Today the ocean rushes and roars in rabid waves, frothy at the mouth. It rants and raves, spitting out its skeletons from the closet – in an attempt for balance, for harmony, laying it all out on the table so it’s said and done with, once and for all? A mound of seafoam accumulates along the shore, bits and pieces flung into the air by the wind, like words long-repressed finding freedom on the flight of a furious voice.
Some things need to be said.
Others are best left unspoken.
Today, it seems it’s all coming out into the open, without discrimination.
Perhaps what’s been pushed deep down below the surface waters needs to be stirred up and reckoned with. We’ve all been there, right? We’ve all felt the surge of agitation – a restlessness that courses through limbs possessed by a hormonal cocktail that activates synapses wildly, keeping the safe sanctuary of sleep at arm’s length. Yes. I’ve been here too often of late.
Seafoam – this mysteriously gelatinous marvel – is something to be reckoned with. My children heed its call: before I even have a chance to stick my head out the trailer door, their bodies have been swallowed up. The seafoam has claimed them. This jelly-like mound now sees the world through gleeful little human eyes, as two heads bob at its surface. In this moment I know the pact we’ve made: to allow ourselves to be enfolded into this living matrix, wholly enmeshed in this molecular mystery, to look from within this wildness with our human eyes and see our own reflection mirrored back… in everything.
My children jump in and out of this soft blob, covered in clots of foam, as it dawns on me, yet again: when we try to raise ourselves above this wild breathing mess that we’re a part of (as we do everyday, every hour, every minute when we slip out of presence to what is), we strengthen the castle walls of illusion – the illusion that we are somehow separate from this All (oh! dangerous delirium that we’ve been enculturated into!): the illusion that I’m separate from this seafoam and this new moon stormy sea; that I’m separate from the air I breathe and all the sensorial encounters that imprint themselves into my heart and mind.
Luckily, my kiddos still prefer their seafoam-home to any conceptual castle. They still prefer inhabiting this much muckier, messy, marvelous, and unpredictable world.
As do the bacteria, fungi, and other tiny creatures (whose names seem to get exponentially longer the more microscopic they become). These complexly-named little fellows plunge neck-deep into this foamy goodness as they feast on a nutrient-rich food orgie that would make Dionysus proud. And now, as my children emerge from the seafoam, covered in white fluff from head to toe, they carry entire ecosystems of living and dead presences onto the land. The wind bows gracefully to these two little assistants that help it with its job of transporting the spumy riches from marine to terrestrial environments, blurring boundaries as all true living impulses do.
I bend down to look more closely at this seafoam and notice that it’s entirely made up of bubbles. Trapped air. All of them held together through surface tension. That’s what the world feels like during this pandemic. To me, anyways. Each in our bubbles, connected by a global tension that holds us separate but together. It’s terribly uncomfortable. Quality time together, physical presence, being of service to each other, gathering in community, holding hands in difficult times – these are human love languages – this holding back to breathe our own air and stick to ourselves feels desperately counterintuitive. Painful. “This too shall pass,” I remind myself. I pop a foam bubble with my finger, just for kicks, to pop open to the world at least vicariously, if only for a moment.
Two days later, we head back to the same beach, this time as evening falls. The seafoam has largely disappeared, recycled back into the stuff of sand and shore. My children have also disappeared (before I can even get my coat on). Like water, they slip into this world of rock, kelp, wind and waves, captivated by the teeming life on this rhythmic edge of the world.
I hop like a goat across the rock wall, and wonder what these stone-kin witnessed from their sentinel stillness as they watched the seafoam dissolve overnight. Did their minerals dance in the vastness of their silence when they felt the air bubbles pop on their cold hard surface? How does stone perceive the world? What is the flavour of their rocky sentience? Metallic and defined? Or much more porous than we imagine?
Perhaps the rocks saw what we saw: perhaps they watched the seafoam become engulfed by the night mist, just as we now watch each island disappear into the ocean’s foggy out-breath as night falls. Whether the seafoam died by mist or by mineral handshake, I contemplate the last yellowed survivors of foam sitting there, in the darkening moonless night.
I wonder, like everyone else I suppose, how long our pandemic bubbles will last? Unlike seafoam, whose very nature contains surfactants that trap air into persistent bubbles, our human nature seems to make bubble formation more tenuous: our need for gathering in winter’s darkness to share stories around the fire does not lend itself well to closed doors. Nor does our need to hold hands in health and in sickness, in pain and in loss. And what of our need to look into each other’s eyes and read each other’s body movement as we move across the room? Our need to lend each other our warmth and physical pillar of strength in times of difficulty? Our need to embrace in friendship? Our need for those spaces where we can simply putter around in the kitchen, in each other’s presence? Our need for silent breezes between conversations in which the heart can swell and release?
And yet, here we are, living a life of seafoam. Finding our own surfactants to keep in bubble formation: whether in the form of fear or as a form of understanding of what’s needed to keep each other safe. Or a mix of both. We turn on the news, now and then (or perhaps many times a day for some of us, very rarely for others), to increase the surface tension and remind us of the breaking waves that churned up this spume in the first place.
