Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Hippocampus and the Sea

In an ongoing series on the brain at our HASCI Drop-In Center, my director, Kay covered the limbic system this week with the hypothalamus, hippocampus and the amydglia.  We did a series of mini scientific experiments, as she always plans, which highlights and makes tangible how the various parts of the brain work. One such experiment was on smell and how they relate to and trigger memory.  (The hippocampus connecting with the emotional cortex). I've always been acutely driven by smells into full blown flashbacks to various times and places, but the one which recurs the most these days is an aroma which arrives on a rare but fragrant breeze.  I've only experienced a few times this summer, when the cold fronts move in, but when it happens, it's so vivid, I can taste the salt in the air. 
Of course I refer to the sea, and I once again return to my frequent longing for the sea, but especially the sea of my youth, that small cove at North (or Rocky as some NH natives call it) in Hampton Village on the New Hampshire coast.  The Isles of Shoals are visible in the distance, the frigid waves (50-60 degrees in midsummer) sometimes  quietly saunter onto the beach, but more often crash upon it, rip tides pulling at your ankles; stones and sea glass tumbling at your toes.  It's the most imperative yearning I've ever experienced and it grows more so with the years.

This yearning grows so strong that frequently check the surf cam at Rocky (North) Beach or get in my virtual car on Goggle maps and drive up Winnacunnet Rd, follow Kings Highway for a while past the surfer hang out, KB Bagels,  then hang a right and drive back down along Ocean Boulevard toward Lupo's.  While I lived in NH for 8 months in 2006, I often walked to both of these places form my mom's little cottage during my 11 mile walking circuit.  When I was without a lot of things we get used to, hot water, stove, TV. I would head to one of these places as my home away from home, my social life and the way I kept up with the world. 
In my mind's eye I then leave the virtual world at Lupo's, go into my memory world and descend the sand covered steps, climb across the boulders and step onto the beach facing Boar's Head.  In my better flash- backs a piece of blue or green seaglass washes up at my feet and I see my friend, Karen, lovingly known as Red Rocket for her intense personality walking towards me form Hampton Beach proper.
Free man, you'll always love the sea — for this,
That it's a mirror, where you see your soul 
In its eternal waves that chafe and roll; --Baudelaire

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating. This particular factoid about the link between smell and memory has always intrigued me. It's also a fact I've found useful in constructing descriptions within my fiction. Smell is often the forgotten man among the five senses, but, when used evocatively, it can bring a wonderful "telling detail" to written prose.


Web Analytics