“I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying”
-John Masefield, Sea Fever:Selected Poems
In Scottish, Irish, ad Nordic folklore, Selkies are a race of seals who have the ability to come to shore, shed their skins, and take on a human form. Many versions of their story have been told, but most often, it is a tale of beauty and mystery, with an undercurrent of melancholy. In one rendition, seal maidens come to the sand to dance joyfully under a bright, moon filled sky, when they are spotted by a local fisherman. He is a good hearted man, but lonely. Touched by the beauty of the dancers, he snatches one of the seal coats piled on the sand. He knows they are Selkies, and that once a skin is stolen, its owner must remain on land, in human form, until the coat is found again. The fisherman hides the skin in his cottage, and the Selkie has no choice but to follow. In time, she becomes a caring wife and a loving mother. She is contented, and the fisherman loves her with all his heart. But, caged animal that she is, she spends her days gazing out to sea; the yearning and sadness always lapping at the edge of her smile. And so she remains, a shell on the shore, until one day, her children find a beautiful grey brown coat hidden in the cottage walls. Fingers trembling with joy, the Selkie reaches for the skin and runs down to the waters’ edge. With a backward look of wistful regret, she gazes one last time at the cottage on the shore, and then slides back into the sea, a seal once more. The call of the sea cannot be denied.
That call of the sea, the “wild call” that Masefield hears, the water’s pull that relcaims the Selkie…it’s that connection that so many of us feel to the Northern coasts.
I first felt the call as a child. It was the first time I had seen Acadia National Park in Maine. I didn’t really understand what it was that I felt about the place, I just knew that I felt like I was losing something when it was time to leave. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to travel a little bit….but I’ve experienced that gut wrenching longing only one other time- on my first trip to Scotland.
Maine. Scotland. Their coasts. The seas between them. Coming to any one of them is like coming home. These are the places whose call to me is a wild call. A call that can’t be denied.
I am the New England Selkie.