We didn’t stay more than a half hour.
But it will go down in our memories like it was hours and hours.
I couldn’t figure out the pay-by-phone system on the parking meters in the tiny lot at the 1st street access to Cocoa Beach.
So my son and I wandered down to the water’s edge to catch the sunrise with the specter of a parking ticket hanging over my head.
We arrived exactly seven minutes before it was scheduled to appear, according to the weather app on my phone.
The sun was set to rise from the cold Northern Atlantic Ocean horizon at 7:12 a.m. on Christmas Day 2014.
And I damn-well wanted to be there to witness it.
My middle son, Carson, got out of the rented mini-van and walked straight to the beach.
I took my time, fumbling with the keys and trying to figure out the pay-by-phone parking meters through the foggy remnants of a small panic attack that set in about twenty miles outside of Orlando.
I left my Xanax pills in my wife’s day bag, the one she brought with her to Disney’s Magic Kingdom the day before.
And though I don’t need to take the pills, there is some comfort in knowing they are available should I ever need to take one.
It’s ridiculous in many ways. My wife tells me so regularly. And I understand the ridiculousness of it all.
Yet I still work myself into a lather when I know in my head that those pills are not accessible for some reason.
This mostly stems from a reporting incident that occurred when I was covering the beginnings of the Orange Revolution in Kyiv, Ukraine, where I got caught up in a crowd of a million people, and I was unable to get myself out.
But this was a little panic attack, and I was feeling a little better as my feet hit the cool sand of Cocoa Beach and the air and salt hit my face with the intended reality of facing the great, wide ocean.
I was in shock, as is the case when your body and mind are not in sync, so I had the chills and shivered boldly in my hoodie.
My son didn’t seem to notice. Or, if he did, he didn’t say anything. Which is just as well. I don’t want to put anything into their heads if this is hereditary. And if it’s not, I’d still rather not show weakness.
I like to go to the ocean when I need to find my center.
Some people like to go to the mountains, and I enjoy that too, but my soul craves big bodies of water where powerful waves wash upon the shore, that great meeting place where the land subdues the sea and the sea claims the land millimeter by millimeter over millennia.
I’ve loved the Pacific Ocean since I was a child. I have no idea what my first memory of it was, but many of my early memories include watching the surfers at Rockaway Beach near Pacifica, California and the big-wave riders at Mavericks, just down the coast at Half Moon Bay.
My grandfather would take us in his Oldsmobile station wagon, and he’d collect cans, while my brother and I watched surfers and dreamed of one day riding waves of our own.
I once had an intense spiritual experience along the shore of the Black Sea in Odessa, Ukraine. I can’t really explain it other than to say it was mystical and powerful, and I’ve not had a similar experience since that day when I was 16-years-old standing along some cliffs on that anciently beautiful body of water.
Years later as a working journalist, I was able to travel to the shores of the Arctic Ocean while covering the release of a Snowy Owl back into the wild in its native habitat outside of Barrow, Alaska. On another assignment, we were told to strap ourselves to the cargo bay of a C-130 as members of the U.S. Coast Guard lowered the ramp at the back of the plane to do ice quality surveys and count polar bears.
I stood with my feet in the icy waters looking into the maw of great gray whale skeletons whose bones lined the bare beaches of Barrow.
I’ve stood on the ice at the edge of the Bering Sea and peered into its icy depths, and I’ve landed in a sea plane upon its choppy white caps. I walked on the edge of the ice flow in Norton Sound.
I’ve been stung by a man-o-war’s tentacle in the warm Mediterranean Sea near Rome, I’ve searched for amber along the shores of the Baltic Sea, and I’ve eaten clams dug from the sand and mud along the Sea of Cortez and floated on my back in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
I’ve stood in the sand on an atol in the Koro Sea in the Fiji Islands, and I poked at sea creatures in tide pools in the Caribbean near Havana, Cuba.
I’ve driven across sand dunes marching away from the Tasman Sea on the north side of New Zealand’s North Island.
I’ve crossed the Gulf of Bothnia on a ferry, daydreaming of viking ships as we sat on the chilly leeward deck in the late summer sunshine.
I swam in the warm Adriatic with my first-born son when he was a vivacious, toe-headed, two-year-old. And I’ve watched Orcas hunt in the temperate waters of the Puget Sound.
I’ve crossed many large bodies of water by boat, airplane and hovercraft.
I have many seas to visit yet.
I couldn’t pass up the 70-mile trip from Orlando, Florida to see the Atlantic Ocean up close and personal for the first time.
Carson and I stood there with almost no one else in either direction.
It was a cold Christmas day for Florida. Temperatures hovered just above 60 degrees, and the ocean was calm with little one or two foot swells coming in at five-minute intervals.
The sun climbed up behind some clouds, but you could tell the moment when it rose from he way the water changed from that dark grey steel to a warmer blue steel.
The sky above the clouds lit up like a flash, announcing the new day, and we ran down to put our feet in the water, to say we’ve stood in the Atlantic Ocean.
We walked around for about 20 minutes just taking in the sites and feeling the salt and wind on our faces.
It wasn’t unlike other beaches, and the Atlantic doesn’t look much different than the Pacific, other than the orientation of the sun coming out of its surface rather than sliding into it.
We walked barefoot for a while, listening to the birds and looking at dead crabs, the skeletons of which washed up in the surf and picked clean by seagulls and bugs.
Then we drove back to Orlando with a blast of sunshine at our back. Carson slept almost the whole way, and I thought about all the oceans and seas I still want to see.