We Carry the Ocean Inside Us
A few days ago, when the East Branch of the Westfield River was shrouded in warm drizzly fog, it occurred to me that I was in a giant breathing lung. Every breath I inhaled was as wet as what I exhaled. My exposed skin was wet, too, with mist, and the tips of the wool threads of the sweater I wore held glistening beads of water that matched the droplets hanging from delicate branch tips.
Amphibians must feel this way, I reckoned, but even more so—for, unlike us warm-bloods, they breathe through their skins. I’ve walked with kids who reprimand other kids for picking up newts and frogs, because our skin oils clog the breath-pores of their cool, moist lung-bodies. That’s sensitivity, the kind that makes me hopeful. Whom ever is teaching these kids deserves a high five!
Way way back in time, about 390-360 million years ago, fish with gills and lungs crawled out of the water and onto land. It is hard to grasp such a length of time—or is it? Most of the colorful rocks that comprise the Westfield’s riverbed are about that old. Our lungs, the breath we’re breathing this very instant, can be traced back to these miraculous walking fish. Gills extract oxygen directly from water; somehow they managed to reverse the engineering of their gills, and created within them a sort of mini ocean, an inner sea, where atmospheric oxygen could be turned into sea-water: and that sea-water is our blood. Our lungs are 90% water, and our blood 80%. Somehow, the walking fishes brought the ocean onto land, by keeping it inside of themselves. And—think of the taste of sweat when it drips onto the tongue—that is exactly what we do today.
We carry the ocean inside of ourselves. This is a fact; but, due to our cultural make-up, it is a fact that is not connected presently to a larger intelligence. What I mean is: is this fact ever taught in school? Does it form a part of any day-to-day mode of consciousness? I don’t think so.
Knowing that we are walking mini-oceans seems crucial to me, given we are experiencing a global environmental change that requires us to adapt ourselves to suit new conditions. It is crucial because one reason we are facing this global problem is because we are, on the whole, insensitive. Our hard exteriors of dead skin, and our obsession with our body exteriors (think Hollywood) have given us the illusion that we are somehow not directly connected to our oceans.
As I walked in the mists at the edge of the Westfield river, I let my imagination splash in another fact: not so far back in the history of life on earth, certain mammals—whales—left the surface and returned to the sea. Wouldn’t you love to know why?
The winds picked up and the sky cleared as I left the Westfield river, and from Huntington drove back to Westhampton. As I reached the top of the watershed divide on Rt 66, I saw the fog was still present on the Connecticut River side, protected behind the mountain ridges from the strong west wind. Suddenly, I sensed the wind was a river, and the ridge a boulder that created an eddy, and that in the eddy the fog was the calm water. I was thinking like fish out of water, in this case a brook trout, using an intelligence that is not taught in schools, because there doesn’t seem to be any need for it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kurt Heidinger, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of Biocitizen, non-profit school of field environmental philosophy, based in the Western MA Hilltown of Westhampton, MA where he lives with his family. Biocitizen gives participants an opportunity to “think outside” and cultivate a joyous and empowering biocultural awareness of where we live and who we are. Check out Kurt’s monthly column, The Ripple, here on Hilltown Families on the 4th Monday of every month to hear his stories about rivers in our region. Make the world of rivers bigger than the world of pavement inside of you!
[Photos credit: (c)]