Sunday, February 18, 2007

It all has to go somewhere

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A Life Of Water

In his recent book, A Man Without A Country, author and American iconoclast Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. writes that he was born a freshwater, continental, Great Lakes person. He says that whenever he swims in an ocean he feels as though he’s dogpaddling through chicken soup.

Vonnegut goes on to cite a few prominent fellow freshwaterians including poet Carl Sandburg and a man he knew named Powers Hapgood, who inherited a cannery only to allow that well-intentioned, idealist-socialist part of him give it over to his employees who proceeded to run it onto the unforgiving, rusted rocks of American capitalism.

Of course, this made me stop and echolocate my own self in the cosmic dice roll that one is not responsible for throwing, that becomes wherever you’re born. Turns out I’m a coastal saltwater person. While I understand Vonnegut’s feeling of swimming through chicken soupiness, I personally find there is something uniquely balancing and invigorating about buoyantly bobbing about in salt water.

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Fresh water, while remaining the successful and preferred alternative for drinking, lacks a global vitality found only in the energetic signature of salt water. Sure I enjoy swimming in streams, rivers, and lakes, nearly as much as simmering in a treated hot tub, but whenever I do I can't help but think I'm beavering around in animal waste and tributary urban sewer runoff, farm fertilizers and fecal matter, industrial chemicals and solvents, engine fuels and oils, the toxic sum totality of amalgamated flushmush flowing into it, all that is the wringing weep of filthy towns and cities upstream making their way to tenderly enshroud me in parasites and metropolitan poisons.

And just as surely as emerging from the salt-laden surf, I head straightaway for a nice rinsing shower or bath. That said, I much prefer to reverse-osmosally drink it than swim in it.

Yes, I’ll concede there is an easily demonstrated case for increasing oceanic pollution that can be made by any adept third-grader with an updated Golden Book Encyclopedia, but there is something in an ocean's immense replenishing ability that eases my mind enough to mercurially venture in, for better or worse, than the comparatively fragile ecosystem of a closed watershed, none of which can match the world’s oceans in size and toxin-depleting volume.

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Whenever I wade out into ocean waves, I wonder who else I might be connected to in that exact moment by an immeasurable but finite chain of salt water molecules stretching all the way to India, South America, Oceania, Africa, every place an ocean ventures into seas and inlets and bays that happily receive the perpetual flowdowns of the world’s numerous streams and rivers. That and whether or not I’m in far enough for sharks to get me.

You see, once fallen as snow or rain, all fresh water wants to do is head immediately on vacation for the ocean. Not all of it makes it, of course. Landlocked is called that for a reason. Yes, there are drillions of wonderful freshwater lakes and ponds that dot pristine places from mountains to deserts, high grassland valleys to the cavities of geologically upthrust niches, all filled by brooks, creeks, and streams that never leave the land.

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Some are nearly perpetually frozen; others thrive lush and fertile, while still others are fed from underground aquifers that all get their juice from somewhere else. But adventurous brooks nearly always find their way to streams, streams to rivers, small rivers to bigger rivers where in turn they find their way inexorably to the ocean.

Gravity decrees that fresh water run downhill.
Lunar gravity invites oceans to dance.

The gushy romantic in me looks on our oceans as vast repositories for the sorrows and joys of the world. All that salt came from somewhere, and all that sorrow and happiness has to go somewhere. Thus chicken soup is miraculously turned into happy sorrow soup.

There is a beguiling comfort in that for me. When I walk along the seashore, I feel as if I am being consoled while at the same time a willing and compassionate participant in the tendering of global consolation. This is, of course, wholly silly and arguably way too metaphysical for a hall pass. But it remains what I have always sensed about it even before I could ascribe words to it.

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When I was a boy, my incorrigibly capricious Uncle Bill and my bathing suit beautiful Auntie Joanie would take both of our collective overgrunioned families to one of the best saltwater and sand places in the world: Laguna Beach.

In spite of Uncle Bill convincing us kids that renegade Indians lay in wait to rain arrows and teetering boulders down upon our station wagon, it was thrilling to survive one of the then prettiest coastal canyons in California to emerge safely around that final stony twist to behold the blazing mystery of the western seaboard found along the semi-arid, sub-tropical, Mediterranean coastal desert region of the North American Pacific Ocean.

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I was genuinely awestruck to see the expanse of that wet cobalt wasteland stretching towards forever. The sheer size of it made me feel infinitesimal and leagueless, sub-atomic and spatial, a tiny but necessary part of nothing and everything all at once.

