I could tell you about the souvenir seashell I was given as a child, how I hushed the room and held it to my ear, willing it to sound of distant waves, straining to hear all I longed to know of surf and spray and salt. Or about the road trip, at 18, that finally brought me from a landlocked state to the sea, how I stood agape at the sight of so much water.

I could tell you how I said “yes” on a beach, on an afternoon too cold for swimming, both of us too sunburnt, too young to promise each other anything, and yet. I could tell you of my first night in the city we now call home, when I woke in the morning to the cries of seagulls, and how, these 10 years later, the saltwater has softened me.

I could tell you what the bay looked like on the day my mom called from a hospital thousands of miles away to describe my father’s breathing. And how, when it all felt like too much, I went to the water.

I could tell you about every time I’ve spread my beach towel on sand, grateful to lay my body down on its warmth. And all those summers camping on a grassy hillside, sleeping in while the marine layer rolled over the islands and the harbor seals surfaced below us in the cove, the cheerful slaps of their flippers in the waves.

And how I paced the boardwalk in the rain, back and forth, hoping labor would begin and reminding myself to breathe. Or the night our baby slept through an electrical storm that blew in off the coast, how I pressed my nose to the glass of the window and watched lightning streak the sky. And the brilliant flash when the transformer blew, then everything went dark.

I could list all we’ve found there: the sea stars and bull kelp, the moon jellies and mussel shells, the sun-bleached plastic car our daughter dug out of sand, and respite when we needed to get out of the house and fall into a great distance, to feel ourselves part of something larger.

I could tell you how we’ve brought our babies to the water, how our friend who loves the ocean has taken it upon himself to dip their toes in, a baptism of sorts. I could tell you of the grains of sand caught in the cracks of car seats and the bathtub drain. About the clump of seaweed our son carried home in his fist. And our daughter’s collection of beach glass, which she keeps atop her dresser, dull little gems that clink together in a washed out jam jar.

I could tell you about all the holidays we’ve marked with beach walks and warm thermoses, the slices of birthday cake we’ve shared at sunset. Or about plunging into frigid waters mid-winter, on the cusp of something, and shivering on wet sand with adrenaline and cold hope.

About how I wait for the trees to lose their leaves each year so I can see the ocean again at the end of our street, an old friend.

I could take hold of a stick and write all this in the sand, wait for the tide to rise and fall, and listen for the waves to whisper back. “Your turn,” I’d say to the sea, and mean it.

Kaitlyn Teer's A Love Letter to the Sea

Tell me about a place you love. Where do you return again and again?

Kaitlyn Teer is an essayist and a contributing editor at Cup of Jo. She teaches creative writing and lives with her spouse and two kids in Washington, by the Salish Sea.

P.S. The mind-clearing magic of cold water swimming and how sweet is this beach proposal?