An Ode To The Unfettered Sea

You plunge with joy into this image of your own:
You hug it with your eyes and arms; your heart
Forgets for a time its noisy beat, becomes a part
Of a greater, more savage and less tameable moan.

– “Man and the Sea”, Charles Baudelaire

Justine Leonhardt. 2007. JPEG. Vancouver Island.

From the sea and coral life of the Great Barrier Reef to the rocky abyss of the Grand Canyon, there are natural wonders of the world that are breathtaking and awe inspiring; beautiful sights that we can see and touch, that perplex and mystify. While a mountain’s peaks and valleys can be observed, traversed on foot with the path of the journey marked, the ocean is different, the whole of its accrued experience lying beneath its surface, to be washed away with no markers left behind.

In the deepest of its deeps, the floor of the ocean drops nearly seven miles from the teeming surface to its lowest point, a scar on the earth known as the Mariana Trench
that stretches for nearly 1500 miles. While the Challenger Deep scaled the area in 1960, Nereus in 2009 and the Deepsea Challenger in 2012, the water pressure at its bottom is far too great for a human diver to plunge to its depths unaided. The sea’s deepest point remains inaccessible to us.

In Alberta, the mountains were the thing. While there was Lake Louise and Dinosaur Provincial Park, and the vast stretches of wilderness one could be lost in, the peaks of the mountains were abundantly clear from the city. They were the point of interest – the natural wonder that could be observed and escaped to. For those who move to the West Coast, though, it is the lapping water that holds a mysticism, providing a romantic fable of all the world’s bodies of water merging into one, eroding distant lands and place that can only be imagined.

The mountains may anoint the sky, reminding us of our heights and internal possibilities, but the coast provides a view of the limits of the world – and that there aren’t any, really. Whether it’s the choppy, gray waves of a brewing storm or the blue-green glisten of the sun reflecting on the tide, the water is endless. In its manifestations, its ever-moving surface that always changes, we see the youth of our lives, the story that has no permanence and no known end.

It is easy to mistake the limits of our own field of vision for the limits of the world, but it is different to live close to the sea with all the variables of life tossed about. The ships that come in and linger are outposts of other places, ones that possess realities that lie far beyond our own conclusions. In the province of British Columbia, we extol the beauty and the natural wilderness of our province; the stretches of forest and mountain; the Gulf Islands rising up along the Strait of Georgia, hiding from the eternal pull of the sea. The noisy beat persists, the untameable moan always outside the window.


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