Tsunami 2011


The final waves of the Japanese Tsunami of 2011 arrived in Monterey in the form of a three foot swell. The Earths vibration traveled over 5,000 miles before it touched our shore, swamped boat harbors and drove some of us to higher ground.
The Phuket Tsunami of 2004 may have had more of an impact on Santa Cruz, though the waves never made it our way. Many local surfers called the Thai shores surf nirvana – low cost vacations, gentle village communities – a poor mans paradise. People lost extended families, extended families lost whole villages. The devastation was beyond the ken of the uninitiated, I fear the same may be true for Japan.
King Neptune is Not Happy With New Jersey!     Some part of us understands the monstrous power of a Tsunami, and fears it. I was haunted by the Phuket videos, I couldn’t look out to sea for weeks, couldn’t get back into the Pacific for months. The sound of big surf that drifted into our window at night was like the distant gnashing of giant teeth as they ground lives up by the tens of thousands.
The photos of Japanese citizens, hungry, thirsty, orphaned and lost, look no different from those of impoverished Thai villagers back in 2004. One of the most technologically advanced societies was brought to its knees in a few hours. The Oceans ability to create life is matched by its ability to destroy it.
This mornings news of a likely core meltdown made me sick to my stomach. Reports of helpless chaos pervading the control room indicate this quake may bear the fruit of an unmitigated nuclear disaster. This from coastal communities, this from a nation that survived the first nuclear war. The arial photos of towns washed away bear an eerie resemblance to black and white stills of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Key to keeping the fuel rods from melting down and causing a massive explosion is coolant, right now that means water from the Ocean. Funny how it keeps coming back to water. Last night my son and I watched the Japanese film Ponyo for the umpteenth time. A Tsunami plays a central role in the film, as well as humanities ignorance of the sacred nature of the Ocean. The power of the Ocean, and its sacred dimension, seem to be well known by the Japanese.
I cannot help but think humanity will always struggle to fully comprehend all of the qualities of our Oceans: their abundance, their mystery and their destructive power. We continue to misjudge the basic value of water, and our responsibility to the life beneath the waves.
We build power-plants and toxic industry at the waters edge, somehow believing the Ocean is knowable, containable. We never learned the adage one Thai fisherman had been given by his father. It was wisdom that had seen his nomadic fishing tribe through many trials. As soon as the tide went out he knew it was time to head for higher ground. Though no Tsunami had happened there for centuries, the knowledge had been passed down through story from generation to generation.
“We were told when the tide went out suddenly like this to run to higher ground. We were always taught to never turn your back on the Ocean.”

Image: King Neptune … by By Sister72 from Flickr, used under 
a Creative Commons license

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