The Most Beautiful Thing in the World
MindLetter post written by Dr Kitty Wheater
As the days get warmer and we officially find ourselves in July, I've been heading to the beach...
The Most Beautiful Thing in the World
In the water, it is such a bright blue I think it must be plastic – a discarded Evian bottle or detergent wrapper. I’m surprised, because plastic does not usually wash up so egregiously on the beach, and so I yelp at my friend in pre-emptive outrage. Cold sea splashing round my knees, I move closer to look through the greyish water. It isn’t plastic. It is a huge and beautiful blue jellyfish.
I’ve been swimming daily for two weeks, in sun, wind and rain. When the wind blows, the dry sand whips up and stings my legs, mottling the damp beach, peppering my towel. Were I to leave it long enough I think the towel would disappear, buried like the iron nails that come up between the fingers if you rake the site of last night’s beach bonfire. In rain, the ocean is like a strange haven. You are wet anyway, submerged neck to toe in cold bright water, and it feels subversive and wonderful to have the rain pouring down on your head, smattering the glassy surface of the sea. It’s the closest you can get, as an adult, to running naked into the garden in summer thunderstorms, screaming in joy like you did as a small child. If you are lucky, or thoughtful, you remembered to put your clothes in a bin bag as you peeled them off pre-swim under the glowering sky.
Then there’s the sea in sun, the clear water, limpid and calm as a pond, except it’s a pond as wide as the Firth of Forth, and you must squint to catch the spit of beach that is your bearing as you swim. On a rare day, with heat in the air, you might linger afterwards on your towel, the buzz of cold-water-warmth in your limbs eliding without pause into the dopey glow of an easeful body on a summer evening.
And you watch, as you swim, for jellyfish. There are the tiny nudging creatures with the tell-tale four loops at the heart of their bell. They washed up last week on the sand, en masse: my friend’s daughter counted seven hundred and fifty as she walked along the wash, and then gave up. ‘I’ve swum with moon jellies thick as semolina,’ says my fellow sea-swimmer, and while some might shiver at the thought, it seems marvelous to me that I share the water with such small benign beings. Lion’s Mane jellyfish, on the other hand, strike terror into the heart of me. These orange-amber lurkers with their mane-like tentacles will sting like nettles. No matter how rhapsodic I feel, treading water fifty feet from the shore, I keep my eyes open for orange jellies.
And then there’s the blue jellyfish. I move closer, but not too close. It’s almost luscious in appearance, large and solid. The colour is an other-worldly purplish blue. The water is deep enough here that it won’t beach itself, but I wonder too if it can find enough to eat in these clear-sea pools. For all their languid ebbs and pulsings, jellyfish, it turns out, are expert swimmers, and can cover several kilometres every day in search of food. Indeed, half an hour later, when I come out of the sea and look for my deep blue friend in shallow water, it’s gone. Only a puddle of sad Lion’s Manes, left on the sand by the receding tide, greet me as I head for my towel.
I think about the jellies, and the creatures I meet in the sea – the scallop that closed its shell on my foot; the cormorants bobbing out from the shore – in spare moments. They follow me in-between meetings, and I dream of them at night. I’m a new sea-swimmer, and haven’t yet met it tossing in fury, or slipped and scraped myself on shingle, or had anything worse than a light trail of jelly stings on my breast-stroking arms. For now, the sea is bringing me only peace, and beauty. And pulsing in shallow water, a yard away from my mammalian body, a deep blue jellyfish is the most beautiful thing in the world.
I wish you beauty, whether on sea or shore, this weekend.