Why We Go to the Ocean

September 29th, 2013, 7am

Why We Go to the Ocean

We don’t go to the ocean because there is salt water in our blood. The pH and salt content of our blood might reflect our evolutionary path from the ocean to land, but the physiological requirements to support a periodic human migration would be staggering. Imagine the difficulty someone would have with blood singing for ocean and them without access. Our literature would float with the sorrow.

I drove along Interstate 8 from Casa Grande, Arizona to San Diego, California when I realized a possible brief respite was only six hours away by car. While driving through Arizona the vehicular traffic was light. There are in these first days of fall butterflies and moths flying perpendicular paths across the highway. They are small and yellow or white and when one of them splatters their guts on the windshield, it is as clear as a raindrop. Many of them stuck and dried on the front of my car, their journey over. They were moved by my own journey and I was moved by theirs.

The Solana Generating Station lies in Gila Bend just west of the exit to Painted Rocks. The massive parabolic troughs are lined up perpendicular to the highway. You won’t see them move if you don’t stand there long enough to detect them following the sun across the sky. They capture the heat from the desert sun, the thermal focus visible if blinding, best felt by burning and dying. The heat in this complex technological system eventually generates electricity, the movement of electrons unseen, best felt by shocking and dying.

I headed to the ocean ostensibly to escape, but how it might free me was trapped in the future. The sights along the way offered a kind of freedom. Finality. I wasn’t frightened of being smashed by vehicles, burned by concentrated sunlight, or shocked to death by generated electricity. I was trapped in the present and free from the past’s piercing meat hook in my back.

The Algodones Dunes are in California west of Yuma, Arizona. The erg of sand moves in ripples across the land and the interstate. The waves are slow and only their skins can be seen to move in the wind; the crashing and cresting would require your eternal patience to witness. Where the dunes are interrupted by the highway, off-road vehicles take advantage of the sands. They zip and growl, carrying recreational users on engine backs, especially during the winter when the desert temperatures are mild and holidays bright. Unlike the wind, this wheeled activity has no imperative to shape and smooth the dunes into patterns. Recreational movement here is chaos imposed artificially on natural patterns.

We don’t go to the ocean because of the view. I traveled to Pacific Beach. I stayed in a hotel one block from the beach. I walked to the sand. The sand was flat. The people were brown. Numerous. Filling the sidewalks, the beach, the water. I walked into the crowd to avoid them, watching for bikes and skateboards more than I watched the ocean. The surfers in the water don’t really surf; they wait for waves. Waiters. By the hundreds, like sea lions, like syringes. Recreational movement here is chaos imposed artificially on natural patterns. Pressed my shoulders and I walked forward like I was toothpaste squeezed out, never finding the toothbrush. I could not see the ocean. Through all the thin, tiny people. I was not moved.

Elsewhere in San Diego I found comfort. Balboa Park welcomed me and my walking. It sang to me in Chinese at the International Houses, in bone at the Natural History Museum, in pipe at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion. My first time there will be many more, these weekend trips now available to my calendar.

We don’t go to ocean because it will vanish soon. Ninety-nine percent of all water on the Earth’s surface is in the ocean. The other one percent is melting and will end up there soon. When the waters are packed with acid, laundry, and the dead, it will still be millions of years until the sun grows large enough to evaporate it all away. In San Diego the streets are cleaner than others I’ve seen, but hardly so. We trash our bathtub but empty it before our next bath; the ocean has no drain except for its far future evaporation.

In the city downtown I stayed in a fancy hotel without figuring out the dining room schedule. The room was nice. Modern. Rectangles within rectangles are my idea of clean and comfort. I was there though because it was next to the House of Blues. Matt Nathanson, in concert. I’ve written about a brief respite but I purchased the ticket several months ago, before I knew I needed it.

I stood in general admission, alone, wondering if lonely vacations are really the best trips to take. Do other people go to concerts alone? I didn’t see anyone alone. The couples, the packs of friends, they pushed me back and back but the stage was towering over us and every view was best. The opening act let me know I was in the right place and then Nathanson let me know I was in the right time. He gave me what I needed. No ocean, just song, joke, guitar, common appreciation.

I returned to Tucson between the perpendicular of my disappointment and success, faster it seemed this way, the observations on the way out recalled only after I had passed them. I had something else on my mind.

We go to the ocean because it moves. We can see we also move. We are butterflies and moths on perpendicular paths across the high waters. Our global impacts are geological but more briefly, we are just solitary visitors. When the tsunami strikes (arriving in the distance the wave needs to travel times the inverse of the square root of the acceleration due to gravity times the depth of the water), our guts splatter on the front like raindrops. We stick and dry out, our journey over. We are moved by the ocean’s own journey and it is moved by ours. Floating with the sorrow.

Lia, David Wade and Mark said thanks.

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