Last week, I was down at the Outer Banks, North Carolina, on vacation with my family. And while the house we rented was problematic in a dozen different ways, the views outside were simply gorgeous.
The sky was such a beautiful shade of blue. The ocean was showing a downright fascinating delineation between its shallows and its sudden drops to more mysterious places. And we got to see dolphins swimming so very, very close to shore.
But how do you describe those kinds of sights, not to mention their accompanying sounds and smells and sensations? How do you use mere words to paint an image of them that actually equates to the experience?
Well, I’m sorry to say this, but you simply can’t.
I know that Shakespeare said the pen was mightier than the sword. And sometimes that’s true (though sometimes the sword is mighty powerful too). But whoever said a picture is worth a thousand words was spot on.
Take that beautiful sky down at the Outer Banks. I could describe how it looked like some mix of periwinkle and sapphire I’ve never seen spread out above me. I could write how, on certain days, it folded into itself like a heavenly blue meringue, with one beautiful patch of swirly greys that overlapped a length of sunshine-sparkled azure that then ended in another patch of fluffy white clouds.
It was mesmerizing, and yet, you really just had to be there in order to appreciate it. My words, whether written or spoken, simply can’t do the scene justice.
Or how about the ocean? I could describe how the diminutive waves started to foam the closer they got to the beach even while they tried to stretch further and further up – putting on a show for their enchanted and indifferent spectators alike before they then crashed into shapeshifting piles of white and clear that drifted back out on the next pull of their master.
That’s the kind of sight an image can capture a lot better than words alone. Though even an image is going to be lacking compared to the actual experience, with its salty air and white-noise sounds.
I’d take being at the beach over reading about being at the beach any day.
And those dolphins! Oh my word, those dolphins. They’re such majestic creatures.
I was standing up at the top of the wooden beach access staircase when I first saw the large, dark shape gliding through the water. It made me freeze, my eyes straining to locate it again.
Without actually turning to them, I interrupted my sister and brother-in-law. “I just saw something in the water!”
There were swimmers out there, which meant I might need to start screaming, “Shark! Shark!” I’d never seen a dolphin as big and dark as whatever creature I’d spied out there, so I assumed it had to be something a whole lot scarier.
“Are you sure, Jeannette?” My brother-in-law asked. “It wasn’t just a bird?
“I don’t think so,” I answered. But since I hadn’t seen anything else since that initial sighting, I was starting to doubt myself too.
But then it leapt a little out of the water, its dorsal fin clearly curved and its back shiny and sleek.
“Dolphin!” I shouted. “It’s a dolphin!”
Of course, then my two companions were suddenly very interested in my claims. With their own cries of, “Where? Where?” they strained to see what I’d seen.
Have you ever noticed how there’s something about a dolphin that can make adults turn into itty bitty little kiddies? The three of us spent the next five minutes up there pointing out whenever we’d see our ocean friend skim the surface or jump a little into the air.
Whenever it would happen, a thrill of delight would surge through us: sheer joy captured in a split second.
But again, how do you describe that?
You can’t. There’s no way to do it.
Quite simply, words can’t always suffice. And writers just have to deal with it.