Does the Sea See Me?

from Pablo Neruda’s The Book of Questions, El Libro de las Preguntas.

“When I see the sea once more
will the sea have seen or not seen me?

Why do the waves ask me
the same questions I ask them?

And why do they strike the rock
with so much wasted passion?

Don’t they get tired of repeating
their declaration to the sand?”

Pablo Neruda, The Book of Questions

My daughter and her husband went to Tahiti a few weeks ago. They were celebrating their wedding anniversary. I was anxious about their trip as the Covid-19 Virus was at its peak there. They were both fully vaccinated, but even vaccinated people are contracting the virus. Thankfully, they are fine.

This was their first time in Tahiti. My daughter was good about keeping me in the loop by sending a daily photo or two of the tropical waters, so clear and warm. They stayed in a little hut at the end of a short pier. They walked down a few steps and they were in the water. One day, my daughter, Annette, sat on a chair with her feet in the water. For two hours, she watched two fish build their nest. They swam below, scooped up sand and gravel and swam upwards to deposit it in the nest. Two hours, it took them and my daughter sat there, mesmerized, watching them.

She said, “Afterwards, I didn’t want to wade in the water. I didn’t want to tread on anyone’s nest.”

She did go snorkeling with her husband, once. There are sharks in these waters and although there have been no recent attacks, Annette was a bit nervous. What might swim out from behind a reef? Regardless, she got into the spirit of what it was to be on this island. After her return to the States, we talked on the phone. In describing the impact of her trip…

“Mom,
I was the island
I was the water
I was the fish
I was the sky
I was the earth”

She said that she felt sensory overwhelm…that there were fish the colors of which she had no name. The whole energy of the island touched her in a way that she hadn’t expected and couldn’t explain. She cried a lot, she felt elated, she was in awe.
She said “There is a whole civilization under the sea. We have no idea.”

****
I told her “Now, you are an advocate for the ocean, one of its protectors.”

I sent her a copy of Rachel Carson’s book, The Sea Around Us. Here’s a quote from Carson’s book:

“Eventually man, too, found his way back to the sea. Standing on its shores, he must have looked out upon it with wonder and curiosity, compounded with an unconscious recognition of his lineage. He could not physically re-enter the ocean as the seals and whales had done. But over the centuries, with all the skill and ingenuity and reasoning powers of his mind, he has sought to explore and investigate even its most remote parts, so that he might re-enter it mentally and imaginatively.”

― Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us

****
We do have a romance with the ocean. As Neruda queries whether or not the sea sees him, generally, humans seem to be ignorant as to what the ocean provides besides fish. We have neither fully realized nor protected the ocean’s necessary ecology for our planet earth. Humans continue to use the ocean as a dumpsite for our waste. And as we know, plastics and other non-biodegradable wastes are harming life under the sea. We are a very egocentric breed who considers that everything is here for our use or misuse. We lack gratitude and a sense of reciprocity. Perhaps, there is more environmental awareness being taught in our education system, but we’re slow to evolve our ways of using the earth.

“…The ocean produces over half of the world’s oxygen and absorbs 50 times more carbon dioxide than our atmosphere. Climate regulation: Covering 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, the ocean transports heat from the equator to the poles, regulating our climate and weather patterns…”

from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Pablo Neruda had his questions, you probably have yours and I certainly have my own. Why is it so difficult for humans to connect the dots of our existence on earth. This interdependency?

“Nature Includes Us”

Years ago, watching a documentary on the life of John Muir, I was struck by this one sentence “Nature Includes Us.”  Growing up in San Francisco, although we lived blocks from the ocean, we didn’t have a sense of our connection to nature.  Our lives were conducted within the four walls of a house that was bursting at the seams with nine children.  The thrust was to get an education and then get a job in downtown San Francisco with its concrete and high rises.  Nature was the sky between the buildings and we seldom looked up.  As a young woman, I moved a block-and-a-half from the ocean.  That is when my interrelationship with nature became more conscious.

Moving to Mount Shasta twenty years ago, there was a sense of rebirth.  Discovering the hiking trails, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, forests–not to mention our mountain rising above it all at 14, 179 feet–opened me to the wonder and beauty of nature.  I could be in a an abiding state of awe over this beauty which includes me and you.  In San Francisco, there was little or no sense of the four seasons.  There was fog…sun in the Mission District and Noe Valley perhaps–those banana belts–however, fog in the Sunset District was the summer norm. In the mountains, we have the four seasons!  Each season with its distinct flavor and rarely fog…not ocean fog anyway.  There might be a mist that seeps between the trees after a heavy rain.  The type of mist in which magic lurks.

And bears.  In some Native American Traditions, bear medicine has to do with “introspection.”  It is associated with the season of Winter.  Bear goes inside a cave and hibernates when winter is at its most intense.  Bear has eaten a fair share of grasses, roots, berries, fruit, insects, fish and small animals and any garbage left outdoors and accessible.  Living in the mountains you hear bear tales and you cultivate your own.
There was the story of a man who camped way up on Old McCloud Road.  He had a nightly bear visitor.  To deter the bear, he would bang pots and pans, a little symphony, to scare the bear away.  There is definitely an etiquette of what to do when you encounter a bear.  It’s good to inform yourself about this if you enter bear country!

Of course, you don’t want to leave food or garbage lying around either at home or if you’re camping.  Bears don’t read “private property” or care about the campsite delineation.  The back of the property where I live is open to an alley.  In the late summer when the apple and pear trees are laden with their fruit, I have a bear visitor.  He’s very low profile as he comes in the night.  The only calling cards are broken tree branches and a pile of scat!  The neighbor’s barking dogs sometimes alert us to his presence, but he’s pretty elusive.

Hiking in the Castle Crags alone isn’t the most brilliant idea.  I have done it a few times.  Once, I thought I’d walk in the upper Castle Crags, the Root Creek Trail.  A couple came running from the direction I planned to hike.  They told me there was a big black bear and it was running towards them, not away.  I immediately turned around and changed my mind about hiking there.  Bears deserve respect especially in their habitat.  And the stories about mama bears, don’t mess with them, are real.  However cute the cubs might be, they are best observed at a safe distance or on TV.

I walk frequently by Lake Siskiyou, five minutes from where I live.  One summer, I took my binoculars as I was following a certain eagle who perched on the opposite shore.  The cry of an eagle is distinct even to the non-educated ear.  Staring in the direction of “my eagle,” I heard a bird cry behind me.  I turned just in time to see a black bear running a terraced part of the terrain twenty feet above me.  Both of us paused in our tracks and stared at one another for a brief moment.  Then the bear continued on its journey.  A jogger came along shortly.  He asked if I had seen a bear and which direction it had gone in.  I said yes.  And we both stopped to consider how close we were to this bear.  There had been no reason for fear to be triggered.  The only true feelings were of awe and gratitude.

“That is why we live here,” he said.  And two strangers gave one another a quick hug and continued our separate ways.

I doubt the bear was in awe of us.  There was a moment though in which I felt included in something very special.  To be given a glimpse of the wild in nature was to glimpse the wild in me.