From 1938 through the war and post-war reconstructive 40’s, through the onset of the baby-boomered cold war 50’s and the rebellious psychosociodelic 60’s, and eventually into the drug-whacked Disco-diseased 70’s, Laguna Beach had what every sleepy, artsy tideside village should have: an immigrant welcome wagon of one to cheerfully receive travelers and visitors to its little footprint in the sand.

Blue-eyed with white flowing hair like the sash of a cresting breaker, The Greeter stood at the corner of Laguna Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway waving and shouting hardy hellos to strollers, cyclers, and the beachbound occupants of every automobile that passed him.


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Born in 1890 in saltwater Denmark and a WWI veteran, the avuncular Eiler Larsen would smile and greet you in any one of the six languages on his palate, point his index finger towards you with a wink as if he remembered you from the last time you were there. And as a kid I believed that he did, every single time we went, until his eventual passing in 1979.

Larsen had been Laguna Beach’s second Greeter having inherited the avocation from a Portuguese fisherman known as Old Joe Lucas whose only spoken English was proper profanity. Needless to say, though I never personally saw Laguna’s first Greeter, he surely greeted in his own native saltwater tongue.

I still sense Eiler Larsen there whenever I pass through that now traffic-congested, rent-prohibitive, yuppie-infested seaoplis that thankfully has not spoiled one single arc of tidal grace found in the blue-green waters that continue to lap up freely against its shores.

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Unlike nighttime star hopping, there is no guessing whether sentient beings on some other imagined shore might be gazing out across this same azure girdle of hydrogen and oxygen. There are. So whenever I stroll the shoreline of an ocean, I look out towards its horizoned plate of aquamarine and wonder who else might be looking back, imagine other greeters simultaneously wondering and waving in that exact same moment.

Though I had no hand whatsoever in the choosing, I’m pleased to be a saltwater person. I’m pleased because my reptilian brain stump somehow still subconsciously honors and recollects having crawled out of that solar bombarded, electrically stimulated, polypeptidal gruel of primeval amino acids and frothy bio-polynucleic proteins to collect and amass enough to stand up, turn around and say, “Well, I’m glad that part’s over.”

But mostly I’m pleased to be a saltwater person because, like the cosmos above me, it is my future retirement home. All this sorrow and happiness has to go somewhere.


Joseph Gallo
February 18, 2007


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15 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous parried...

Very well put, Joseph. It makes me appreciate even more the ocean I have nearby. If Kurt Vonnegut could read this, he may want to venture out into the "Polypeptidal gruel" again sometime!

JoAnn

February 19, 2007 8:24 AM  
Blogger Joseph Gallo parried...

I'm guessing Kurt's polypeptidal days are well behind him, and rightly so. Either way, we're nearly all capable of thriving in either environment while seemingly trying to get back to that spawning part of us.

That makes us human salmon, I suppose. ;-)

February 19, 2007 2:17 PM  
Blogger Jonice parried...

Good morning Joseph!
I took some time over this long holiday we've just had around here to read your posts further. Here's what I'd like to let you know: although I speak English as a second language and for this very reason the more subtle nuances of it might skip my full understanding I'm just very, very pleased by your writing. As a matter of fact it's amazing how fluently I get into the texts even if I don't exactly know the meaning of each word in them, and in this aspect I'm lucky because I'll be naturally acquiring deeper levels of knowlegde in the language, which just delights me.
Thank you and best wishes!

February 22, 2007 2:11 AM  
Blogger Joseph Gallo parried...

Dear Jonice: You have paid me the ultimate compliment and bestowed the most honoring praise a writer can receive.

Thank you so very much for your kind, well-chosen and genuine words. Your grasp of English surely outshines my grasp of Spanish, even though it was my first language as a child. Some years of Spanglish later, English remains my primary palette.

But I love the sound and texture of other languages. I read and listen to much in German, Spanish, French, Swiss-German, and Italian, able to recognize many similar linguisitc elements in those tongues.

While hardly fluent in any of them, the only language I may claim some measure of eloquence in is this one. I'd love to live in any number of countries for a couple of years at a time just to immerse myself in the native culture of expression. I know I would pick up the language at least enough so to get by.

It is the sonic and meaningful undertones that make well-crafted use of a language a rich and exacting experience. Irony, subtlety, context, pathos, and as you stated, nuance, all these matters of sensitivity go towards the manner and expression of a written tongue.

In the meantime, I am happy with foreign languages not knowing everything being expressed as it causes me to investigate and translate and ferret out the deeper meaning.

"I'll be naturally acquiring deeper levels of knowledge in the language, which just delights me."

This is the crux of your delight: you are interested enough to immerse yourself wholly, thirsty enough to learn to drown in it, captivated by the whole process. And I applaud you for having that.