There are times when waves need to spit out the contents of the underworld; to confront us with what lies below the surface, so we reimagine ourselves in light of what we discover.
I also wonder – like every one else, I suppose – what the world will look like once our bubbles pop and we come back into the open. I read that the air inside seafoam bubbles is not inherently toxic, but can be. It depends on whether it was exposed to contaminants from fossil fuels, transport, stormwater runoff, and the breakdown of algal blooms. I look at my kids, each busy in their imaginary conversations with dead fish, beechwood, a rare orange shell brought to shore from the storm, and the coming night. I remember how two days ago they were completely covered in seafoam, and I suddenly feel grateful for their head-to-toe raingear… just in case this seafoam was toxic. Just in case the stuff of the world at their fingertips turned out to be an invisible threat. Such toxicity reports in the past have plunged me into grief – the creek behind my apartment polluted by pesticides, the fish on my plate contaminating the milk I’m producing for my baby, the threat of infected needles in the playground.
And… this all pales in comparison to what others are experiencing in different parts of the world. But tonight I’m not walking through that portal of despair. The poignant indignation and lingering sorrow I’ve wrestled with throughout the years have thickened my joy for this world; tonight I take refuge in the utter beauty of this moment, all the while allowing grief and despair to be present somewhere in the landscape, just not at the forefront right now.
“Mama, look at this amazing knife I found!” My daughter shows me her dark driftwood butcher’s block knife, fitted perfectly for her small, slender hand. “Maman, viens voir” (come see)! My son calls, holding a hooked stick latched onto a rock as he straddles an imaginary giant crevasse. “I’m making it to the top of the mountain!” Yes, it is also the stuff of this world at their fingertips that is shaping their imagination and teaching them what it is to be human – one conversation at a time, as they talk with fish scale, pebble smoothness, slippy seaweed, and squawking gull.
While I put aside any worry I have about contaminant exposure, it does make me wonder: Am I forming toxins within my bubble that I’ll release into the world when this whole pandemic is over? What will be the fragrance and content of the aerosols I release into the air? Will fears and fantasies have taken root in the absence of a healthy checkmate from the differing perspectives of friends and family, neighbours and folk in my community? Am I creating something nurturing to give back to the world when I pop?
I stand in a place of privilege. The unceded traditional territory and ancestral grounds of the K’omoks First Nation are the lands I call home. I have access to beautiful natural settings with my children, and time to explore these with them. I know that time in our world is a luxury. I have healthy food in my plate, and enough of it. I have a circle of supportive people in my life, and a culture that at first glance will support me through virtue of my skin colour and the way I dress. Nestled in the safety of a warm home, I can work from my living room or bedroom closet. I live in the daily awareness of my riches, which translates as a responsibility. This is not to say that I’m not allowed my fears and foibles, or that the aerosols in my bubble better smell of bluebells and buttercups, because hey, I have no excuse! (Although, of course, part of me goes there…) Nor is it to say that my joy and wellness should be buried under a heavy mantle of shame and guilt (although, part of me goes here too).
So what does it mean then, this being responsible from my place of privilege? I’m still figuring this out and learning through being humbled, and then humbled again, and again… So no big statements here. Rolling pebbles in my hand, I watch my kids play and place one stone on the log for Gratitude: part of the answer must lie in my sense of gratitude for all of this wild, beautiful, complicated life. There must also be something to do with Courage. So I place another stone on the log for the courage to look injustice in the eyes and recognize the role I play in maintaining the injustice; courage to speak up when needed and to do things differently than the norm when the norms protect some and harm others.
I sense a desire for a clear answer, knowing full well that complex humans systems, just like ecosystems, don’t give rise to easy answers: the breathing living earth of which we’re a part of gives rise to dense fog. Acceptance of Complexity – another stone.
I turn towards the seafoam for insight.
Perhaps I have what it takes right here in front of me to create landscapes within myself that are big enough, vibrant enough, alive enough to hold my fears and failings, my uncertainties and doubts, my healthy yearnings and wellness: to let foibles and fallings, joys and risings, be absorbed by the evening mist, to let them dissolve onto rock-hard surfaces, to have them be recycled by the beaks and biting teeth of shore life.
From within my bubble, how can I make my inner landscapes vast and deep enough to hold the aches of this world that arrive at my doorstep? Abundant enough that I can draw water from the well to share with others and tend the thirst? Can I bring this living expansiveness and depth into my heart? Yes, there are moments where I do bring it right into my heart – only to find that it’s already there, this vibrant life force pulsing through my veins, ready to take it all in.
* * *
A week later, the new moon has passed. The ocean swells have slicked to stillness, only lulling waves left to gently savour the lingering fragrance of that sea-moon love affair. The strata hangs low with the droopy weight of sleeping eyelids.
After that frothy ebb and flow, all that chopping and churning, everyone needs a nap; the grey blanket is pulled over our heads. I accept the invitation and close my eyes. My thoughts wander back to the seafoam – I still see it as clear as day in my mind’s eye. Could life be so simple? This gentle joy of seeing and feeling seen, when I peer into seafoam and the seafoam looks back? This simple joy, when the world makes sense, if only for a fleeting moment of encounter.