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Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Where the Wild Things Are

I’m not abundantly blessed with patience. Now, when I read that back it suggests that patience comes in at number 3 or 4 (or at least in the top ten) just below tenacity and understanding. The fact is that me and patience aren’t really acquainted at all. We probably met once but it would have been at a party where the music was very loud and we didn’t get beyond asking each other what we did for a living before politely excusing ourselves and going off to talk to more interesting people. No. It’s safe to say that I’m not the most patient person in the world and the good people who know me are currently exchanging knowing looks. This sometimes manifests itself in a splenetic fury over the smallest things. OK, it’s usually tinted with irony and is more of a rant than real anger but some people can be really annoying can’t they!

So what is it that allows me to spend many a fallow hour staring out to sea in the hope of seeing a whale or a dolphin? I’ve spent less time buying a house than I have staring at a seemingly empty void. So what’s different? I think I know. I think it’s the ocean. The Sea. The Raging Main. The Deep. Deep Blue. Davy Jones’ Locker. The Ocean.

I have never met a person who doesn’t think the sea is a wonderful place. Not everyone is happy to swim in it, paddle in it, dive in it, row across it or sail on it (all some people do is vomit in it) but in everyone there is an innate sense that it’s special. Think back to your days of childhood. I grew up very near the coast but, nonetheless, on family holidays it was a moment of pure elation when I could look above the green coastal verges and see the grey, blue, purple, turquoise, many-coloured sea for the first time.

For me, for us, for the whole human race it continues to be a thing of wonder; an undiscovered country where stuff we just don’t understand happens; where beings of infinite variety and impossible anatomy move and live as easily as we do on dry land. It also has the added quality of consisting of another medium altogether. Moving from the dry and open air into the water is more, much more, than walking from one habitat into another. Doing so, in our imaginations or in reality, is to step from something manageable and understandable into something where physical laws change. Standing on top of a mountain we can perceive the height and depth of where we are. Floating on a boat over the deep blue we have no such conceptions and our normal senses of position no longer work. Our perception of our environment involuntarily changes.

And this is no more acutely apparent, in my experience, than when we see the creatures of the sea from the largest wanderers such as the great whales to the smallest and most delicate petrels. Being out on the open ocean unbalances our internal and spiritual compasses. But that moment when the animal appears sets the needles of our compass spinning wildly, frantically. You just don’t know where to put yourself because these animals put out of kilter what our imaginations are able to deal with.

And that’s what defies my own impatience. I know that if I spend days out on the ocean without a glimpse of a whale or a dolphin or a specialist of the marine air then the presence of the great cataract of the sea beneath me and the mysteries of what abides there unseen and unseeable is a connection I can’t, and don’t want to, live without.  As the source of ancient first life, the home of the planet’s most majestic residents and a place of fear and wonder the sea is, in one man’s words “the great unifier, man's only hope. Now, as never before, the old phrase has a literal meaning: We are all in the same boat."

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