The ocean is a source of endless analogies. Wherever you are in life, this vast connected body of water can represent things you learn along the way like few other things. People tend to name certain parts of it, then claim those areas as their own; but none of that means anything to the water or the denizens of the sea. Drops of salty water don’t identify as belonging to anyone, and they go where the tide takes them without any concern for crossing borders or becoming someone else’s possession. Fish may move around because of changing temperatures, or to follow the food supply; whatever their reasons, you can bet it has nothing to do with the laws that govern the area they live in or the one they are headed to.
When I was a kid, the ocean represented coolness way more than mystery. I thought of the beach when I thought of the ocean, and back then I thought every time the water met the land it created a little paradise. All of my experiences came from movies or the occasional visit to California, and somehow I spent the first decade of my life believing that every mile of coast around the world was warm and welcoming.
Very little of my time was spent thinking about the rest of the ocean back then, how far it went before touching another land or how deep it got along the way. Something about living so far from it most of my life made me want to be close to it someday, and the sea came to represent even more when I finally moved my own adult life somewhere I could visit it regularly.
By that time I knew much of the world’s coastline is cold or rocky or treacherous in some way or another. The knowledge made me even more grateful to be able to hang out on the beach without worrying about any of that stuff, even when chilly California winters turned bikini beaches into sweater spots. Fun in the sun is all well and good, but quiet moments to yourself on a deserted stretch of sand can be deeply meaningful in its own wonderful way.
One thing I always thought would be extra breathtaking was being on a boat or ship far out from the shore. I used to talk about how I’d like to know what that was like, standing out on deck with the ocean as far as the eye could see in every direction. Now I get to have that experience once or twice a year, when I go on cruises with my lovely wife; and I have to say the reality is even more incredible than I imagined. I always like to take a little time, often when I’m two or three scotches deep, to stand where I can turn and see the ocean trailing off endlessly at every angle. The sight reminds me of a couple things that I think are good to ponder from time to time.
First of all, people are pretty amazing. The fact that I’m as comfortable courting a good buzz on board as I am at home says a lot about the modern cruise ship. Stuff can go wrong, to be sure; but there are backup plans for the backup plans, and so many resources on board that I’m pretty confident I could handle the situation at my drunkest. That’s saying a lot, considering the scenarios I am wont to imagine; and I would take my hat off to the folks that make it all possible if I thought it was wise to wear one on deck.
The other thing I think about doesn’t come with quite the same feeling of giddy gratitude. Nonetheless, I think it’s worth pondering. All I’m doing is looking at a tiny fraction of the mere surface of this thing we call the ocean, and it’s blowing my mind every time I take the time to do it. What about all the rest of that giant body of water, dominating the globe and characterizing our planet more than the land most of us live on?
Two thirds of the Earth is ocean, and around ninety-five percent of the ocean is unexplored. That means over half of our own planet remains a mystery. It also means we have no idea how we are affecting the deepest darkest parts of our ecosystem. It’s almost like the ocean is humanity’s collective unconscious mind: much bigger than what we can see, completely beyond our explanation, and important in ways we can’t begin to understand.
See? The analogies just spring to mind, talking about the ocean.
Every island and continent on our planet can be viewed as being both separated by the sea and connected by it. We’re certainly all surrounded by it, and none of us can travel too far in any direction without running into it eventually. The ocean might be easy to dismiss for the people who don’t live close to it, but it really shouldn’t be. Pretty much every part of the planet that is now considered land was at some point underwater, and planetary changes seldom only affect people living on the coast.
We have no way of knowing whether or not the toxins we have been dumping into the ocean are fine there or not. A radioactive monster seems a little far-fetched, but evolution can still be steered in a whole new and frightening direction by a few hundred barrels of nuclear waste. There’s way more than that in there, by the way; and even those frightening numbers only account for the ones dumped legally.
Maybe we will find a way to explore every square inch of the ocean before its sends a series of tsunamis or Godzillas our way, and maybe we won’t. What we probably will do is start colonizing the ocean a little more aggressively as time marches on. More people keep being born every year than are dying, and that means we need more places to put all these folks. The ocean has a lot of ships floating on its surface, but the vast majority of that watery expanse can be creatively described as empty real estate.
Beyond that, we could even find ways to live in the ocean for long periods of time. Maybe one day never seeing the surface will be like never seeing the coast is today, and some people will live from the cradle to the grave in giant underwater cities that fulfill all their needs as well as surface living would. You might think that would make more sense than colonizing space, at least for the short term; but then you would have to remember that we went to space as a species before we explored the biggest mystery on our planet. There was no race to the bottom of the sea; as far as I know, there isn’t one in the works either.
Deep sea may be our friend, some day in humanity’s distant future. It may represent the most valuable lessons we have to learn as a species, and it could even hold the key to our destiny in ways we can only imagine. Really, you can postulate any kind of possibility when it comes to what might happen to our relationship with the sea.
The ocean is a mystery, after all.
Thanks for reading!
All the best,