Fixated on the Ocean

Log_Summer2016_Ocean_1

Eternal War of Sea and Shore

As an antipode to humans contemplating their fate in the mirror of the sea, the sea is completely mindless. Inevitably, the ocean doesn’t give one iota of a fuck if you live or die. There is no parity in the abyss. To love a vast body of water is to love the relentless, the indifferent, and to get closer to something utterly ignorant of our existence. At the prime moment you would prefer to see or be seen, up comes the blinding fog. Barometric pressures tweak under a pelting squall that seldom forewarns. The tempestuous “Deep” possesses the same sense of infinity and unharnessed madness that pries at our ability to understand the furthest reaches of the universe, its reason for being, and its creative catalyst. Floating somewhere inside is a world optimized by advanced technology, and we still don’t know why it’s here at all. The numbers on our watery home are easier to grasp, but the ocean as an entity still feels immeasurable because it makes us puny.

.

Log_Summer2016_Ocean_2

.

Picture yourself adrift off the continental shelf. Maps become superfluous, and the notion of GPS-anchored safety melts into absurdity. Stare in either direction along the curvature of the horizon, the filtered line veiled by refractions as a pink western sun sets through moirés. You cleared the port hours ago, and there’s nothing walling up behind you in the open ocean. There is, however, a secret graveyard far from home that no one will stroll through—beneath a deceptively serene surface lays a grotesque liquid crypt littered with thousands of sunken ships and airplanes, attended everlastingly by their skeletons. As fortunes rusted and the hated destinies foamed up growling from the fathoms, a solitary cormorant, sleek wings a-flurry, streaked out to the place where sea and sky dissolve into each other…and was lost from sight.

The sand, the sea oats, your footprints and the scent of low tide, that’s all gone. The wobbling gravitational ebb and flow—obvious along the coastline—hides away on big seas. Swing the gaze upward for celestial guidance after dusk. The North Star and Magellanic Cloud nebulae glow amongst the constellations. The ethereal arms of the Milky Way provide spiraling nocturnal navigation as the axis sways. Now you’re in a state of shifted perception—the hominid apes of yore weren’t meant to live like this. They’re aimlessly pacing the dunes, past the vanishing point. The salt dried on their ankles, and that’s about as far as they got. Seeing something endless lent an atmosphere of smallness and panic to our forebears. Today, many of us can handle an ocean’s supreme isolation, but not for long. We summoned the sextant and compass and impersonated svelte seals. The biomimicry in our engineering was profoundly hyped by dolphins, and so we built hydrodynamic vessels to traverse the entire water column from the nadir of Mariana Trench to Rum Cay’s sparkling uppermost layer. Since people have trouble yielding to the concept of limits, we have developed foils to slice through it as speedy makos do, hovering machines to move catlike upon its surface tension, hyperbaric chambers to stave off the bends. The US Army Corps of Engineers reroutes it into seaside reactors to cool our spent nuclear fuel rods.

.

Log_Summer2016_Ocean_3

.

To recover from any life-threatening crisis on the sea means we must master the crisis or possibly drown sooner than we had hoped. Clarity of intent comes rapidly to those who are in or under the water. Short of a miracle, the siege mentality envelops those who allow their dread to cannibalize rightmindedness and action. The ocean is quick to show us there aren’t a lot of other options but recovery and salvage sometimes, forcing strength and willpower into question. It’s locked into the annals of archaic randomness, this darkly exhilarating stuff of Hemingway legend. Earth’s vast and incomparable saltwater basins—ultimate life-giver and trope for the metaphor of nihilism, all in one. The idea being that the longer you’re staring at the sea, or submersed in the brine, the closer you might subconsciously get to a hidden moment of reflection and reckoning. Off the land, away from the grid, it’s easier to break resistance and explore hairy, complex predicaments and deranged ideas you never wanted in the first place. Once quietly deciphered and unraveled we are able to hasten their departure, and thrive. The sea balances itself yet is perpetually unhinged by the moon and other influences; we go along with this sublime connection by the limb.

.

Log_Summer2016_Ocean_4

.

Seawater and amniotic fluid possess similar specific gravities (1.025 kg/l vs. 1.020). In the natal state Homo sapiens spend months breathing this liquid, doing gentle nonlinear backstrokes through it. In the present, in the outside world, we’re bobbing at the root of creation’s least-protected womb. Despite the hazards below, our organs somehow resettle in the primordial ooze from whence we came. The buoyancy is stabilizing and slightly compressing. Anyone who’s had a decent swim on a still and windless night can detect our billion-year departure and exodus from the oceanic realm.

.

Log_Summer2016_Ocean_5

.

The ocean has a classic and arrogant way of absconding with memory, perchance to make prior excursions seem imaginary in the face of photographic evidence. On a sturdy craft, we once slipped furtively through the midnight silk, beyond the lee of South Bimini. We pulled up in the middle of nowhere on the windward side of Eleuthera, where the glowering eyes of countless Atlantic hurricanes made salty old pirates blink first and bolt from their island redoubts. To truly bond with the seascape, we discovered that “Don’t forget—stuff feeds at night!” is exactly the kind of thing you want to say just before jumping off the boat at 1:00 am in an open ocean. It increases the nervous chatter and camaraderie among night-swimming friends, and guarantees vivid memories that last. Indulge, lose yourself in the cruise. Ditch the life preserver and petrify yourself in remoteness.

