began their silent summer fireworks. Oh — and much to our dog Tetley’s dismay,  distant neighbors also started prepping for the dread explosions of July 4th. And we’ve had our first wild, summer storm complete with house-shaking thunder. Poor Tetley. He dutifully dons his Thundershirt – but it only makes him look more stylish while barking and running furiously through the house on 3 legs. (although he is much better – pshaw on the surgery!)

High tide was 3 PM yesterday and we launched the kayak out of Calf Pasture beach – my first trip of the season. There was a steady wind pushing us out towards the islands. We let ourselves get blown from shore, lolling lazily on the heaving tide. After an hour or so, we paddled back. We barely spoke.  A meditation beneath the passing clouds on lapping waves. Bliss.