To See the Sea
I’m beachcombing my beach books and this essay is more of a quote collection under one specific salty subject. Blog is a laboratory for my upcoming book “Enseaclopedia” and I enjoy the freedom to experiment here, to stick my notes here and there, sketch short meditations about the sea and gather quotes under different themes. So now and then I will publish a Sea Essay. The first one is dedicated to the mysterious magnet that draws our eyes to the sea.
“Look at the crowds of water-gazers there. ..What do they here?”
Herman Melville, Moby-Dick or, The Whale
Why most of us are mesmerized by the sea? What is the magnetic secret that enchants us? What do we search for with our stare fixed to the horizon?
When I haven’t been to the beach for more than a week, I start to get restless. What am I addicted to? Why I want to see the sea so badly?
“I just never get tired of looking at the sea. I don’t quite know what it means to be constantly looking outward. I am not restless to travel or longing for the Europe of my ancestors. I feel part of the land I live on, but I still stare out at the blinding field. And so do others, from every jetty, headland and carpark along the coast.”
Tim Winton, Land’s Edge: A Coastal Memoir
If we go there in search for answers, sea probably isn’t the best mentor. Let’s not forget – she just doesn’t care. “Look at the sea. What does it care about offences?” Says Back Mulligan to Steven Dedalus in the opening chapter of James Joyce’s Ulysses. Although Mulligan describes it also as “our great sweet mother”, there is something self-absorbing in the nature of the sea. Australian writer Tim Winton confesses that he loves sea, bet the sea doesn’t love him.
“I go down to the shore in the morning
and depending on the hour the waves
are rolling in or moving out,
and I say, oh, I am miserable,
what should I do? And the sea says
in its lovely voice:
Excuse me, I have work to do.”
Mary Oliver, I Go Down To The Shore
Writer and sailor Joseph Conrad portrays rivers as friendly waters to a man while ocean has never been a friend. “Furthest removed .. from the spirit of the mankind,” he says. Is that why we gravitate to the seaside? Is that what fascinates us? The raw wildness, unchangeableness and majesty for billions of years. At the same time the sea has never been a stiff fossil, she is alive, forever moving. The sea is our newborn ancestor. Like a broad back of an ancient dinosaur, but alive and well, always brand new. Jorge Luis Borges, a key figure in Spanish-language literature, once dedicated a poem to the sea, singing a hymn to its primordial beauty.
“.. The sea, the always sea, it had been and it was.
Who is the sea? Who is that violent
Antique being that gnaws at the pillars
Of the earth and is one and many of the seas
And abyss and splendor and chance and wind?
Who looks on it sees it for the first time.
Always. With that wonder which all things
Elementary leave behind, the beauty
In evenings, the moon, flame of the bonfire.
Who is the sea, who am I? ..”
Jorge Luis Borges, The Sea
To always see it for the first time. That violent antique being. When I reach the seaside and the horizon expands in my eyes, all those tiny glass houses around my head just blow up. Freshness. Freedom. Focus. This truly is a fantastic feeling. Although sea doesn’t care about you, seaside is still one of the best places to give your brains a breath of fresh air. I don’t believe that you can sort out your thoughts there. Wind just blows them away completely. But you can expand your mind by giving it the deserved freedom from perpetual chatter box. You can give your eyes a grand view in our obsessively fragmented world. “Meditation and water are wedded forever,” says Herman Melville. While marine biologist and New York Times bestselling author Wallace J. Nichols brilliantly distills the whole idea in just two words – “blue mind”. Maybe that’s what we’re after?
“Whatever you were thinking just doesn’t stack up against the sight of that restless expanse out there. It’s like the soundless television, the windbent tree, the campfire, in that it draws you away, divides your attention. At certain moments it’s like a memory you are trying to avoid. You stand there, hands dripping suds, looking for whatever it was your eye sought at first glance, but there’s nothing there. Just the chafing movement and the big blue stare coming right back at you.”
Tim Winton, Land’s Edge: A Coastal Memoir