While I normally don’t think of myself as a desert rat per se, when I do some serious self-examination, that is where I find my imagination wandering. Deserts can be funny places; you can sit all day in the shade of juniper a tree without so much as seeing a lizard flit across the sand, yet you can observe the diversity and health of the ecosystem all around you. Most people–myself often included–don’t often have the patience to sit and wait for something (anything) to happen here. This is the wilderness after all, and action can be a bit hard to come by.
So it was that I recently found myself at Montaña de Oro State Park, on California’s central coast. Far away from my much-loved desert, I spent several hours exploring the rocky coastline, climbing on the rocks and looking for a spot to photograph sunset. Waves crushed the rocks along the beach relentlessly, finding their way into every cove, crack, and crevice, over and over again. As soon as one wave left, another would come, inflicting its wrath on the rocks. For millions of years this has been happening, shaping the shoreline into what it is today.
There is something mesmerizing about being near the ocean. Maybe it’s the rhythmicity or the the ability of the waves to drown out the voices in my head, I don’t know. Whatever it is, I feel calmed and soothed, regardless of whether I walk along a calm beach or next to a violent shoreline being battered by relentless waves.
I often imagine what it would be like to be alone on a kayak far out at sea. The thought frightens me a little bit, the feeling of loneliness that would accompany that could easily be overwhelming. I suspect the hours would pass slowly, just waiting for something (anything) to happen, and it would feel like a million miles away from the seemingly busy shoreline. In this context, it should become obvious that the ocean is wilderness too, and should be celebrated as such. However, just like our terrestrial wildernesses, the ocean is being exploited, overfished, polluted.
“Fifty million buffalo once roamed the rolling green prairies of North America. Gunners reduced them to near extinction. Now, hunters are at work on the rolling blue prairies of the sea, and already, the big fish – including miracles like thousand-pound, warm-blooded bluefin tuna – are 90 percent gone. What we regret happening on land, may again happen in the sea. Those who care about wildlife should get to know about oceans.”
–Carl Safina, Comes a Turtle, Comes the World
From a photographic point of view, beaches have been called the easiest places to put together a compelling composition. I can’t argue, but I definitely don’t believe that oceans (or beaches for that matter) are simple places. They are beautifully complex, life-giving, and they need to be celebrated by everyone, whether they’ve set foot in an ocean or not. Sitting at Montaña de Oro, I am reminded that I need the sea as much as I need my beloved desert.