Essays About


The idea of the sea whets our imagination. The ocean's complexity mirrors the mind's own depths. Just as consciousness conceals the unconscious, the sea's sunlit, glittering surface masks an underworld of mysteries and monsters. How flat and fathomable solid land seems, compared to the murky world beneath the waves. Thus land-dwellers pile onto boats in search of mystical, primordial encounters with earth's liquid wilderness. Instead, many spend the trip puking their lunch over the rail, their stomach in mutiny against their mind's romanticism.

Our souls get sick for, our bodies sick from, the sea.

On a ship there is both more room and less room than on land. We can see to the horizon but cannot walk past the ship's rails; we have wider thoughts but stiffer legs. The mind's very spaciousness exacerbates the body's claustrophobia. On land we accepted working all week in a cubicle, because its walls obscured the world beyond, but now that our eyes extend to earth's edge, a ten-story ship feels as cramped as a clam shell. Our souls would surf the hemisphere of waves, but matter shackles us. At sea I see why Plato cursed the body.

Inlanders going to sea are like shoppers looking at catalogs: we were happy before we knew how much we wanted.

I admire the seacoast for many qualities—the unobstructed immensity, the thundering surf, the hint of peril, the brisk and blowing vitality. However, I admire other elements merely because they are part of the seacoast, such as shipping and fishing. Why should these industries interest me more than, say, hunting and logging? Only because they occur upon the already interesting ocean.

There is a tipping point where love spills over to things otherwise not lovable. The ugly feet of a beautiful woman are made desirable by the body they are attached to. A loud laugh that annoys us in a co-worker cheers us in a brother, because our opinions are pinned to different contexts.

We come to love the whole on account of a few parts, then come to love the remaining parts on account of the whole.

To the hazards all wars hold, World War II in the Pacific added the ocean's instability. A foot soldier in France, though fired at, felt the solace of solid ground. A bomber shot down over Belgium could parachute into a cornfield. War and water are two chaoses combined. On the sea's meadow, there is no trench to crouch in, no building to gather thoughts while shots pause. Battling midway between continents, the element is as frightening as the enemy. A fighter pilot sputtering through pierced and cracking air, wings burning, sees only blue below to match the blue above. His terra firma is a speck of ship deck floating on the deep. In modern naval war he glimpses the chaos before creation—air, water, and fire, but no earth.