I began the new year by promising myself to learn more about the environment I am living in. I know very little about what hides beneath the surface of the vast ocean we see from our windows. Of course I am not alone in this deficit. It has often been noted that outer space has been more throughly explored than the ocean floor of our own planet.
I started by buying Rachel Carson’s 1951 book, The Sea Around Us. I had just lately been born when it was first published, yet it remains to this day one of the most influential and popular books ever written on the subject. It poetically describes the scientific knowledge available at the time. Of course more is known now, and some of her statements have been proven wrong. For instance she writes that the configuration of the continents hasn’t changed since the formation of the planet, which is now clearly understood to be false and is pretty obvious to any third grader who looks at a world map. Even so, the book offers a mostly accurate picture of our watery environment, and it is a great read.
When they went ashore the animals that took up a land life carried with them a part of the sea in their bodies, a heritage which they passed on to their children and which even today links each land animal with its origin in the ancient sea. Fish, amphibian, and reptile, warm-blooded bird and mammal–each of us carries in our veins a salty stream in which the elements sodium, potassium, and calcium are combined in almost the same proportions as in sea water. This is our inheritance from the day, untold millions of years ago, when a remote ancestor, having progressed from the one-celled to the many-celled stage, first developed a circulatory system in which the fluid was merely the water of the sea.From The Sea Around Us, by Rachel Carson
Apparently we come to our attraction to the ocean naturally.
It’s easy for me to get lost in mundane routines and forget to save time to imagine these big truths. Carson makes it easy with her prose to incorporate some of that impersonal joy I promised myself to pursue. The sweep of history, the magnitude of the universe can certainly be embodied in the mysterious sea that surrounds us. It seems reasonable to spare a few moments of awe for that.
And as life itself began in the sea, so each of us begins his individual life in a miniature ocean within his mother’s womb, and in the stages of his embryonic development repeats the steps by which his race evolved, from gill-breathing inhabitants of a water world to creatures able to live on land.From The Sea Around Us, by Rachel Carson