Signal Mountain, TN
2018, High School, Prose
Wisps of cloud sail the sky, was a dome of rich violets and pastel pinks. Cerulean, sienna, and amber blend into a burst of gold that seeps below the horizon. Glints of light dust the water’s surface like gold leaf.
The water is quiet. Lost in an abyss of thought.
A whispered greeting from the wind echoes across the water in small ripples. Tired from the day’s toils yet eager to end another day exchanging stories with the water, the wind sighs, turning the ripples into bigger, yet peaceful, waves. The wind gushes with excitement; it carried a baby bird on its first flight today. It was a young gannet, the wind believes. Or was it a petrel? Never mind that. The wind has seen so many fledglings take flight that it tends to confuse the species. This bird had chirped and squeaked with worry, but one nudge from its mother had sent it tumbling down in a frantic flurry of feathers. Then there was whistling, singing as it flapped and glided and soared. The wind will never forget that feeling of pride, the privilege of witnessing the moment something so small accomplishes so great a task; the moment a leap of faith becomes a confident stride; the moment the young gets a little wiser, a little freer, a little older; the moment every feather, fiber, muscle, bone, and cell fight to achieve what they are destined to do and succeed—that moment never gets old.
The wind pauses, as if out of breath. Now is the time when the water would praise the wind and thank it for sharing. What a fine story, the water would say. It reminds me of the young sea horses exploring for their first time the colorful realm of the coral reef …
But the water does not say that. The water remains silent.
The wind asks the water what is wrong. Why is it so quiet? Doesn’t it want to spend time with the wind?
Of course, the water wants to spend time with the wind, the water explains, but it is sick. The water has a high temperature; its fever seems to only get worse. The black, foul liquids poured into the water are no innocuous doses of cough medicine. And the young sea horses? They were born into a colorless world of skeletons. Fish don’t swim there. Even the bacteria that would give the coral its color are long gone. Oh, how the water would love to tell a story of bustling life and vivid colors, but how scant those stories seem. The stories at the forefront of the water’s mind are of death and decay, raw and vulgar. Who wouldn’t want to turn a blind eye on a world devoid of color? Who wants to hear the story of the polar bear’s emaciated figure—each movement a risk of succumbing to the exhaustion and hunger drilled into every bone— struggling to reach the nearest patch of solid ground? Sea life face hardships daily, such as finding nutrition in a world where the supply of food decreases and the demand for food increases. The sea itself, once thought of as having the powers of a god, has failed to protect its beloved inhabitants. What hope is there in a world in which those who hold the power to heal are the very same who, generation after generation, cause the need for healing? The natural world is at the mercy of the species that is the most disconnected from it. So, yes, the water is quiet. It can do no more than mourn.
Throughout the water’s plaintive lament, the wind grew angrier with every injustice the water spoke of.
It isn’t fair, the wind roars. You don’t deserve such poor treatment. You give and give, yet you receive nothing more than noxious toxins. I can sense the film of rot that suffocates your inhabitants. How can you sit idly by while you wither from the inside out? Why restrain your indignation when you have the power to punish, to secure retribution? I cannot continue to stand idly by and watch as you waste away, and I condemn you for letting mankind treat you this way.
The water ponders this for a moment. The wind’s words settle in the water’s mind like acid, corroding walls built to repress the doubts, inhibitions, and fears that the water had felt for so long. The water trembles; the water darkens. Then the water erupts into a fit of pure, liberated emotion. Massive waves of rage and grief, intensified by the wind’s howls of anger, crash with force and fury so great that even the wind, albeit only for a moment, is taken aback. The bedlam caused by the water’s fever and the wind’s furor force the horizon to bend and warp in a fruitless attempt to separate the wind and water from joining into one almighty force. The hysteria is enough to strike fear into the hearts of the nearby creatures; the birds and fish flee, fearing being trapped in the crossfire of the wind and water’s outrage. The wind howls louder and the waves grow taller until, amidst the maelstrom and clamor, the water hears a sound that is enough to halt the fervor—the wind chokes and lets out a series of guttural coughs.
Smog, the wind says gravely. All day I inhale smoke and pollution. It comes as no surprise that my exhales reek of death—my own deterioration and that of those whom I carry. The water was still, silent. The wind, who had taken care of and fought for the water for so long, and who rejoiced in the simple pleasures of cheering up an old friend with the latest story of hope and beauty, was sick too. At that moment, the water felt selfish. It had been so preoccupied with its own problems that it had completely overlooked the wind’s problems. The water had never felt so hopeless.
The water remembers the way it used to be. When the ocean was respected and treated like the sublime being it is; when man feared its tempestuous moods and worshipped its pacific beauty. When the glaciers maintained their solid state of matter. When the coral reef was a frenzy of color and activity. When the climates did not trade weather patterns. When the water could confidently call itself a safe place for all of its residents. What was once a hallowed masterpiece is now dirty and dull, like a painting left in the wrong hands—hands that nonchalantly smudge the painting’s surface with their fingerprints and oil.
The water knows who is responsible for its misery. Doesn’t committing a crime as heinous as polluting the ocean warrant the most merciless of punishments? And yet, as much as the water wants mankind to pay for its cruelty, the water realizes that mankind holds the power now, not the water. Man’s power is similar to that which the water once wielded: capable of not only ineffable destruction but also harmonious reparation.
The water needs to somehow convey to the humans the ocean’s distress and to convince them of their capability to right their wrongs; however, the water does not speak their tongue. It must find a way to get their attention, by any means possible.
And so, it rises.
Reaching further and further every day, it rises. Despite the raging fever that weakens the water and slows down its progress, it rises. What else can the water do to get people’s attention other than rise its sea levels, in the hopes of reaching someone who is willing to help?
The water is hopeful that one day—maybe years, decades, millennia from now—nature will recover and return to normal. The smog will disappear from the air, and the oil and trash will no longer plague the oceans. The wind and the water will be healthy once more. What will bring that golden age of well-being, the water cannot say. Perhaps, when the era of man ends, then the era of the natural world will begin once more. Perhaps all it takes for environmental prosperity is the absence of mankind. But today, and most likely for many days to come, the water relies on man to bring about its salvation. Remedying the fever that has ravaged every bit of the water— from the bottom of its deepest trench to the crest of its tallest wave—is a feat that can only be accomplished when mankind decides to use its power to cure the wind and the water.
The purpose of creating this piece was to give the ocean a voice, and to then translate that voice into a language that people can understand. In my experience, people are more inclined to care about something when they can relate to it. It’s a part of human nature that film corporations such as Disney are well versed in. Disney’s animated films feature adorable animals that are so charming because they have human characteristics. Almost all Disney creatures, while keeping their respective animal faces, have human expressions. Our tendency to put things in human terms is apparent in ancient cultures as well; people often depicted gods as human-like, albeit much more magnificent and powerful. Perhaps that very same tendency is what propelled me to write my piece as a narrative in the perspective of the wind and the water; sometimes evoking emotion can have a more powerful effect than listing facts. I brought the wind and the water to life using emotions that I imagine they would convey if they could express those emotions using human vocabulary. In order to make people understand and accept that we negatively impact this earth, we must be able to empathize with the natural world. We must be able to put ourselves in the shoes of the wind and the water and be conscious of our actions. We must treat this earth as a loved one, and we must nurture it as it nurtures us. If personifying and humanizing the ocean is the only way to make people care about it, then so be it.