.

Log_Summer2016_Ocean_11

.

For some there is the tube ride. When surfing in the green helix, these strange beings are occasionally given a sun tunnel at dawn, when the angle is low. They receive a cryptic signal—an amplified, umbilical sucking sound from the sea organ as they fly toward the light, kinetic spray and rays blend into geometry, and suddenly they “get born” again before the barrel collapses. To the sea, the wave rider is nothing more than an unsolidified knot in the torsion, a false narrative to oceanic constancy, an unwanted line trapped between dihedral angles. To the surfer, the sea is capricious and vindictive; it draws him in to battle the waves and watches him die. Inescapably all unwary prey are directed to the bowels of Davie Jones’ locker. Before and after, there is a meditative experience of staring at waves as they roll onto the shore, where the sea-goer sits and contemplates the simultaneously repetitious yet ever-changing nature of life. Something comes out of the ocean as you put yourself in. The umpteenth haunted thing about the ocean’s presence is something that, if it gives the opportunity to make you a little crazy, will also serve to bring you closer to yourself.

.

Log_Summer2016_Ocean_12

The Majesty and Languorous Terror of an Acetylene-blue Expanse

Across the plate-glass of a calm sea there is a wisdom without shadows on cloudless days. Florid statements that lionize or channel the ocean’s essence have spilled forth forever, relevant and timeless, out of sheer adoration of mystery. As anyone who even faintly loved the sea could tell you, it began with an exquisite dose of fear wrapped in reverence and respect for origins. To small children, a disturbed and powerful sea state is fatalistically magnetic and eerily entertaining. At age four, a faceless child once felt like a Sleestak lure, caught in the undertow while getting plowed by rip currents. Very unlike Poseidon or Pisces, he nearly surrendered the ghost in a place devoid of lifeguards. If the ocean had an alter ego, to a young child it is the ominous, quasi-omnipotent Sleestak with its creepy reptilian telepathy. To some, “fear” is the most impressive asset of “awe.” There is always danger beneath the surface. Eventually, we adapt and learn how the sea is willing to indulge the stupidities of boys and mankind.

.

Log_Summer2016_Ocean_10

.

The enormity of the Titanic or the Fukushima nuclear power plant tidal wave utterly fails to resonate in a solipsistic and careless ocean. It is flawless in its engagement of industrialization, mass manufacturing and climate change, insofar that it absorbs all of our flaws and whatever else led to its pollution. It devours jetties and pier pilings, bridges, docks, and cliffs—all things built upon and within her shall succumb to saline rot, revealing the prophecy of erosion and impermanence. Aside from what men do to Earth and each other, we’ve maybe never seen something so violent and hopeful as the ocean, because it is never vanquished. This is why images of the open ocean often conjure a feeling of instability as there is no place for the viewers to plant their feet. Its core is sliced up into incongruent shards soaked in a dominion where sharks live only for themselves. Such menacing creatures infest every cubic meter of saltwater and use a hardwired evolutionary strategy that, while often ugly and inconvenient, is perfectly rational from a biological perspective. The more you understand the nature of a shark, the more it ceases to be a sea monster and just becomes another remarkable fish—albeit one that requires a more carefully controlled set of rules for interaction because of its classifiable predatory habits. An unprotected moment spent near one leaves you “off the apex” with an unforgettable sensation.

.

Log_Summer2016_Ocean_6Inky oceanic night flight is most pleasant…when it is finally over.

.

The ocean, inexorably, can provide the mundane—a hangover cure, protein for the next meal—or permanently wipe you from the terrestrial record just the same. Writers since at least the time of the New Testament have identified the ocean as containing multitudes of ideal metaphor that cannot be simply digested and set aside, from a place where no one can ever explore all of its depths. To negotiate its ornery verisimilitude requires oxygen, periscopes and backup plans. It’ll eat your money. The ocean comes up repeatedly as a rhetorical device and spans the distance of countless novels that arch into metonymy, synecdoche, and irony. Turns out, we are quite grateful for its unresponsiveness.

Log_Summer2016_Ocean_7Home, at last.

Reflection/Reaction Cycle

Outside the fray, in the vapors, a doppelgänger
reflects upon an undulating, glimmering meniscus.
Watery twin, unlike Narcissus roosting
staring back at one another,
crack into each other’s
brave new world.

One half breathing subaquatic castaway
One half misanthrope, not departed, not yet numb…
A leathery seahorse floated to the surface,
delicate bones like complications in a pocket watch,
easy to capture, slightly paralyzed—gull bait.
we cupped it four-handed,
conscious of a dying specimen
propelling itself through our tiny asylum.

Beneath the solar wind, electric inhalant
heaves shafts of light, irradiates
the raison d’être:
Sky sees itself side-eyed in spooky liquid mirrors,
fine cuts of the jib, come about to redeem them—
we keep our ons “on”
by putting “offs” in between them.

Log_Summer2016_Ocean_9

“I really don’t know why it is that all of us are so committed to the sea. I think it’s because—in addition to the fact that the sea changes, and the light changes, and ships change—it’s because we all came from the sea…
All of us have, in our veins, the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean. Therefore we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears…we are tied to the ocean…and when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail, or to watch it – we are going back to whence we came.”

–John F. Kennedy

Log_Summer2016_Ocean_8