Helen Keller's First Experience of the Ocean


Helen Keller as a young girl, seated by a table with a book in her lap. She reads braille text with her left hand and manually signs with her right hand, 1888. Photo courtesy of Perkins School for the Blind

Helen Keller loved the ocean, but her first swimming trip as a young girl took her by surprise...

"My most vivid recollection of that summer is the ocean. I had always lived far inland and had never had so much as a whiff of salt air; but I had read in a big book called Our World a description of the ocean which filled me with wonder and an intense longing to touch the mighty sea and feel it roar. So my little heart leaped high with eager excitement when I knew that my wish ...was at last to be realized.

No sooner had I been helped into my bathing-suit than I sprang out upon the warm sand and without thought of fear plunged into the cool water. I felt the great billows rock and sink. The buoyant motion of the water filled me with an exquisite, quivering joy. Suddenly my ecstasy gave place to terror; for my foot struck against a rock and the next instant there was a rush of water over my head. I thrust out my hands to grasp some support, I clutched at the water and at the seaweed which the waves tossed in my face. But all my frantic efforts were in vain. The waves seemed to be playing a game with me, and tossed me from one to another in their wild frolic. It was fearful! The good, firm earth had slipped from my feet, and everything seemed shut out from this strange, all-enveloping element—life, air, warmth and love. At last, however, the sea, as if weary of its new toy, threw me back on the shore, and in another instant I was clasped in my teacher's arms. Oh, the comfort of the long, tender embrace!

As soon as I had recovered from my panic sufficiently to say anything, I demanded: 'Who put salt in the water?'"

From "The Story of My Life" by Helen Keller, 1903

Image: Courtesy of the Perkins School for the Blind

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