If you grew up near the ocean, you likely take its presence for granted, in a way that you wouldn’t if you grew up far inland, where its existence seemed more academic. If you were raised in the American Midwest, for example, you would have trusted the ocean was there, but it wouldn’t seem especially real in any material sense unless you were standing in front of it.
The same can be said for large mountains, the towering majesty of which can be guessed at based on photographs, but a real sense of their immensity simply doesn’t come across through an image. It’s only when you’re standing amongst them, feeling impossibly small, that their scale is grasped.
Between western Massachusetts and Ohio, I grew up with neither mountains nor ocean at my disposal. Until I was 16, I saw the ocean once or twice a year, always after long drives to either Maine or Rhode Island. And between 1997 and 2010, I swam in the sea but twice.
I didn’t encounter mountains of an appreciable size until a single trip in high school, and I wasn’t near any again until I moved to Korea more than a decade later.
But now, I have easy access to both.
Every summer, we take the train from Saitama to Kanagawa and spend at least a few Saturdays a year on the beach. We barbecue, we read. We swim and walk along the water’s edge. We stay until the last color has faded from the western sky and stars appear over Mt Fuji, behind which the sun set.
We make our plans and we go whether the weather holds up or not. Sun is preferable, but we’ve spent entire days there in the rain, enjoying the hush of an otherwise-deserted beach from under our shelter, the rain sounds on the tarp blending with the rhythmic breaking of waves.
And sometimes we take different trains to Nagano or the Chichibu area, where we can hike all day in the mountains, eat a big dinner at an izakaya near the station, and nap the entire ride home, feeling blissfully exhausted and full of both food and experience.
In the next couple of years, we will move somewhere new and buy an old house to renovate. We will have to decide, too, whether we want to move somewhere closer to the mountains or closer to the sea. At present, that choice is unclear. We’ve made long lists of the advantages and disadvantages of each, but to no avail.
I know we will be happy wherever we end up, however, and I know that the joys of these places will never cease for me. No matter how accustomed I might become to living by the sea or up in the mountains, these places will always be special.
They won’t get old because they can’t get old. Not for someone like me, who came of age in locations that ensured a permanent appreciation of faraway mountains and seas I could never take for granted.