Merwin: The Call of the Surf

The call of the surf. That is partly why I'm on Cape Cod today, and before heading home tomorrow I want to try and explain just a bit of why surfcasting has such a magical appeal.

Standing at the ocean's edge, a fisherman seems infinitely small compared to the vastness of the water. It's an odd feeling and makes trout rivers and bass lakes seem cozy by comparison. I have often felt oddly idiotic standing at the edge of the sea, wondering where in that huge expanse I might cast.

Then at some point a cast is made, the reel cranked, and something unseen gives a powerful yank on the line. That is a startling event that somehow defies logic, sort of like getting a message from Mars. The event becomes a striper flopping on the beach, and in releasing the fish back into the washing waves I find everything starts to make more sense.

Over time--lots of time--I learn more about tidal cycles, wind, weather, sandbars and wave-gouged holes near the beach. What at first was an infinite, impenetrable ocean becomes at least partly predictable. I learn by those things both where to go and when to go there.

But there is still, after so many years of doing this, also a sense of my own smallness, standing in the waves under the stars, casting and hoping, and like surfmen everywhere, ultimately facing the ocean in solitary insignificance.