Monday, April 1, 2013

Life in the Littoral Zone

I guess most, if not all, travelers find themselves here, from time to time - that space, zone, phase, moment during which one is neither here nor there...staring out through the window into scenery of which one will never have anything but a fleeting memory...the insides of airports and train stations which, more and more, resemble each other, to the point where one may be unable, at some given moment, to say exactly which one is in...motel rooms...freeways passing through wall enclosed housing developments, whose numbered off ramps are clotted with a limited set of chain restaurants, and gas-station-mini-markets.

Literally, the littoral zone is that space, at the edge of an ocean, which is sometimes under water, sometimes not. Lots of stuff happens here, especially where there are rocks. Stuff likes to grow here, where there is lots of available water and also lots of sunlight. It is a very active place, a place of great variety, a place of change, a place of the moment. It is where you find the best flotsam and jetsam...messages in bottles, broken bits of ships, and the detritus of our plastic culture, mixed with the bones of birds, the shells of sea creatures, and the partially devoured carcasses of beasts...bits that are here today, and may be gone tomorrow. It is a place of wealth and confusion.

It is neither the ocean nor the hills, neither here nor there, although it is most certainly its own place.

You can't live there, least, not if you are a person. It takes a special kind of creature to live in this place, clinging to rocks or buried in sand, waiting for the water to return, before opening the mouth into the great current of sustenance that flows around our world.

And in the littoral zone of the mind? You can't live here either. People need more sustenance than that, a more constant immersion, and at the same time, a more solid footing. In the littoral zone of the mind, one can too often feel bereft, alone, unattached, disconnected, despite the plethora of cyber cafes dotting the land.

I've been traveling, occupying the littoral zone, washing up for a moment...a week, a month, a season...onto various shores, peopled with various wonderful folks. But always, at the back of my mind, I've got one foot still in the water, feeling the tides, awaiting the moment when I'll be drawn back into the surge and motion of the littoral zone.

Our world, too, is in a littoral zone. We've been enjoying a rare moment, a geological shore, on which we have built massive cities, huge cultures, monstrous industries and endless populations. But the tide is coming in. Already it is eating away at the bluffs on which we've staked our lives...warming, drying, shifting...and what we have always known to be solid ground may soon be a quicksand into which all of our greatness may sink.

And where will our world wash up? What will characterize the new shore? Chances are it will be a less happy place for us, whatever it is, because the old shore, the Pleistocene, was where we grew up, became us, became human. We took the Pleistocene world and made it our own, our home, our Holocene, the 10,000 years in which we have slowly, then more rapidly, then more rapidly still, worked our will on this earth. In less than 1000 generations we have remade the surface of the world, industrious creatures that we are, thinking all along that this was going to be the way it always was...after all, didn't God make it for us?

In our making we have made our unmaking...the Holocene is ebbing, as the tidal drift of our climate turns once again to some new epoch, the nature of which will only be known once we have passed through the littoral zone.

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