And so I float...

August 18, 2013
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The sky was a blinding blue as I lay on the cool water. I let my eyelids fall and my muscles relax. I’ve always been one of those people who enjoyed floating over swimming or even standing. Standing was out of the question due to my juvenile fear of crabs and other mysterious creatures that skirted on the ocean’s floor. Swimming was likewise unappealing due to the amount of energy needed to successfully travel through the salt-packed waves. So I chose to float. Carelessly, I might add. I found myself subconsciously teasing the lifeguards as my body neared the perimeter of the authorized zone—my mind already up in the clouds. A short, shrill whistle woke me from my daze. I looked toward the lifeguards. Their arms made slow, stressed movements, telling me to re-enter the flagged zone. The piercing whistle had distracted the sitting mothers, who quickly looked up from their House and Garden magazines to examine the reason for the lifeguard’s cautionary whistles. The beach-bathing teens, too occupied with perfecting their tans to enjoy the salty water, gazed at me with what I perceived (being a teen myself) as critical judgment. Their sunburned faces said, “What is she doing?”
What was I doing?
When I observe the ocean from my sandy beach blanket, it is a blue and almost intimidating vastness. Yet, when I float on its surface and swim through its waves, it is a clear and tolerant security. My first observation, however gloomy, seems more correct. The ocean is a powerful unknown. I am a visitor. I feel safe, but my safety is an illusion. The splashing children and bobbing grandparents have led me to believe in my superiority over this unknown. I float with no worries. The shore is our play world, domesticated by an ignorance of its true meaning. But the ocean is wild. However tainted by human activity, the waters are not tamed, and the expansiveness is not an illusion. No matter how much control we think we have over our bodies in the water, an instance can change it all. We cannot read into the waves or their movements. Their seemingly unwarranted control is staggering.
When did we come to think we could enter the domain of these moon-guided waters and dismiss its supremacy? We don’t only enjoy the ocean’s refreshing and rhythmic waves. No, that would be too considerate of us. Society has decided that it is our place, as the most intelligent of organisms, to use the ocean as a wastebasket. Plastic travels through deep blue as an unguided killer. It is a most abundant creature in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, where you would be shocked to find plastic bags disguising as jellyfish, perfectly mimicking the movements and behavior of these free-swimming, umbrella-shaped marine animals. This dangerously biodegradable waste, varying from glass bottles to medical toxins, accumulates in the Pacific Garbage Patch, and the strong pulls of the rotating ocean current prevent any escapes. The trash is forever stuck. Microbes of plastic, invisible to the naked eye, consume the Pacific trashcan. Loggerhead turtles often mistake our grocery bags for their most coveted meal of jellyfish, and these microbes of plastic sit on the top of the ocean, blocking sunlight from reaching plankton and algae, the foundation of marine life. Who really would have considered that decision of paper versus plastic at the cash register in Stop & Shop as so influential on that unaware turtle, who was simply too entranced by the supermarket’s new and colorful spring bags?
Humans have also taken up an activity termed dredging, which develops our coastal beaches and creates navigable waters. Dredging humanizes the ocean. We use it as our property. It is there to enhance our summer vacations and transport cargo from continent to continent. The process of dredging excavates any region of the ocean, gathers up the bottom sediments, and disposes of them at a different location. The effect may seem insignificant, but dredging massively disturbs sedimentary life forms. The microscopic existences that support the marine food web are highly pertinent. In his book, The Creation, E.O. Wilson glorifies the microorganisms that inhabit every expanse of our ecosystems, “Luckily, microwildernesses are not a trivial part of wild Nature. Quite the opposite: each cubic meter of soil…is a world swarming with hundreds of thousands of such creatures…The entire lives of the microscopic and barely visible organisms play out in spaces that human beings…are inclined to dismiss” (Wilson 18). Our dismissal can be slightly justified: I can’t see these this algae or plankton, and I don’t eat this algae or plankton, so why is it important to me? But, as Wilson states throughout his appeal to save life on Earth, these mini organisms that appear so ubiquitous and unnecessary are, in fact, the foundation of our lives. Without them, entire ecosystems would be disrupted. Ignoring the microorganisms on the ocean floor is easy; our size and intelligence could overpower them any day. But life without them is more than inconceivable. It is impossible.
To me, the ocean is a mysterious force in nature. Its ability to create havoc and remain beautiful generates a dichotomy that I am compelled to admire. Not one person blames the ocean after thousands of lives are taken in a tsunami. Not one person tries to control its waters. Instead, we chose to work with the ocean because we know it is an unchangeable element. Doesn’t this epitomize our inherent respect? Sasha Orne Jewett illustrates natures as worthy of ultimate reverence. In “A White Heron”, her young and sprightly narrator discovers the magnificence of the natural world and chooses to associate herself with the trees and birds rather than the civilized world. Nature is her friend—an equal. During Sylvia’s journey toward truly accepting nature, she is taken aback by her adherence to it:
Has she been nine years growing and now, when the great world for the first time puts out a hand to her, must she thrust it aside for a birds sake? The murmur of the pine’s green branches is in her ears, she remembers how the white heron came flying through the golden air and how they watched the sea and the morning together, and Sylva cannot speak; she cannot tell the heron’s secret and gives its life away (Jewett 855)
Sylvia is empowered by nature. Her inner self realizes her human duty to be one with nature. Sylvia doesn’t merely use nature; she lives with it. The birds and their trees enrich her everyday life.
When we build gigantic houses on the sandy dunes of the Jersey Shore, we are working against nature. When we leave that water bottle on the beach after a long, hot day, we are working against nature. When we ignore that plastic bag floating through the air, we are working against nature. We are not following Sylvia.
I watched a seagull pass above me as the waves rocked my body. The ocean was holding me. Was it protecting me? Was I disregarding its power? I wasn’t thinking about the minuscule organisms that surrounded my soaked body, but I was in their home. I wasn’t pondering the tiny crabs whose potential bites frightened me. Did I ever think that they never actually intended to nip my toe? I was in their home. I closed my eyes and dunked my head under the cool, fresh water for the last time that day. I walked to my sandy blanket. Tiny beads of water evaporated as the sun’s rays struck my body. I wiped my face and felt the sting of salt in my eyes. I looked out toward that vast openness. I looked to where the sky seemed to meet the water, where the two blues became one.
What is the ocean?

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