Tuesday, February 24, 2015


On Saturday, I spent the day at the Monterey Bay Aquarium with my Environmental Literacy class. I have not been to the aquarium in a few years, and looked forward to the trip immensely.

Picture- and introspection-heavy post ahead.

Squid - InnerPartySystem


It's been a long, long week and I needed some alone time pretty badly. (I'm writing this post on Saturday, so that is why the time words don't seem to line up.) Right away, I split off from the main group and went to the exhibit called The Open Sea. A dark, winding space with brightly lit windows into tanks backed in blue.

First were the jellies. We arrived at the start of the day, when it was not so crowded, so I could go right up to the tanks and stare, just stare, at the jellies hanging silently in the blue.

One reason I love the ocean is, I think, that it seems timeless. Things are constantly in flux in the ocean, of course, but things change and stay the same and it is an alien enough world that I can recognize the global stability resulting from local chaos. When I am standing there in the darkness staring at a tank full of moon jellies, I can forget about time.

If I believed in souls, I would say that the ocean is lodged somewhere in my soul. It runs in my veins. It reminds me, again and again, that I am small and inconsequential and that even if I am weak and feeble and confused, that people have always had problems and mine are no worse than those that have been overcome.

That was a lie. The ocean does not remind me. It lets me forget that my problems exist. It reminds me that they do not really matter.


Then I got to the Open Sea tank. And I stood there for a long time, staring and staring at the life going around.

I saw giant tuna. I saw schools of fish in turmoil, coordinated movement an emergent system from hundreds of minds in concert.

I saw my brethren, the shark and the ray.

Why do I identify with these animals? I could not tell you. Perhaps because they are weird and slightly disconcerting and still powerful and fast and majestic, and I wish I could say that about myself but I certainly cannot. Either way, I love them.


Which is why this work of displayed art really hit me hard:

This is Shark Teeth, by Chris Jordan.

From the description given next to the picture:
From the photo illustration series Running the Numbers II, this piece offers a detailed view of thousands of fossilized shark teeth--the estimated number of sharks killed worldwide every day for their fins.

Every day.

I will not lie. While looking at this photo, I felt as though I wanted to weep. Thousands of sharks. Thousands. Every day. On the ground floor there was an exhibit about the depletion of tuna, turtle, and shark populations, and while I was looking at that I got the same feeling. A deep, visceral, wrenching emotion that was some mix of sadness and sickness.

One must try to empathize with other humans, but I do not understand why anyone would want to destroy such beauty.


Downstairs there was also a special exhibit called Tentacles, which displayed incredible art.

A steampunk octopus:

Contessa with Squid, by Omar Rayyan:

Night of the Ammonites, by Ray Troll:

Looking at beautiful art made me feel rather a lot better about existing. Then I saw this cuttlefish chambered nautilus (thank you LS for the correction!), who looks rather suspicious, in both senses of the word:

I do not know what it is about cephalopods that makes them so charmingly weird. But they are delightful, no?


After lunch, a few friends and I left the aquarium for about an hour to explore Monterey. We hit up the ocean and a used bookstore (remarkably, well-organized), which are really the most important things.

...and got back to the Aquarium in time for me to stare at the Kelp Forest tank. Luminous.


At the beginning of high school, when I still made time for such things, I read a lot of poetry on deviantArt. I remember a line from one poem that has stuck with me even though I can no longer find the source:

"I need the ocean like I need to breathe/And I feel so landlocked beside you."

It was an anti-love poem, of course, but it was running through my head and I think the "you" could be me. A friend recently asked me to justify my motives in not doing something and I realized that I live a very circumscribed life. I don't take a lot of risks. I don't go on a lot of adventures. I don't like to rock the boat. My way of rebelling against my all-healthcare/medicine family is...going into engineering.

To be honest, I felt kind of weird about going to the aquarium. Most of the patrons were families. It seems such a juvenile thing: a class trip to the aquarium! How cute. How trite. "Shouldn't you be doing something more serious with your time?"

But I have a hard time remembering, sometimes, the wonderstruck child I used to be, and I found her again for a moment as I sat in a porthole window and watched a hammerhead swim by. I found her as I clambered over rocks to sit closer to the water, watch the waves come in and out.

She's going to leave again--me, I mean--the me who doesn't feel like she has to have a justification for being happy--the me who can forget about time--but that's okay. Don't worry now.

The waves will come back in, and you can never outgrow the ocean.

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