As of June 30th, 2019, I am officially a certified PADI Open Water Diver. I am one of thousands who have completed their first full open water dives in this Monterey cove alone, but I still cannot get over a sense I usually try to suppress as an indulgent fallacy – one of specialness. Of the day, the place, the milestone being special. Instead, I’m electing for once to simply declare it significant.
This dear, maddening both-and-neither place is strange for that. I could swear the waves will speak to me if I listen long enough, but listen any longer and it pulls away, becomes a mumbled, indiscernible work song as they continue their industry of tearing my earth underfoot apart. There is, after all, something impossibly lyrical about the movement of the anchored kelp in its forests, and I imagine capturing that impossible something to be the purpose which once drove humans mad enough to create dance.
I think of the piece of music written such that the song is played over centuries, sometimes more than a year passing between notes. I wonder if it’s arrogance to think I can even hear the song, let alone make out any semblance of melody. All of this from an invented persona for the sea in the first place, and invented language.
In between dives as I sat shaking sand out of everything and everywhere, feeling impossibly foreign to the reef over which I had just been learning to breathe underwater and regulate my buoyancy tactfully enough not to leave craters in the floor below, I thought of the Wave Organ.
Created in the 80’s by Exploratorium resident artists Peter Richards and George Gonzalez, the Wave Organ is an installation on a jetty in San Francisco’s Marina district.
25 PVC organ pipes form an acoustic sculpture which resonates with the crashing waves’ impact, strongest at high tide. I imagine this sculpture as a transliteration of sorts, an effort to meet on common ground and assemble a shared a vocabulary – a new beast, both familiar and alien to each party. The assortment of stone used to construct the jetty was sourced from a demolished cemetery; all the more resonant. The earth into which we surrender our dead, lain out into the sea into which we surrender our land. All to birth a mutual language so we might truly exchange something, discern something from this eons-old sound.
I want to believe there really is something buried deep in our conscious which knows upon sight of the water and most bizarre of its inhabitants with inarticulable profundity that this primordial soup and the assemblies of amino acids swimming in it are our origins, that however evolutionarily, linguistically distant we may feel there is something more than soft-floored sentiment to our awed impulse to preserve it, and that it just may drive us to actually do so. But now the tinge of smart-alecky desperation emerges and I’ll soon find myself on a soapbox. I want so badly to be more than a stranger to this Pacific Ocean as millions have for millions of years, but there is lifetime upon lifetime’s worth of marvelous strangeness here.
Emerson would proclaim that the earth laughs in flowers, another language I still have yet to learn. I hope to eventually proclaim with such confidence in exactly which language the ocean laughs. As it stands, I laugh that the absurd pale green visage of a sea hare or a bat star under the swaying kelp can send all this flashing through my head as I receive one of the most potent and ridiculously-shaped sunburns of my life. I can’t know this, of course, but this feels like the beginning of something significant.
And so, scribbled in the back of my dive log:
I have been to the sea!
Have seen its tides,
Have lived by them!
Have counted my lives by them!
Waters moving up and up
And at last heaving down upon us,
Sing of the raggedest claws!
Of the rottenest, of waste and debris,
Of the wretched and wayward and the resident roving bastards
Of the seaside inns’ and the monumentally insignificant!
Of the momentary and unidentified! The unwelcome!
Of the indignities of the disgruntled rockfish,
Shuffling sleepily from the alien scullers,
Witnesses each to the other.
Wonder, worthless, at the wondrous worthless,
– asls 6.29.19