August 20, 2008
Gift from the Sea-all quotes and excerpts © Anne Morrow Lindbergh

I was immediately taken with the first words of this chapter….”There are in the beach-world certain rare creatures, the “Argonauta” (Paper Nautilus), who are not fastened to their shell at all. It is actually a cradle for the young, held in the arms of the mother argonaut who floats with it to the surface, where the eggs hatch and the young swim away.” AML

Between the evocative image of a “paper” nautilus and the idea of protecting and embracing our young and then releasing them gracefully to the open sea, this was quite meaningful to me. Although AML doesn’t follow the line of thinking that came to me, that of children growing up and away and where the argonauta swims after she has let her young ones go. She writes of its rarity, in contrast to the shells we have read of thus far, and wonders whether the freedom and expanse of this time has room for a relationship. And as she moves through the chapter, it seems to me she expresses the idea that “this rare and delicate vessel” -or an ideal mature relationship-is possible, if each comes to the relationship as a whole person.

A world to oneself for another’s sake.-Rilke

“And this greater wholeness in each person, this being “world to oneself”, does this not mean greater self-sufficiency and therefore, inevitably, greater separation between man and woman? With growth, it is true, comes differentiation and separation, in the sense the the unity of the tree trunk differentiates as it grows and spreads into limbs, branches and leaves. But the tree is still one.” AML

Then follow some lovely pages that describe the days spent in the cabin on the shore with her beloved sister. They fall into an easy and fluid rhythm together….

“We have moved through our days like dancers, not needing to touch more than lightly because we were instinctively moving to the same rhythm.”

“A good relationship has a pattern like a dance and is built on some of the same rules. The partners do not need to hold on tightly, because they move confidently in the same pattern, intricate but gay and swift and free, like a country dance of Mozart’s. To touch heavily would be to arrest the pattern and freeze the movement, to check the endlessly changing beauty of its unfolding. There is no place here for the possessive clutch, the clinging arm, the heavy hand. Now arm in arm, now back to back-it does not matter which. Because they know they arae partners moving to the same rhythm, creating a pattern together and being invisibly nourished by it.” AML

I have known a very few couples who move like this through their lives together (I can picture them most memorably working together in the kitchen), and this passage makes me yearn to accomplish this ideal with my own closest relationships. Just as I hope this Argonauta stage of life will bring the confidence and trust that will allow me to dance unreservedly in front of people (something I have never been able to do!), I hope that it will help me to find the sometimes intoxicating and sometimes steady rhythm in relationship-for as AML writes-how deeply nourishing that would be!

He who bends to himself a joy
Doth the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in Eternity’s sunrise.


“The dancers who are perfectly in time never destroy “the winged life” in each other or in themselves.” AML

Wow. Perfection isn’t something I am seeking or expect, but I do long for fewer moments of knowing that I have come close to damaging that “winged life” in someone I love, even ever so briefly.

“But how does one learn this technique of the dance? Why is it so difficult? What makes us hesitate and stumble? It is fear, I think, that makes one cling nostalgically to the last moment or clutch greedily toward the next. Fear destroys “the winged life”. But how to exorcise it? It can only be exorcised by its opposite, love. When the heart is flooded with love there is no room in it for fear, for doubt, for hesitation.” AML

And now I am thinking of Lottie in the film “Enchanted April”….it holds the same message as this chapter, and how beautifully evoked! If we could more often create a “tub of love” in our little worlds-as Lottie describes it in the film-how much more easily might our married days and days of watching our children set off on their own…flow…pushing aside worries and expectations as just so much flotsam and jetsam.

“The only real security is not in owning or possessing, not in demanding or expecting, not in hoping, even. Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what it was in nostalgia, nor forward to what it might be in dread or anticipation, but living the present relationship and accepting it as it is now.” AML


There is so much in this chapter that I hope you will find in your own way, and as I am long past my bedtime, I will leave with the last passage I marked, which left me so strengthened and nourished. I have a thing for tidal pools and the seashore, and the word “ebb” anyway…but it was the richness of the metaphor that most moved me.

“One must accept the security of the winged life, of ebb and flow, of intermittency. Intermittency-an impossible lesson for human beings to learn. How can one learn to live through the ebb-tides of one’s existence? How can one learn to take the trough of the wave? It is easier to understand here on the beach, where the breathlessly still ebb-tides reveal another life below the level which mortals usually reach. In this crystalline moment of suspense, one has a sudden revelation of the secret kingdom at the bottom of the sea. Here in the shallow flats one finds, wading through warm ripples, great horse-conchs pivoting on a leg; white sand dollars, marble medallions engraved in the mud; and myriads of bright-colored cochina-clams, glistening in the foam, their shells opening and shutting like butterflies’ wings. So beautiful is the still hour of the sea’s withdrawal, as beautiful as the sea’s return when the encroaching waves pound up the beach, pressing to reach those dark rumpled chains of seaweed which mark the last high tide.” AML

*photos of the shells and stones and sand I gathered in a small cove along the seashore near St. Davids, Wales some twenty-four years ago….and some friends dancing at their wedding….and a tree in our hedgerow.*