A Young Oceanographer

Growing up in Charleston, South Carolina, we built huge drip castles with moats and added draw bridges of shells. On the edge of the foamy tide, we raced and felt the ridges in the sand with our bare feet. Our father stood with his trousers rolled and cast his line with its reel spinning into deeper water. I don’t remember he caught anything. We caught a love of ocean and wide horizons, pelicans skimming the waves, little sandpipers racing with incredibly speed in and out of the foam.

Now, midcontinent, I’m trying to impart that love of ocean to my husband’s first grandson. Let’s call him Jules, for the fun of it. He’s a wild, adorable lad, born early and fast to catch his father and grandfather’s love of sports. Among the T-ball kids, five and under, Jules is the only one who understands to race toward a base after hitting the ball.

But sports get you only so far. He needs another passion or two. It helps that he’s been swimming since before he could walk. So the love of water is there. After our winter trip to Sanibel Island, off the western coast of Florida, I brought him home a bag of purchased shells from around the world, plus a sandy mix from the shell beach on Sanibel. A few months ago we hunkered down in my Saint Paul back yard and washed the shells in a dish tub. We named some we could, we counted and recounted, we chatted about the ocean. “I want to go to the ocean,” said Jules, and I said, “Ok, when you’re 8 and your younger brother is five.” Nope, not soon enough. “When I’m five and Noddy is three.” That’s soon, that’s next winter. Hmmm. This is a passion, I thought.

Next time around, we washed a handfull of shells that were lounging in a corner of the basement. Jules kept holding one up and asking, “Is this a scallop? Is this a clam?” I thought maybe so, but wasn’t sure. My shell-naming days are long gone. So a shell book was crucial.

Now a detour for a movie review. In the scalding heat of midcontinent yesterday, husband and I took ourselves to the air-conditioned movie theater to see “Tree of Life.” It has gotten good reviews, though with the comments that it’s hard to know, moment to moment, what the film is up to. After minutes of rather cardboardy characters, with drifty sadness on their faces, and even longer minutes of exploding volcanos, undersea caverns, and who knows what else, we got up and left. Too “trippy” said husband. Too vague, said I. Characters too indistinct. We have no history, no reason to feel their sadness with them.

Ok, now what. We were near Half-Priced books in Highland. Picking our way through panting groups at Highland Fest, we found the kids books section where I sat on the floor before the nature books. There were fancy “pull-out” books and bigger busy ocean and seashore books. Husband found a true-blue shell identification book with pictures on one page and scientific names on the facing–perhaps too adult. We’d take it but keep it at our house for perusal together. For Jules, I put aside the “pull-out” fancy books, thinking a kid would learn two things, to pull and to look. Not enough. Give me the busy books with lots to search and learn, time after reading time. We are now considering how to incorporate this young nautical explorer on our next Sanibel get-away, enough time with him, then enough time alone to restore ourselves from the winter blahs. If those ever come again.

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