Limpets are the most enchanting of these rock dwellers, to my mind, probably because there is something mysterious and poignant about their attachment to home. The limpet is a snail, though its shell isn't whorled; it is a flattened cone, without an opening at the top. The limpets found in my neck of the coast are small, the size of a fingernail, and camouflaged by growths of green marine algae. The limpet will occupy the same spot its entire life. It shapes its shell to match precisely the contour of its rocky perch. After it returns from foraging on the night's high tide, it must find that spot, as it fits nowhere else but on its "home scar," as some poetic scientist called it long ago. I admire the indelibility of that term. The limpet seals itself on its spot so tightly that no brute force can remove it; it will allow itself to be destroyed rather than lose its hold on home.
I think of the limpet when I look back on all the places I've called home, all the houses I thought I would never relinquish, until I had to leave. Each time of moving was difficult, until I somehow fit myself into the new place. I suppose it could be said that I've created home scars in that I've left marks in the very soil and timber of the places I've lived. But from time to time, I find myself envying a creature who will know only one home, with generations of offspring colonizing nearby, a strange, tiny creature for whom there is literally no place like home.
By now I'm hot enough for a swim. Immersion in the cold Atlantic always quiets the throbbing of my mind. In the ocean, my body feels sleeker. The salt water is heavy on my arms, like the satin of a gown. Many people do not like to step into the ocean. The darkness of the water is frightening, and so, too is the thought that you cannot see what you are putting your foot down on. The pull of the powerful, unseen tides and currents is eerie. I love being lifted off my feet; I enjoy the intimacy with the water and the drop into an endless horizon. I once swam for long minutes off the coast of Maine with a seal pup for company and became mesmerized by our dance, by the warmth and humor in the pup's eyes, convinced that I had become a selkie, an enchanted woman-seal at long last returning to her natal element. I realized only too late that what I had become was hypothermic.
I've been swimming every day for the last couple of months, at one with the ancient nymphs who kick and wriggle to safety. There's something primitive about the feeling of washing away pain. Even so, this year I'm aware of how much more careful I have to be about getting in, attuned to half-submerged mossy rocks or sharp eelgrass or rough surf. I used to just run for it. My feet are no longer tolerant of the rough cobbles. It is vexing to consider the onset of frailty, until I consider the alternative: avoid anything dangerous. I am more fearful of the pull of currents and tides than I used to be, but I suspect, and hope, that there will come a time when I am so old that they will not frighten me in the least. I won't mind where they take me; I will be ready to go.
I wade in, shudder with the cold, and then pull for the horizon. I've been relearning my stroke this summer, having decided to take some lessons from a lifeguard. I had always prided myself on staying flat in the water. Wrong.