Recently, I read Rachel Carson’s 1952 National Book Award-winning classic about the oceans, “The Sea Around Us,” for the third time. I was thunderstruck by this book yet again, but in a profoundly different way than before, and I know why. But first, multiple excerpts from the finest book ever written on the subject of oceans:
• Beginnings are apt to be shadowy, and so it is with the beginnings of that great mother of life, the sea. Many people have debated how and when the earth got its ocean, and it is not surprising that their explanations do not always agree. For the plain and inescapable truth is that no one was there to see, and in the absence of eyewitness accounts there is bound to be a certain amount of disagreement.
• Standing curiosity, compounded with an unconscious recognition of his lineage. He could not physically re-enter the ocean as the seals and whales had done. But over the centuries, with all the skill and ingenuity and reasoning powers of his mind, he has sought to explore and investigate even its most remote parts, so that he might re-enter it mentally and imaginatively.
• For the sea as a whole, the alteration of day and night, the passage of the seasons, the procession of the years, are lost in its vastness, obliterated in its own changeless eternity.
• For the sea lies all about us. The continents themselves dissolve and pass to the sea, in grain after grain of eroded land. So the rains that rose from it return again in rivers. In its mysterious past it encompasses all the dim origins of life and receives in the end, after, it may be, many transmutations, the dead husks of that same life. For all at last return to the sea — to Oceanus, the ocean river, like the ever-flowing stream of time, the beginning and the end.
As I said, I know why my latest read of “The Sea Around Us” felt radically different than earlier ones. A word — urgency. Is there any rational doubt that the natural world is imperiled? Climate change. Ocean acidification. Overfishing. Deforestation. Pollution. Loss of biodiversity. The list is endless and documented in the media and scientific circles every day. It’s not really debatable unless you’re deluded, insane or a certain member of Congress.
I might also add: is there any rational doubt that our conventional efforts and strategies from conservation groups, industry and government to reduce the perils to the natural world are ineffective at best and absurd at worst?
These thoughts occupy my mind when I walk along the beach. I also consider the role and responsibility of writers and artists in raising awareness about these worsening threats to nature that also threaten human survivability? The sheer wonder of nature inspires many words, photographs, musical compositions, paintings and sculptures. For many creative types, it provides their sole motivation. The ongoing desecration of the natural world also instigates many writers and artists to take action through their work. As a writer and publisher, I belong to both camps.
But how else can creative types address pressing environmental issues in their work? Perhaps the answer lies in something Jean-Paul Sartre wrote, “New problems demand new writing styles.”
In other words, and these seems obvious to me, what we are doing now isn’t cutting it. What I’m trying to do with my writing isn’t cutting it, either. I felt that futility time and time again reading “The Sea Around Us.”
To that end, I am teaching a writing and creative thinking workshop in Astoria on Saturday, June 25, for any writer, environmental activist, teacher or creative type who seeks to invent new ways of addressing some of the aforementioned problems. I use the word “teaching” but really, I will serve more as a facilitator than teacher because the title of “teacher” somewhat implies I might have the answers.
I don’t. I am seeking new ways as well. If interested in joining this gathering, please email me atfor more information or to register for the workshop. There is a fee.
Matt Love is the author/editor of 14 books about Oregon, including “The Great Birthright: An Oregon Novel. They are available at coastal bookstores and through www.nestuccaspitpress.com.