By David Vanderveen
“We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.”
–T.S. Elliot, from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”
“The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places. But still there is much that is fair. And though in all lands, love is now mingled with grief, it still grows, perhaps, the greater.” –J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Lord of the Rings.”
Mark was my best friend. His widow was remarried last weekend to a wonderful man at our own Little Church by the Sea on Legion Street. It was a great cause for celebration but also mixed with emotions that continue to fascinate me.
Starting a new adventure requires that we leave some of what we have built behind us. In order to write a new chapter in our lives, we must clear our closets of clutter, pack as lightly as possible and take on the road only what is essential. Adventure demands elegance, and it can destroy our shrines to the past.
Adventure is the foundation for art.
My wife, younger son and I are also leaving Laguna Beach for a time. We will be living in Europe, near the Alps, embarking on new explorations in the mountains where we can expand a brand “Born in Laguna Beach” to those markets and beyond. As we leave and our older son heads off to college, we have been heavily editing our Laguna existence in pursuit of our next phase.
So on Saturday, as I was trying to understand everything that I was feeling, I decided to head out on a solo free-diving tour of the Brooks and Cress Street reefs. It is where I find my communion with the saints, where I meet my brothers who have passed beyond the veil in water and spirit. It is my meditation, my superstition and my personal spiritual belief.
You have to be dead not to be inspired to imagine a world much bigger than we experience when gliding through our reef systems while breath-hold diving.
There is magic there.
So as I swam a route out towards Second Reef, around Cress, through kelp, past the largest Calico seabass I’ve seen and a lobster sitting on a sandy patch among the seagrass (the reefs are booming), I found something…
The overhangs, crevices and hollowed out spots that make Brooks Street Reef boil and bubble during swells are a mixture of the sea’s own flora and fauna as well as things that have fallen from our world. I call the deep grooves that run along the reef, “canyons.” They’re big enough for a person to swim through and have enough fauna and overhanging rock to hide you from eyes above.
As I came into one of the last “holes”—the deeper, shell and stone-filled hollows, I noticed a large and barnacled dive knife that had been sitting in Davey Jones Locker for some time. Without thinking much about it, I jammed it in my dive belt and kept cruising.
Mark was killed in Iraq. He was a Navy SEAL and a well-published poet. I think it was our friend Rob or Cathleen that dubbed he and I “poet warriors” when we were still at Wheaton College (and I was being expelled for my surfing poem).
On Sunday morning, after a proper wedding hangover and a fun surf session in the little windswells at Thalia, I found the knife again in my garage where I had left it. It was a large blade designed for real work, and it was a gift from the sea. I like to believe that the Spirit of God hovers over the water and delivers a mystical communion of the saints, living and dead. Call it whatever you like, but finding that knife for me was as real a sign as if Christ had turned water into wine in front of me at the wedding reception in Corona del Mar. It was St. Mark of the Sea saying that we must move on, we must keep writing new chapters, making poetry of our lives through the adventures ahead.
Push further. Make new art from your adventures.
David Vanderveen is a Laguna Beach resident, husband, father and energy drink entrepreneur. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
A found talisman for columnist David Vanderveen’s next adventure.