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The Story of My Life

by Helen Keller

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In "The Story of My Life," how did Helen react to her first ocean trip?

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Helen had always dreamed about visiting the ocean. She writes, “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.” Helen got to visit the ocean during a trip to Cape Cod in the summer of 1888. She immediately rushed into the waves, and was as first overjoyed by the motion of the water, but this turned to terror when a wave caught her:

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?"

Helen was fascinated by everything about the ocean. She loved to sit on a rock and listen to the waves break against it, throwing spray into her face. She loved the feel of the sand and pebbles on the beach, and was endlessly curious about the small animals that lived at the shore. She tells the story of how, on seeing a horseshoe crab for the first time, she was so fascinated with it that she grabbed it by the tail and carried it home (it “was very heavy, and it took all my strength to drag him half a mile”) to make it a pet. When the crab disappeared the next day, Helen like to think that it had somehow returned to the sea.

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Helen and Miss Sullivan traveled to Massachusetts to visit the Perkins Institute for the Blind. While in the state, they took a day trip to Plymouth so that Helen could experience the ocean. Helen also rode on a steamboat. In Plymouth, Helen "was more interested... in the great rock on which the Pilgrims landed than in anything else in Plymouth" (The Story of My Life, Chapter 9).

When Helen visited the beach, she was fascinated by the sand. She loved the tiny grains of sand and how they mixed with shells and kelp. Unafraid, Helen ran into the cold Massachusetts ocean waters. Helen loved the motion of the ocean waves:

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 (The Story of My Life, Chapter 10).

Helen was eventually able to get out of the water. After this frightening experience, Helen preferred to sit on the water's edge to be near the ocean. She loved the feeling of the sea spray on her face.

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