From Singing to the Sound: Visions of Nature, Animals, & Spirit by Brenda Peterson, a beautiful collection of essays about life on America's Northwest coast:
"If landscape is character, then Northwesterners are most like water. We are shaped by the voluptuous shores and salt tides of Puget Sound, the deep currents of the Columbia, Salmon, and Snake rivers. Northwesterners have always been water folk, shaped by this Sound and also by the sounds of rapid rivers and dousing rains. Our tales are syncopated with rhythms of tide and wind, cries of seagulls, ospreys, and eagles, the mystical breath of whales, and grieving argpeggios of foghorns. Northwesterners are held back from falling off the proverbial edge of the world by a Pacific coastline whose nurturing rain forests and rocky peninsulas face the sea like guardians.
"Our intimacy with water is crucial to understanding our Northwest character; we are more changed by the environment than it is by us....When we try to spell out our 'rainy day intimacies' to outsiders, they cannot believe we actually enjoy living for many months aswirl in great, flowing gowns of gray mist. To survive here without the daily illumination of sunlight, we must have an inner life bright with hidden worlds.
"Northwest Coast Natives tell stories of sea creatures and underwater tribes that shape-shift into humans then return to the original People -- the animals. For example, the Salmon People are an underwater tribe who also spend a season on land; the whales and seals can metamorphose into humans as easily as the ever-present mist and clouds change shape. Many Northwest coast tribes tell of merpeople, part human, part mammal, who mediate between the worlds to keep a watery balance. One of the most common gods was called 'Changer.' Many native tribes began their mythologies with water -- floods and seas creating what we now call The People. A Skagit myth details this beginning, when Changer decided 'to make all the rivers flow only one way' and that 'there should be bends in the rivers, so that there would be eddies where the fish could stop and rest. Changer decided that beasts should be placed in the forests. Human beings would have to keep out of their way.' "
"Northwesterners not only reckon with water shaping our physical boundaries, but also our heavens," Peterson writes a little later in the essay. "Rain is a Northwest native. One recent winter, we had twenty-seven inches of rain in three months and mudslides are now as familiar as side streets. Northwesterners live like slowly drowning people. We are well aware of the predictions that in the next millennium our Pacific Rim shores will sink from the volcanic tsunami waves into an Atlantis-like abyss. Our famous rainfall is perhaps all that shelters us from the massive population and industrial exploitations of nearby California. The rain is so ominpresent, especially between late October and even into June, that most Northwesterners disdain umbrella, the true sign of any tourist.
"One must be rather fluid to live underwater; one must learn to flow with a pulse greater than one's own. A tolerance for misting gray days means an acceptance that life itself is not black and white, but in between. If the horizons outside one's window are not sharply defined but ease into a sky intimately merged with sea and soft landscape, then perhaps shadows, both personal and collective, are not so terrifying. After all, most of the year Northwesterners can't even see their own literal shadows cast on the ground. We live inside the rain shadow. We tolerate edges and difference in people and places perhaps because our landscape blends and blurs as it embraces.
"Widely acclaimed Port Angeles poet Tess Gallagher tells it this way: 'It is a faithful rain. You feel that it has some allegiance to the trees and the people....It brings an ongoing thoughtfulness to their faces, a meditativeness that causes them to fall silent for long periods, to stand at their windows looking out at nothing in particular. The people walk in the rain as within some spirit they wish not to offend with resistence.' "
My morning prayer: Let me learn to live the grey days of Dartmoor's "faithful rain" without resistence. May these long, wet winter months teach me to be more fluid, more meditative, unafraid of change and metamorphosis.
The extraordinary photographs today are by Jason deCaires Taylor, an artist and naturalist known for creating living underwater sculptures that evolve over time into coral reefs, intended "to portray how human intervention or interaction with nature can be positive and sustainable." Born to a British father and Guyanese mother, Taylor was raised in England and Asia, studied sculpture and ceramics in London, then trained as a diving instructor and marine conservationist before bringing all of his interests together in the making of environmental art. He is also the co-founder of an underwater sculpture park in the West Indies, and an underwater museum in Mexico. Currently based in the Canary Islands, he's at work on an new underwater museum for the Atlantic Ocean.
"Working in conservation, I am very concerned with all the associated effects of climate change and the state of peril our seas are in," says Taylor. “If we walked past a forest that was disintegrating every day, with animals dead by the side of the road, we would be much more aware of our actions. But underwater life is out of our sight and the problem is easily ignored. So a big part of my work is to bring people's focus and awareness to the destruction of our seas and of the natural world."
The passage above is from Brenda Peterson's essay "Faithful Rain," in Singing to the Sound (NewSage Press, 2000). I highly recommend her books -- including three wonderful fantasy novels about mermaids and silkies: The Drowning World, Tattoo Master, and The Secret Journal of Kate Morag. All rights to the text and art above is reserved by their respective creators.