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Endless Sea of Waves

The son of a fisherman once pondered the endless procession of waves that marched to the sand in front of his families’ home. Their rhythmic rumble upon the shore set the meter to his days, the melody to his nights, strung the warp of his dreams. And though he could see so clearly where the life of each wave ended, he could only imagine where their life began. Why were some so calm and graceful like soaring white terns, while others wild, towering beasts, the terror of strong men.

His father told him waves were born of small ripples thousands of miles away, stirred by the wind and fueled by the gales, but his question remained. For what stirred the wind and guided its course? His mother said the sun. In some way he knew she was right--somehow the turning of the sun and the seasons made the winds, but what turned the sun and the seasons, and still what before that? And what was turning and movement at that?

He saw that a boat on the sea bobbed up and down, that the water did not flow forward like the river or wind. The waves moved, yes, he saw--his eyes could not lie. Yet, no, they did not move--his mind could not be fooled. The water was still, did not move but was moved. Some giant serpent flowed through the sea. Like a whip it began with a ripple and ended with a bang--between birth and death an animate being, between death and birth, an unknown mystery.

He could feel a wave’s power on his body, on his skin. But he could not hold it, or put it in a jar. He could see one wave distinct from the next, but could not find one wave without another, one crest without a trough--and what of the sea?

Night after night he lay pondering, wrestling, “What is the wave? From where does it come, how does it move”? And what is the mover, the spirit, the spark? Before wind and sea, what did it move? And in the deep still of space does it still exist? He could not grasp, even what question to ask. “How can I triumph, if my opponent is not known? Like grabbing for water, grasping at air.” So every night he would lose, and sleep it would win—a relentless warm wave washing over, as his muscles released to the dark moving void.

So one day he left home, on a vessel of wood. He rowed and rowed, his boat from shore, against the waves and into the wind. He’d never spent a night on the sea, but now he spent many; the waves poured into his dreams. He rowed and he looked, he looked and he rowed, for a place where the waves moved away. There must, he thought, be a place in the center where waves about-face, where one wave heads East and another moves West. This, his head thought, must be where waves are born and their secrets live. His heart knew much better, but did not protest, just watching and grinning like an all-loving bride.

His boat grew to follow the curve of the waves and his muscles learned the endless rhythm of the sea. At year three or four, his boat’s nails gave way, and his wooden vessel dissolved into unstructured planks bobbing up and down on the waves. He held fast to one plank for a week to two years, but never got closer to a center of the sea.

One clear morning, he let go of his plank. He dove deep with the fish, and rose with the sun. He forgot what it felt like not to move, not to swim, what it felt like to stand on still shores. He remembered trees waving in the wind, but forgot what was the question that led him here so long ago--and forgot what was the word he once used to call these things all around him, moving in time.

Video Animation:

© 2020 Jonathan Wilson -

Background Music:

"Pasadena Part Two” on RockPaperScissors

℗ 2006 Michael Brook

licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

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