To the sea

Finding your tribe is about expanding your world, says Tanya Meeson
Woman&Home, August 2022

Sarah was the one who alerted me to it first. ‘Isn’t it weird how it’s always women?’ she said as we bobbed in the gentle, cool waters of False Bay. It was early morning, still summer, and the first people in the water were us and about four other women. ‘It’s like, as we age, we all just want to migrate back to the ocean.’

We laughed and moved onto other matters of consequence: the colour of her toenail polish, the highs and lows of work and love and family. But it struck me then that the strangers and friends I’ve shared my early morning paddles with for years have been, overwhelmingly, women. In fact, this space was almost exclusively occupied by older women before Instagram and cold-water dips made it fashionable. ‘But what do you do?’ Sherry’s husband asked her. ‘We just bob,’ she said. ‘Bob and talk…’

Last year, I joined a group of women for weekly early-morning Muizenburg swims. These particular swims are less about bobbing and talking, and more about diving and dipping and exclaiming to each other about the cold water, the sunrise, the surfers. Afterwards is for talking, with hot cups of coffee to warm our hands and almond Danishes to warm our bellies. At one of these mornings, Gail said she’d have to miss our next swim because she was joining another group of women on a hike.

Ah yes, I thought, suddenly struck by the thought: The other tribe. Those who go to the mountain.

I understand this tribe. We share a love for the mountain. The idea of the ancient that has stood for millions of years and will stand for many millions more, far before and beyond the small flash of my existence, is strangely comforting. It reminds me that there’s nothing so big in my life so as to affect Life itself. Nothing really matters to the old gods but simply being. There’s a lot to learn from this, I think; a pleasure to savour.

Another is the delight of being the first human to do something. I like picking out a bit of rock from the mountain’s side, running my finger over the newly exposed surface and thinking: no one in the whole history has ever touched this.

You can always learn new ways of being if you’re open to it and if you’ve got good tribes to teach you

Still. I haven’t joined the mountain tribe of women yet. They scare me a little because usually they’re running up it and I get puffed quite quickly.

There are other tribes of women, of course. Writing tribes, dancing tribes, craft and sports and building tribes; prayer tribes, walking tribes, gun and garden and book tribes… Wherever and however women collect to process the world around them, find focus and self in the time and connection, I’m reminded of the gift in gathering with the purpose of expanding your experience of life.

And, wow, how mine has been expanded by these swims.

I used to be afraid of the ocean. Waves especially felt terrifying; the idea of swimming out where I couldn’t touch my feet to the seabed, nightmarish. I could get positively Jungian as to why: the lack of control while submerged in the deep unconscious forces; the fear of monsters in the abyss.

Whatever the case, I learned how to be in this watery place by mimicking the women around me – how they dived into waves, dipped under them, came up without spluttering like a clown … small movements inconsequential to those skilled at them, but that feel as impossible as a trapeze sequence to someone afraid of heights.

It strikes me again how wonderful it is that you can always learn new ways of being if you’re open to it and if you’ve got good tribes to teach you.

In-between wave sets or bobbing, I like to ‘otter’, as Melissa calls her signature move: floating on one’s back and taking in the view. In Cape Town that view always includes a mountain. On Thursday mornings, as I let the cold, cold water of my origin hold me again, I watch the day’s first rays touch the face of Muizenberg Peak, and I wonder about the mountain tribe and if there is a sister wild woman on a rocky outcrop, feeling the warmth on her skin, looking down at the ocean and wondering about the tribe who goes to the sea.

Image: Kate Scott has kindly allowed the use of her piece Mermaid Blues for this post. I LOVE her work. She’s a pastel artist based in Cape Town and honestly I’ve been blown away by how she captures water with pastel and paints. Check out her website here and her Insta here.