That desire is something you cannot teach; you must be born with it. It is obvious, you were born with it. Brava, Jonice, brava!

Thanks again and please visit anytime you wish. Ciao for niao, Jonice. :-)

February 22, 2007 10:24 PM  
Blogger billie parried...

I'm just now getting to sit and read this one, and it leaves me wondering if I'm a saltwater or a freshwater person. :)

I adore mountain streams. There's something so soothing and powerful and invigorating about the rushing water falling over rock. And yet, the ocean is like a lullabye, and powerful in its own huge way.

I think I'm just a water person, period. Rain, a stream, the ocean, a puddle. A hot bath, with jets. I love it all.

The last photo is so evocative. It must have a story attached!

billie

February 24, 2007 5:09 PM  
Blogger Joseph Gallo parried...

I was born in the Chinese Year of the Dragon. That particular year was set aside for the water dragon.

I was also born under the water sign of Scorpio. It's no wonder that people have often told me I'm all wet.

I love all water too, don't get me wrong, Billie. But by virtue of having been born where the Pacific fog rolls into the basin that sits out before the coastal mountains that ring the Southern California city of Los Angeles, I was steeped in the sweet pelagic fume that rolls and pulls the leviathan tides of the cooling sea.

And yet, standing before the Vierwaldstättersee in Luzern, my freshwater soul parts open and I am drowned in a baptism of kindred familiarity. Seeing the Alpine mountains jutting out of the lake with its thin mists softening the distance makes me feel as if I'm standing in a place out of time, Rivendell, or some other mythical world.

I love it all. But if I had to choose . . . aww, please just don't make me choose. ;-)

February 24, 2007 11:08 PM  
Blogger oldcrow61 parried...

Your writing is brilliant! A joy to read.

February 25, 2007 4:25 AM  
Blogger billie parried...

Well, and I don't think we have to. (choose)

billie

February 25, 2007 6:31 AM  
Blogger Jonice parried...

I have to thank you back for your unstinting comment on my own comment, Joseph! Just like you, I go in for different languages also and ferreting out for subtlety and pathos in your texts will be a pleasure any time I find to be around. Seems like I've found a terrific bridge between enjoying learning deeper and delighting myself with good writing. :)

February 25, 2007 7:15 AM  
Blogger Joni parried...

Lunar gravity invites oceans to dance

YES! Being a salt-water person myself, I love this. The bouyancy of salt-water cradles us like our mother's womb.

Very nice, Joseph.

February 26, 2007 6:35 AM  
Blogger Joseph Gallo parried...

Oldcrow: Thank you, dear. I appreciate your praise on my writing. Keep checking back. Sometimes, I get it righter.

Billie: One day we will all be asked to choose and that day is coming quickly. What side will you stand with:
salted, or unsalted? The choice is yours. ;-)

Jonice: Again I say brava! Your writing expresses quite well for English being your second language. You write much better than most Americans for whom it is their first. I hope you visit often and give my regards to Curitiba and Brazil! One day, I hope to visit your beautiful country.

Joni: Yes, mother moon. The maternal salinity of the blood makes many of us seek that first sea we all first swam. But as Billie said, we can have both versions without much trouble. ;-)

February 26, 2007 11:06 AM  
Blogger Marit Cooper parried...

What delightful torment it is for me to read this, as I sit here smack in the middle of England, as far from any salt water shore as I could be. I miss the sea. From when I was born, up until about five years ago, I have never lived further from the sea than half an hours drive. The dark slate blue, oily seas of Scandinavia. In the old days, before the bridge, we used to take the ferry from Sweden to Denmark regularly. Mainly for the Danish beer and sandwiches (Smørrebrød), but also for the fierce salty wind in your hair, and the sheer adventure of it. Next time I move I want it to be closer to the sea, but not too close, or at least on a rather tall hill, so the melting polarcaps don't engulf me and sweep away my home ;-)

February 28, 2007 12:17 AM  
Blogger Joseph Gallo parried...

Marit: I love how you've described Scandinavia and I want to go there too. Right now. Sure it's freezing cold, but it's Scandinavia, fer chrissakes!

Them polar ice caps will allow you the white cliffs of Dover, or perhaps the hills above Cornwall. You could start a Cornish Smørrebrød shop and salt them with the neighbor sea. ;-)

February 28, 2007 1:46 PM  
Blogger Marit Cooper parried...

Cornwall, that sounds like a plan...

February 28, 2007 11:58 PM  
Blogger Joseph Gallo parried...

. . . let me know when you set up shop. We'll want photos and the wonder of your newly-Cornished canvases. :-)

March 01, 2007 1:38 PM  

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