I love the sea.
Growing up landlocked in Iowa, I knew pretty quickly that I wanted to make it to the coast.
This year, I think collectively I’ve spent more time covered in the salt and sand than in all my past 22 years of life combined. Still, even after hours swimming, and plenty of time jumping on fishing boats and learning to surf, the ocean continues to both mesmerize and terrify me.
I think maybe the desirous pull I feel towards the sea has something to do with the fact that it still feels so unknown–like a foreign planet. I’m fascinated by the power and unpredictability of her open expanses. I feel like a moth to the moon walking at low tide.
The ocean seems totally free from man’s seemingly insatiable desire for control. She is wild in the way that I wish all things were.
Waves thrill and frighten me. I’ve spent enough time being tossed and pounded by surf to understand that the ocean wastes no time in doling out punishments to the inexperienced and unwitting.
In fact, every year the sea wrecks ships and breaks boards. She drowns entire cities and swamps paddle boarders for snacks. And yet, for thousands of years she has also fed humanity, offering up her incredible abundance to millions upon millions of people since the beginning of our time here. She is home to the great blue whales, the marlins, and the pelicans.
She is the sun’s mirror.
As I sit now looking out to sea, I can’t help but wonder about how our relationship with her has changed over time. What was it before, and what is it now? What do my own daily interactions look like with these great blue waters? What do I receive, and what do I give back?
Most importantly, what does the existence of man mean for this watery world?
I used to sit on my porch through Iowa summer storms and watch the creek behind my house fill and surge and roil down its bank. These streams, found all over the Midwest, bring with them sediment and and old sticks and leaves, but also hundreds if not thousands of agrochemicals and other poisonous residues. Together, they make up a pounding network of hoses bound straight for the Gulf of Mexico.
Unfortunately, the same scenario plays out here in Costa Rica as well. The tiny country I currently call home uses more agrochemicals per hectare than almost any other developing country in the world. Given this, it is no wonder, really, that sometimes when I go to the beach the surf is yellow.
Bubbles boil and pop ominously at the surface. I don’t get in. If I’m feeling particularly dark, I look far out to sea and I can almost imagine the big industrial boats out there as well, emptying the waves.
The local fishermen here all say that the fish are nearly gone. Ecosystems are collapsing, and with them livelihoods and sustenance are lost. Someone in Vermont eats a tuna steak dinner. A shark in Costa Rica dies. An old fisherman sells his boat. It’s all connected. We have to understand this.
If I have time I’ll lie down at the end of the day with my toes in the sand, close my eyes, and try for those few moments to dream a different world. I dream a world of respect, of green cities and a society built upon the sentiment of responsibility for our planet and the lives of others.
But I get up, because life as usual currently marches on. The sea is warming and acidifying even as I watch. Her reefs are almost gone, her ice cracking straight to the pole.
I love these waters that are beginning to feel like home. They are untamable and unforgiving and beautiful and wild.
And I know that the sea carries out punishments to those who do not respect the signs–to those who fail to read her. There is no tolerance of those who fail to take a long careful look at the horizon, or for a species that satiates life giving waters with chemicals and trash and unconscious behavior. The ocean will no longer absorb our filth and allow us to continue to ignore the repercussions inaction.
We have become a society of disrespect unwilling to change. We are a civilization built upon extreme consumerism, with little reverence for the complexity of life on which we depend.
There are two forks in the road, and we must choose which one to take. It’s come time to choose.
I breathe in with the waves. I get up and let the surf lap my ankles. I am learning and evolving and growing to care with a fierceness that I’ve never felt before. The world must change.
I’m trying to learn my lessons from the sea. I’ll change myself first, and hope that my one wave creates another. With any luck, it’ll ride all the way to the shore.