It was a perfect day, though more crowded than I’d ever seen Seacliff beach. Of course, being Fathers Day, almost every group had at least one paunchy looking Dad like me, I was surrounded by the Dad tribe! Our closest neighbors were German, Latino, and Chinese. I feel lucky that my family can go to the beach and my children can play with kids from so many cultures. I loved seeing so many different Fathers look so at home at the edge of the Ocean.
“How did that German family find German cookies around here?” Terry pulled True back from the neighbors snack bag for the third time, detaching the bright bag of biscuits and smiling at the German Mom.
This was the day I decided to dig out my Selkie skin, hidden in a rubbermaid beneath a tackelbox, bike pump, back behind the small hen coop Tadg and I built for the last years round of chicks. I was afraid to see what shape it was in – would it have holes gnawed by a mouse? Would my middle-aged belly be unwelcome? I ignored the custom wetsuit I had made to take me deeper in the water with my mono-fin, in favor of the first triathlon wetsuit I bought. The bulkier suit never felt right, I should have asked them to help me find a Selkie skin, not make me a dive suit.
Throwing a towel over my lap, staring at the shoulder high waves, I was able to cinch into the skin without too much embarrassment – it still felt right. In a way, it felt new again, comfortable but vital. True stared at me with wide eyes for a moment. Yet another weird thing about life she’ll have to learn, people carry second skins around with them.
If you want to experience wilderness, swim out a hundred feet from shore alone and dive down.
Terry and I used to swim together off Westcliff in Santa Cruz, before our first little one arrived. A new home, the many responsibilities of children, the occasional danger of open water swimming in big surf, all made the land the only choice for a time. After seven years with a son, and now two years with a daughter, I can find myself as much by cooking for my family, receiving their moods and tempering my own, as I can through open water swimming, dance or journeying. In my years away from the Ocean my family has become the medium for my life. Still, I never lost the ache for full immersion in the open water.
My craving peaked after finishing up offering a free course on Shamanism & the Art of Receiving, mostly because the story of the Selkie came strongly to the fore as a way to talk about our connections to life, or our lack of connection. In a way, being a Father for this family has initiated me deeper into the world of the Selkie. Like the relentless waves of high surf, resistance makes no sense at all. You need to say yes, go in deep, and move with the power being offered to you. If you embrace it, you will lose resistance to your own animal skin.
This is the journey available to us if we open to it, the yearning we feel for something more profound, and the answers nature offers us.
I noticed my mental chatter fade away as I moved out into the waves, and yes, I’d forgotten how cold it was when I went under the first time. That special energy gripped me immediately, the connection the Ocean imparts, the feeling of being held in a way you probably haven’t been held since you were in the womb. Home again.
My stroke was still there, stretching out through my tail bone and tipping head down slightly. My lower back released in a way it hasn’t in many months. My spirit, that tangible spirit I’ve been working with, started to glow. Soon the human part began to feel like a foreign skin and I was at play in the waves again.
I was reminded of one of the stories from The People of the Sea, by David Thompson, a book of Selkie stories first published in the ’50s. A fisherman who wounded a Seal was ultimately abducted, taken into the lower world where he met the Seal as a man, a Father, laying wounded. He performed a healing on the Father to regain his freedom, and indeed for life to be restored to balance. In this way, the Fisherman was initiated as a healer, a go-between from the Selkie world. Healing the Father heals the son. My Dad was more the fisherman, it seems I am more Seal. Fathers both.
My swim was short, but still it changed me, Father Selkie returns to the shore. Something happened with my deeper work with the Selkie stories, a new wholeness comes with me when I leave the water. I know I belong there, in a way, more surely than I belong on land. Home indeed.
Terry has opted not to join me in the Ocean for now, it pulls at her less than me. For now I’ll play the Selkie, and she the partner on the shore watching over the children. I’m returning to open water swimming as a weekly practice. I’ll be working more directly with the Selkie through journeying and ritual, all part of Reclaiming Wildness. Somehow, even now, I can see in my daughter a young Selkie.
Can’t you see it, that look in her eyes?