Blogger Quintus Curtius wrote a beautiful, reflective essay on his blog, Fortress of the Mind, about the effects, both spiritual and physical, of living near the sea. It’s an excellent example of strong writing; here’s a lengthy quotation:
There is no union with the sea. There is the sea, and there is you, and this is as it should be. So we have this cautionary dualism: there is the ancient, perilous essence of the ocean, this tiger’s heart, and at the same time there is this rejuvenating energy of the sea. There is this inexplicable allure that calls us to it. It both provides, and destroys. There is kindness, and there is cruelty of the most savage sort. The fire can both sustain and destroy. And it seems that too much exposure to the ocean has some kind of degenerative effect, as well. You cannot quite put your finger on it. But it is there. You see it with those old mariners. The grizzled visages of those who have spent too much time with the ocean do not really convey wisdom: it is rather that the life has been sucked out of them, leaving a desiccated human husk. There are no places so degenerate as some of these obscure seaside communities. The odors of decay and ruin hover about them.
The line “it is rather that the life has been sucked out of them, leaving a desiccated human husk” calls to mind H.P Lovecraft’s “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” a classic of Lovecraft’s genre of weird horror fiction, about a town inhabited by people with an overly closer union with the sea and its horrors.
Living in South Carolina, the ocean is a large draw for our tourism industry, which is (I believe still) the largest part of our State’s economy. But there is a certain strangeness that attaches itself to seaside towns, a certain freewheeling sleaziness.
Take Myrtle Beach, a town that is like a slightly scruffier, tackier, and sleazier Branson, Missouri. Charleston, with—despite its reputation for elegance and charm—is a bustling port city that suffers from the double-edged sword of cosmopolitanism.
Quintus Curtius relates an example of oceanic dualism in an illustration from the Samnite War. Another ancient allusion came to my mind: the view of the ancient Israelite people regarding the sea. They viewed it distrustfully, and I seem to recall that Old Testament references to “the abyss” may have referred to the wine dark Mediterranean.
Standing by the ocean is a humbling experience; like staring at the starry night sky on a crystal clear night, it reminds us of our own smallness in the vastness of the Universe.