Growing up on the Canadian prairies, the first time I saw the ocean was when I was 14 years old, on a family trip to Mexico. I still remember wading out into the clear, endless water, feeling the fine sand float around my feet as I sunk into it, surprised at how cold it was when the sun above was burning me to a crisp. And staring, spellbound. I’ve never felt more at peace or been more inspired to see every inch of the world as I was in that moment. So maybe it makes perfect sense that of all the different places I’ve lived abroad, the majority have been near the sea. Perhaps I’ve always subconsciously chosen to live near it, in an effort to recreate this feeling.
As with most people, there’s something mysterious to me about that great expanse of water, some quality that draws me to it, like a moth to a flame. I unhesitatingly answer its call. There’s a calmness and tranquility to it, but there’s also a quiet danger, of the unspeakable horrors it can give birth to. No matter how many years I spend cohabiting with it, it will always remain a surreal mystery to me.
The first time I moved abroad six years after first setting my eyes on it, I was ecstatic to learn that my placement with the farm exchange program I was on was right near the beach. Of all the beaches I’ve been to since, the one that stands out most in my mind is this one, in Port Campbell, Australia, a tiny little stretch of paradise a short drive away from my new home. I could smell the sea from the farm I was on, a great feat to be able to smell something else besides the manure of 200 dairy cows and silage. And if I listened closely, I could hear it in the dead of night. I couldn’t wait each day to finish milking and be able to jump in the shower in time for my friends to pick me up so we could drive down and spend time there. How lucky we were to be living right by the 12 Apostles, one of the most popular tourist sites in the country, yet all we cared about was that beach. That’s how you know a new country has become home: when how you spend your free time is similar to the locals.
This is the beach where I saw my first shooting star, while sleeping under the velvet sky on my way to a New Years Festival, waking up to a lizard sunbathing on a rock beside my head. This is the beach where I sat in a car one sweltering summer night in December, sharing a cheap bottle of wine with my friends, and watching the lightning dance across the sky in our own personal performance, illuminating the waves crashing against the shore for a split second before leaving us in darkness again. Even when the night is ink black and all is calm, you can still feel its presence. You can still hear the waves gently lapping at the shore, the smell of salt sticks in your nostrils, the taste of spray on your tongue.
This beach was a place where I could happily spend hours, whiling the days away, barefoot and without a care in the world, without feeling like I needed to do more, or see more. Some days, I would lie on the beach and do nothing but sigh. Not out of boredom, but out of pure happiness, as all the stress and worry escaped from my body. Dolce far niente, the sweetness of doing nothing. On this beach, I didn’t have a care in the world. It was on this beach that I found myself, which I can see only in hindsight. I remember closing my eyes and drifting away, planning all the places I would spend a lifetime in. I could see anything, be anyone. It was my first taste of freedom.
Nearly a decade has passed since I’ve been on that beach. Over the past few years, while living in Japan and getting caught up in the rat race, I noticed the stress getting to me. I worried more about every little thing, cared about money far more than I liked, and never took any time to relax. I was no longer that eccentric, carefree, tanned gypsy girl who never wore shoes and had sandy dreadlocks. At least not on the outside. But once I dug her up and started spending every moment I could on the beach, a mere five minute walk from my apartment, we were reunited.
About the Author: Tzigane Ludwig graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture which she’s never used and instead followed the meaning of my name (‘gypsy’ in Hungarian). She’s milked cows in Australia, worked as a carnie in Scotland, harvested potatoes in Switzerland, and taught English in Japan. She’s currently back in Canada, working on a degree in International Development.
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