“Now I hear the sea sounds about me; the night tide is rising, swirling with a confused rush of waters against the rocks below my study window. Fog has come into the bay from the open sea, and it lies over water and over the land’s edge, seeping back into the spruces and stealing softly among the juniper and the bayberry. The restive waters, the cold wet breath of the fog, are of a world in which man is an uneasy trespasser; he punctuates the night with the complaining groan and grunt of a foghorn, sensing the power and menace of the sea.
Hearing the rising tide, I think how it is pressing also against other shores I know -- rising on a southern beach where there is no fog, but a moon edging all the waves with silver and touching the wet sands with lambent sheen, and on a still more distant shore sending its streaming currents against the moonlit pinnacles and the dark caves of the coral rock.
Then in my thoughts these shores, so different in their nature and in the inhabitants they support, are made one by the unifying touch of the sea. For the differences I sense in this particular instant of time are but the differences of a moment, determined by our place in the stream of time and in the long rhythms of the sea. Once this rocky coast beneath me was a plain of sand; then the sea rose and found a new shore line. And again in some shadowy future the surf will have ground these rocks to sand and will have returned the coast to its earlier state. And so in my mind’s eye these coastal forms merge and blend in a shifting, kaleidoscopic pattern in which there is no finality, no ultimate and fixed reality -- earth becoming fluid as the sea itself.
On all these shores there are echoes of past and future: of the flow of time, obliterating yet containing all that has gone before; of the sea’s eternal rhythms -- the tides, the beat of the surf, the pressing rivers of the currents -- shaping, changing, dominating; of the stream of life, flowing as inexorably as any ocean current, from past to unknown future. For as the shore configuration changes in the flow of time, the pattern of life changes, never static, never quite the same from year to year. Whenever the sea builds a new coast, waves of living creatures surge against it, seeking a foothold, establishing their colonies. And so we come to perceive life as a force as tangible as any of the physical realities of the sea, a force strong and purposeful, as incapable of being crushed or diverted from its ends as the rising tide.
Contemplating the teeming life of the shore, we have an uneasy sense of the communication of some universal truth that lies just beyond our grasp. What is the message signaled by the hordes of diatoms, flashing their microscopic lights in the night sea? What truth is expressed by the legions of the barnacles, whitening the rocks with their habitations, each small creature within finding the necessities of its existence in the sweep of the surf? And what is the meaning of so tiny a being as the transparent wisp of protoplasm that is the sea lace, existing for some reason inscrutable to us -- a reason that demands its presence by the trillion amid the rocks and weeks of the shore? The meaning haunts and ever eludes us, and in its very pursuit we approach the ultimate mystery of Life itself.”
-- Rachel Carson, The Edge of the Sea (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1955)
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I’ll admit that I’m fascinated by the subject of water in all its forms, which has been included in some recent Updates that focused on rain and weather forecasting.
Have you ever spent time in a desert? There are obviously no deserts to be found in our region of the country -- and while deserts can be absolutely fascinating and austerely lovely places, without a doubt, they’re also not very hospitable to life!
One of the great gifts of the mountains of the northeastern US is their super-abundance of water, which furnishes delicious drinking water for many of us (as you probably know, much of NYC’s tap water comes from the Catskills).
That water simultaneously supports countless other forms of life, including the rich local range of flora and fauna that make the natural world such an amazing place.
It’s difficult to hike in this region of the country without encountering abundant flowing water in the form of streams or rivers, or more stationary lakes or ponds.
As I’ve also remarked about recently, waterways are scenic highlights of many hikes, including waterfalls in spring and lakes suitable for swimming in summer.
On rainy days, and whenever we encounter that substance on our hikes, it’s not hard to remember that we -- and other living things -- are mostly made of water.
Without question, water in its pristine state should always be treated as a vital resource to be protected. It’s a life-giving and life-sustaining liquid, as essential as the air we breathe, and one of our planet’s priceless and irreplaceable treasures.
-- Charlie Cook