Standing at the edge of the ocean, I tell my children the story of how the seas formed 3.8 billion years ago in a great rain that lasted millions of years. Before, there had been no water, only roiling clouds and molten rock. Then the deluge began, eroding the land to form the saltwater that has been ebbing and flowing, just like this, every day since. Myth and fact mingle in the misty recesses of time, where nature and culture are equally mysterious and equally true.
I watch a line of pelicans glide over the breakers as gulls cluster and cackle on the shore. On my right lies a tern, belly splayed and picked clean, near the seal carcass that has been weaving its way back into the sand for two months now, like an old burlap sack. I stopped believing in God as a child, but as I look out at this infinite vessel that seems to absorb all it encounters into its eternal cycle, it is not lost on me that I, too, believe in something. In this.
It is easy to think the mundane is distinct from the sacred. So I seek out writers and artists who stands in stubborn solidarity with every single thing: John Cage, Mary Oliver, Andy Goldsworthy. If there is only one substance and one system, of which every object and process is an evolving expression, then my relationship with the world becomes that of cell to organism, and I can, on occasion, experience life as an immanent, shimmering plane of existence. Are we humans indeed part of nature? I believe we are. So I spend time with an array of creatures, processes, and systems that shed light on the relationship between the parts of the whole.
It’s a foggy morning, low and damp. It’s easier to see clearly on days like this, without the stark shadows of right and wrong, that everything is connected, even the broken plastic bucket tangled in the kelp next to me. Should I pick it up and put it in a landfill that will also one day be an ocean? What is the half-life of my neighborhood, its tidy houses a few yards away, staring at the incoming tide?