Each time I stand at the edge of the ocean, I am reminded that the water at my feet touches impossibly distant shores. The Salish Sea becomes Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Strait of Georgia and the North Pacific and the South Pacific and on and on, washing over a messy expanse of distance and culture.
Water touches everything.
Two years ago, we walked along a beach on Washington’s Pacific coast and found two identical light bulbs, each washed ashore separately along portions of a beach protected by a rocky breakwater. Their red glass was unbroken, the white lettering in Japanese characters legible along their tops. One of the bulbs was still functional, its filament untouched by the corrosive effects of salt water.
Finding them was an improbability, the random fact of their survival a reminder of our own vulnerability. There are no guarantees.
Land, although no less interconnected, is so much easier to parcel. I stand in my garden and feel that it is mine, a delusion of ownership reinforced by fences and property deeds. The plot of land I call home is, really, no more mine in an absolute sense than the salt that remains on my skin after swimming.
This explains, in part, my obsession with water.
When the metaphors of ecology fail me, I need the visual of the ocean’s unbroken horizon. I need the extreme literality of waters that touch other shores. I need to locate that place on a map where land and sea meet, where I can be found at this moment, and then to trace the frightening expanse to the next intersection of coastline and ocean.
Over the past two weeks, I swam in the waters off of Hawai’i’s Big Island. I read about how an earthquake in Alaska triggered a deadly tsunami in Hilo. I observed the Olympic Mountains from Vancouver Island and stood at the mouth of the reinvigorated Elwha River, gazing back across the Strait of Juan de Fuca at Vancouver Island.
It seemed an appropriate start to the new year.