Exploration

Winter connection

Cal Major is a vet, ocean advocate and world-record stand up paddleboard adventurer who founded the UK charity Seaful to reconnect people to the ocean. In this column, she explains how she has overcome her fear of winter by embracing nature differently. 

Words by Cal Major
Photograph by James Appleton

I’ve always felt fearful of winter – the arrival of autumn filling me with an agitation to spend as much time in the water as possible before it’s too cold to feel enticing any more. An urgency to keep getting my bare skin into the sea as the water rapidly cools, so as not to lose any acclimatisation I’ve built up over a summer of delicious sea dips. A determination to continue adventuring over the colder months – the retrieval of my winter wetsuit, booties, hood and gloves for surfing, and dry trousers and heated socks for paddling.

The reality is I don’t get in the water half as much over winter. There is something wonderfully satisfying about coming home to a warm house after a day out on the cold water, but I find that the motivation to do it in the first place is severely lacking when numb fingers are stuffing my sore, chilblained feet into damp wetsuit booties. I do love the winter for the swell it brings. Watching mountainous waves as they crash onto the shore is like meditating for me. The roar of the waves on rocks, the unfathomable energy as the wind whips the top of the peaks. Even better when they form clean, surfable waves.

Last week my partner and I walked to the shore opposite our house to scout out for a swim. It was cold – it had been minus 6 degrees Celsius the day before. But we ended up not getting in the sea for a different reason. There was movement in the water. We stood completely still, holding our breath… right in front of us three otters were playing in the shallows. One adult and two juveniles catching and eating crabs, playing with each other, diving under the water and then emerging, buoyant and animated, to interact with each other. We sat for half an hour just watching in wonder. James then decided to race home to get his camera, and we went back in camouflaged suits and sat by the water’s edge taking in the scene in front of us.

I sat on the beach watching these beautiful creatures in silence – very different to the original plan or running, shrieking, into the freezing water. But the opportunity to be still illuminated everything else that was going on that morning. Patches of light amidst the clouds, with that watery quality it only has in winter. Thick blankets of seaweed, and all its associated life, all the way down the beach, with just as much opportunity to investigate its intricacies as there is in the summer. Instead of just walking over it on my way to the water, seeing it only as a hazard, I ran its dense, slippery strands between my fingers, felt the shells hidden underneath it.

Earlier in the year, I had had a similar experience in a forest. I developed a terrible migraine that had meant I was unable to do the sailing course I had booked onto. I was gutted. Not only was I unable to spend that week at sea, I was unable to do much other than lie in a dark room for a few days. I couldn’t look at screens and was in a great deal of pain for almost a week. It was an abrupt stop from my normally fast-paced, screen-dominated life. One day I shuffled to a woodland down the road and just sat underneath a tree. I sat there for hours. It was bliss. I sunk my hand into the moss, traced the patterns on the tree trunk with my fingers, enfolded myself within the intricacies of that ecosystem. It was a profound sense of wholeness and deep connection to that patch of nature, and by extension the natural world we are a part of. I went back every day for a week, vowing that from that moment on I would limit screen time and prioritise mindful forest bathing.

A few weeks later, I’d forgotten about it.

But sitting on the beach, watching the otters, surrounded by an abundance of nature’s intricacies to investigate once again, I was reminded of that time, and of the beauty and peace and wholeness of mindful time in nature. The most grounding, connecting and humbling type of meditation.

I am going to try and build this type of mindful investigative nature connection into my days this winter, so that even if I really cannot face getting in the sea, or the conditions don’t allow for it, I can still return to the feeling of being an ocean being. It’s easy enough to do wherever you are, whatever small patch of nature you can find. Actively engage your senses – listen, smell, look, touch. I hope it brings you as much joy as it brings me. 

Photograph by James Appleton
Issue 34
Supported by WEBSITE_sponsorlogos_krystal-300x123-1

This column appears in ISSUE 34: SCOTTISH SEAS of Oceanographic Magazine

Issue 34
Supported by WEBSITE_sponsorlogos_krystal-300x123-1
Supported by WEBSITE_sponsorlogos_krystal-300x123-1

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