All of the water we have on the planet earth now is the same water that was here in the beginning. Every molecule was here long before us – long before any life existed to drink of it and thrive in it. It will be here long after us – long after any and all life has ceased to exist.
There are many theories as to how it got here – that it rose to the surface from deep within the planet’s structure; that it arrived here on asteroids and meteoroids that had been hurtling through space for a time something like infinity; that the pressurization occurring on the planet as the atmosphere formed created the right environment to stabilize gas into liquid and viola: oceans. No one knows. But we do know that we depend on it – that without it, there would be no us.
It is greater than us. Water runs through everything – pure or tainted, it creates, it erodes. The oceans work constantly at life and at death. You find it most here, on the beach, where the water meets the land. Here I smell the air and it is crisp and cool. It smells like kelp and salt and fish – and under that, always under that, a faint wisp of the smell of death.
Which makes sense – the beach is where things come to die. Even rocks come here to die. The only thing that thrives on the beach is scavengers – seagulls hopping along and picking at the corpses of crabs and fish washed ashore. Sea anemones, snails and mussels all close up and recoil within themselves as the tides sink – they wait out the beachiness of the beach. They wait for the tide to return, to bring them safety in the waves that wash towards them what remains after death farther out – little bits of things dead and decomposing.
I smell that rich scent, and I smile. The wind whips around me, at my newly short-cropped hair and my sweat-salted skin, and I turn to my companion and say, “You know what I love about the smell of the ocean? It always smells vaguely of death.”
Sitting on one of the big, round stones that pebbles the beach, he takes a breath and nods. “Huh,” he says. “Yeah, it does.” He’s never noticed it before. He’s never going to smell the beach the same way again.
Photo courtesy of N
Standing on a rock sticking up out of the low tide, I turn back to the ocean and watch the waves roll in. They crash against the sharp, jutting stones that stick out of the water like dislodged dragon’s teeth. The sun shines off the broken surface like a thousand pieces of fallen stars.
It is when I turn my eyes down that I see, in the shallow rippling water all around me, clarity of the variety I have never quite seen before. I crouch to look more closely at the water, or rather, at the sand and bits of broken kelp and shells through the water. They are dappled by the shadows the sun casts through the rippled water. Despite being an ocean, vast and wide and ancient, dredging along so much life and death and all of the excretions contained therein – despite being an ocean in the time of humans, polluted and so often poison, it looks clearer, cleaner, and crisper than any water I’ve ever seen. I want to touch it but to do so seems sacrilegious – as though to touch this water that’s been here longer than humanity has been a star in God’s eye is to steal the bones of a saint from her grave. So I fold my hands on my knees and I watch the water-shadows on the sand and I can’t help but think of that clear pristine: “This is what water looked like before humans.”
And it was – because this water was before humans. It is before humans, now, and then, and soon after, and in the end.
The water splashes against the rock on which I’m perched, a little gull peering down, watching a tiny shelled something creep across the sand. It is beautiful. It is time, and time is not a straight line. Some think it is a circle. One gentle man I know thinks of it as a twisting, flexing double helix. One famous doctor said “it's more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly... time-y wimey... stuff” than a straight, linear progression.*
Right here, right now, time is none and all of those things, and I am lost it in. Time is water crashing against stones, breaking them down into sand and swallowing them up. Time is molecules crashing against each other, bouncing off one another and ricocheting into all of existence. Time is everything, always, in one point. Staring into the water below me, past, present, and future are indistinguishable because this water has always existed and always will exist.
And everything in me – each atom that builds each molecule that builds each cell of me – these, too, have always existed in some form, just as this water has always existed, be it as gas compressed into liquid on a new-born planet or ice hurtling through space or bubbles trapped within stone deep in the earth’s body. Time is meaningless to these things that have always been and always will be. Time is a tiny point in existence – a blink, the head of a pin.
All of this matter has always existed and always will – can be neither created nor destroyed – and between all of that free-floating matter lodging together and taking form, pretending to be water and stones and dirt and plants and animals and among them humans, there is divinity. Divinity lingering among our atoms, our neutrons and protons, making believe with us while we march along – counting the seconds, the minutes, the hours, the days, the weeks, the months and the years.
This, I think, is how water looked before people. This is how it will look after people. It does not care for time, for it will always be – just like every atom in my body, and that is all I am: atoms caught up in the wind of time, in all times at once because all times exist at once, coming together, colliding to make this –
This one, beautiful, indiscriminate moment where water is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever laid eyes on.
*Yes, I totally did just quote Doctor Who series 3, episode 10, the forever-striking-fear-into-the-hearts-of-viewers-everywhere, "Blink."