For most of the past week I’ve been close to the ocean. From Miami to Key West and back again, the ocean and I have been close in a way that we haven’t been in years. I’m aware of the proximity, and grateful for it. I’ve swam in it a couple times, waded into it more, camped next to it one night, and seen the sun rise over it not nearly enough. And in the past couple days here at my Miami Beach hostel, I’ve had conversations with a fellow writer and hostel-stayer who is writing about the ocean. Some of our conversations have been simply, and complexly, musings on the ocean. Inspired by all those things, here are my observations on a few ways in which the ocean is.
The ocean is large. This may go without saying, but a perspective: If you squint really, really hard in this picture, you can see the entire skyline of Miami, hundreds of thousands of people honking horns, shaking hands, clipping toenails, walking dogs, smoking cigarettes, buying suits, making love, fearing death. They’re back there, somewhere. But all around them, and the Earth – the ocean.
The ocean is also old. And the life within it is old; life on earth began in water, and the nine oldest species on earth today are found in the water. The ocean is the home of our most ancient ancestors, and whereas the land formations on our planet shift location and appearance, the ocean has always looked like this.
With age comes memory. My hostel friend is writing about ocean as memory, and I feel that too – the ocean is a repository of memory. Those old species hold our collective memory as an ecosystem. And for me, when I go into the ocean, I feel like the memories of the ocean surround me just as much as the water. Like any memory, after we enter into it, after we leave, we take some of it out with us. I carry drops of the ocean on my skin after I come out. The ocean, too, has taken cells of my skin in trade. And the sound of the waves is so familiar to me, on a level deeper than I have a right to have familiarity with anything. When I slept next to the ocean, I slept better than I have at any other place on this trip.
The ocean is patient. It moves but slowly, keeping its rhythm in the calm rise and fall of tides, except when it is not patient. But aside from hurricanes, typhoons, tidal waves, the ocean bides its time. And it will outlast us. Erosion, rust, expansion and rise.
And the ocean is whole. It is one. Those drops I take from the ocean on my skin: they evaporate, become water vapor in the air, but even then the air and the ocean are always together. Each river, in spite of our best efforts, makes it sooner or later to the ocean. As Norman MacLean wrote, “Eventually all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.” And that river runs to the sea. Land, sky, sea, and our selves, too – each one of us is mostly water, which water was once in an ocean and will be once again.