New Orleans

PERSONAL JOURNEYS

JUST BACK FROM..."Jottings on the way home...

August 16, 1998

New Orleans; JUST BACK FROM...

"Jottings on the way home from a recent trip to the Big Easy. ...If New Orleans were a man he'd either be wanted for questioning in regard to a series of 'not quite' capital crimes or recently released. In any case, no one would believe him innocent of anything because New Orleans is guilty of the delicious sins. Of gluttony, lust and pride most certainly, but never envy. ...New Orleans need not worry about the authorities, because she is a woman who will never be convicted of anything even if they've caught her on videotape. She is always dressed like a lady, but you just know that underneath she has more secrets than Victoria and a lot less fabric."

Lynda Gomeringer, Baltimore

Westwater Canyon; JUST BACK FROM...

"Running the whitewater rapids of the Colorado River through Westwater Canyon in Utah is thrill enough, but the overwhelming, peaceful beauty of the red-rock, desert landscape will dominate your memories of this rubber-raft float (piloted by hardy, savvy guides). Western River Expeditions (800-453-7450) is the largest outfitter, offering three-day trips."

Mike Burns, Baltimore The ocean. As a landlocked Midwestern child, those words held more magic and mystery for me than any fairy tale. I can't say what instigated my obsession. Perhaps my father's stories about Navy life, word pictures with flying fish and star-drenched nights and porpoises swimming alongside ships, happy tales told before we were old enough to hear of the sadness and horror of Pearl Harbor.

Maybe it was the small, lime-green basket full of colorful seashells an aunt brought for my brother. It might have been the classroom with a blue glass Japanese fishing float, a prickly starfish, a big conch shell. The teacher said if we held the conch to our ear, we'd hear the sound of the ocean.

I was 11 when I first saw the ocean. During a Christmas vacation spent with my Pennsylvania grandparents, I begged for a side trip to Barnegat Light on the Jersey shore, and my parents reluctantly gave in to my pleading.

When we got there, I had to hide my great disappointment. The ocean was gray, not blue. We found only broken pieces of shells. The rhythmic lap of unimpressive waves didn't sound anything like the mysterious vibration of the conch. Not a single fish, crab, whale or porpoise made an appearance. The only thing about that real ocean that matched my imagined one was the taste of salt.

It was an afternoon for learning how facts do not always add up to the truth of a place, how pictures can deceive, how inadequate a single word can be when it comes to naming a thing. That day was the first of many that showed me how travel to new destinations delivers fragments of the anticipated more often than: "Hey! It's exactly like I imagined."

But over the years I have found the ocean of my dreams. I discovered it near Coos Bay, Ore., one day when powerful waves lashed the magnificent rock formations just offshore. Dozens of unbroken, pure- white sand dollars were lying on the beach. Though I've had doubts before and since, that day I believed in God.

I found my imagined ocean at Heron Island on Australia's Great Barrier Reef, where the incredible variety of colorful marine life stunned me. Starfish, nudibranchs, sea cucumbers, anemones, giant clams, sea urchins, hundreds of shells - all visible among the corals at low tide.

I saw my childhood mind's blue ocean from the air, flying into Bermuda. I gasped at my first sight of turquoise water, though I confess to stifling my wonder lest I appear unsophisticated to my Boston-bred companion.

Greeting dawn at Nags Head, watching time erase a sunset reflected in the waters of an Assateague salt marsh, approaching the heart-stopping declivity of the Big Sur coast, swimming the warm and gentle shallows off Key West. I have seen the ocean. I delight in knowing I can still go see it, ever different, again and again, for the first time.

Norma J. Walker, Special to the Sun

Norma J. Walker lives in Ellicott City.

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