A Soothing Sea for the Soul
We thought of Thoreau’s observation the other day, “in wildness is the preservation of the world” when we found ourselves needing to hear the ocean. Each day we find time to stand at water’s edge to hear the whispers that reach our protected bay shores. Other times we seek out the full-on voice of surf on the rocks. Given that 39% of the US population lives in counties with shorelines (53%, if you count the Great Lakes), you can too. It’s closer than you think.
All along New England’s coast are backroad opportunities to pull over and just stare at the sea. Take yourself apart from the lighthouses, down to the verges, and find yourself entranced. Like us, you can focus on the infinitely changing dynamic of ocean and sky. No predictable pattern to the wave set. Some splashing, like children determined to see who can leap the highest. Some rolling, silently up the beach, their only progress noted by the tide’s farthest reach or reveal.
A new book, A Wilder Time: Notes from a Geologist at the Edge of Greenland Ice is a poet-scientist’s impressions of the vast span of territory that stretches the equivalent of the Eastern Seaboard. (Its southern edge, around 60 degrees North, is half again the distance north as it is from here to the Equator. Much of Greenland lies above the Arctic Circle.) Its population of 65,000 (majority Inuit) registers less than 1 person per square kilometer. England counts 256. And most of it, at least for now, is covered with ice 12,000 meters thick. Most stirringly, the book’s author William Glassley speaks of the transcendence of wilderness. Echoing what John Muir said, “In God’s wildness lies the hope of the world – the great fresh unblighted, unredeemed wilderness.”
We’ll take the Atlantic.
As anyone who’s been offshore knows, beyond the sight of land (a distance not as far as you’d think) the wildness lies. From unknown depths (if you don’t look at the fathometer) to boundless skies abrim with stars, here is wilderness enough for us all.
Perhaps that’s the real reason we live on the Mid-coast of Maine, a few steps from our saltwater bloodlines. It’s the place we look to for our place in the eternal. It’s a reset button for the soul.
Glassley quotes Steinbeck: “One thing had impressed us deeply… the great world dropped away very quickly… Our pace had slowed [and] the hundred thousand small reactions of our daily world were reduced to a very few.”
Or as the last words of the movie version of “Hunt for Red October” note (in a poem written by the screenwriter, not by Columbus): “And the sea will grant each man new hope, as sleep brings dreams of home.”