Monday, October 22, 2012

The Ocean's Dreams

In the strange, staged, black and white, red and blue, increasingly 1984-esque theater that is our presidential race, it is hard for me not to feel a deep sort of rage, hopelessness, fear. True, serious fear. For the rights of my gender most obviously, but also for the rights of all the things so beyond our societal gaze at this point that it is "ok" for men to say things like "the United States is the hope of the world" or "the United States is the best country on earth." I don't even want to get into this. I don't want to start slipping my angry typing fingertips down that pathway, beginning with-- how can a claim like that possibly be made, when our way of life is destroying the whole wild (and wide) world, human and animal and tree and seed and atmosphere, as we know it? I mean, seriously, there is some dark, devilish, poisoned blindness at work here. We are the land we inhabit, the land we are eating up and killing from all angles. There is no way around this. There is no way to talk about this without rage.

Instead: the ocean at North Beach, along the 10-mile strip of shore at Point Reyes, just shy of that perched lighthouse hundreds of steps down the quartzite cliffs, it has its own language and its own dreams. We are very small, compared to them.

But somebody built a sculpture of driftwood and kelp anyway, all silvery and smooth, with stains where the sea foam, algae-green, had dyed old bark. They left it, an offering, facing the wide white thrashing tide, a tide so strong it would take any of us down and in so fast we would barely have time to struggle. To me, it looked like words, the oldest kind, runic, sung back to the ocean, saying: here, I am honoring you. I am seeing you. You are worth my songs, my written words, my art, my attention-- you are the salty cold-tossed source of all life, you are the hush in all of our ears when we sleep at night. We have filled you with gyre-islands of trash. We are pushing you to flood at all your edges. I am so sorry. I don't know what to do.

In the center, this somebody-- there is such beauty in the anonymity of wild, found art, the ego-less-ness of it—arched and tied sea-pale sticks with bits of bull kelp and gull feather into a shape like a series of interlocking eyes, like an odd driftwood dreamcatcher, a net for the ocean's dreams to drift through, rest within, peer out of.

Why do we so like to stand driftwood upright in sand and make odd-shaped, wind-curved, sea-tossed sculptures or huts at the lip of all that thrash and wildness? There must be something in us that can't help but leave these edge-walking offerings, this sad longing for connection, for conversations we don't think we are supposed to want to have, with things like pelicans and plovers, bits of kelp, foam coming in, whole tidelines, whole cliffsides.

What does the ocean dream?

Our words and our art and our actions must leave room for this, for such questions. Of course they are already considered hopelessly romantic, poetic, fantastical, dreamy, irrational, downright dangerously ignorant and childish, the list goes on. But in desperate seriousness, in true earnest, what does the ocean dream? 

I don't know if this has much to do with politics, presidents, Iranian nuclear weapons, oil, the economy, but it does have to do with what it means, in the very bone and blood and soul, to be human-- to be part of the conversation with a more than human world. When I was sixteen, I wrote the first poem I was proud of, called "The Order of the Machine," while sitting on the steps of the back porch, near the old tangles of Cecil Bruner roses I grew up playing inside of. It ends like this:

"Even as our future buckles straight
I will not let the woods
relinquish my heart
nor the fog my soul.
I will not let the Order of the Machine
steal the waves, crush the wildflowers
starve the river stones.
There is yet hope
in the foam of the full moon
in the careless green of apple leaves
in the light between two palms."

I have no idea how to go about following my own sixteen year old advice, but I believe it even more now than I did then. It seems to be that it must begin, at least, by staying in the conversation. As an artist, that means the words I use, the pen and keypad I write with-- occult, magical things, remember they have their own sorcery in the creation myths of old--- they are also offerings to the wild things around me. The hermit thrush on the fence, the stag I came face to face with this morning in the rain, the ocean, the soil still under the busy avenues and shoulder to shoulder houses of Berkeley, the dandelions poking out of every spare crack, the hawks hunting from streetlamp poles above highway 580, the bits in each of us that call out to the ocean-thrash and the crow that swoops on black wings. This is the Mother Tongue.

A witch-woman in the green foam line.

Insect and maybe bird-scrawled, this is a truly wild text, a constellation, maze, set of runes. A word, sung back to the ocean.


  1. Absolutely beautiful. Thank you.

  2. Found my way here from Terri's The Drawing Board and I'm so glad I did. I think--hope--that many of us feel as you do, and it is good for us to find each another. Because it can be easy to feel alone in and alienated by the official "story" of America. For our own sanity and truth we need to speak and act the counter-story: that we are part of the world's dreaming.

    1. that is so beautifully put, Carmine-- "We are part of the world's dreaming." Yes! Thank you for visiting, it is good to find another like-minded soul. :)

  3. Thank you for this post. I am so far from the sea and the wild here, it was sorely needed. Some time back I made a piece called "Pacific Gyre". Sad that the name was there to be used.

  4. This is so poignantly beautiful. Thank you, Sylvia.