Filed Under (How it All Started, Scientists) by Alexa & Cindy on 19-03-2009
O4E: Today’s post is the first in our on-going series about how people from all around the oceans community came to the water – how they ended up with oceans in their lives as an interest, a passion – even a career.
It’s admittedly my (Cindy’s) motivation to show young people, including a certain 9 year-old relative and founder of this blog, what they can do with their love of the ocean as they grow up and how childhood interests can shape their lives (and to not be afraid to let them).
This idea grew out of a conversation with our “masked man” (See 3/15), whom we can now reveal as Mark Powell, whose first encounter with water didn’t go so well – he was swept down the Santiam River in Oregon when he was a toddler (lucky for us, saved by his dad) – but who couldn’t stay away.
Today, Mark works for the Ocean Conservancy organization’s Seattle, Washington office, trying to create and maintain healthy fish populations and educating people on the dangers of over-fishing poses to marine ecosystems around the country.
But that’s just his day job. He has not one, but three blogs about oceans (all of them in our blog roll), a family and an unstoppable passion for bodies of water, in general.
How the heck did this all get started?
Sit a spell, and read Mark’s story.
MP: I live surrounded by water. That says more about me than a list of the whats, wheres, and whens of my life.
My first water embrace scared me for years, but it couldn’t keep me away. I learned to love going underwater and seeing how long I could stay down. I once fetched a friend’s glasses when he dropped them off a boat in the Cayman Islands in 40 feet of water and nobody else would dive that far. Now I’m drawn to swim around Bainbridge Island alone in the cold gray beautiful chilling spooky fantastic water.
I get in the ocean, I swim, I look around, and then I get out. No big deal, but somehow everything seems different. I’ve come unstuck. I live and breathe water now. When I’m on land, I can go back underwater with just a small shift in focus. It’s like having Endless Ocean inside of my head.
It all started with my ocean version of The Matrix.
In The Matrix, Neo (Keanu Reeves) learns to see and surf the crazy dripping megabytes that are the matrix–a computer program that controls people. His abilities look like superpowers in the simulated world of the matrix, he can stop bullets and fly. My ocean connection has that feel, an immersion that leads beyond the ordinary world.
I find a power in the ocean that draws me in and rewards me with a feeling of transcendence. It’s no one thing about the ocean, not fish or beauty. The attraction comes from what feels like a flowing current of life and motion that surrounds and absorbs me and gives me strength.
I’m not sure where or when it started. I was shy and bookish as a child, and I treasured escapist fantasy. I’d find it reading, watching ocean specials on TV, fishing, or playing basketball. The best moments in my life were when I found a sublime focus on what was happening, and the mundane would just fall away and be gone—what author Daniel Goleman calls “flow” in his book Emotional Intelligence.
Ocean flow was the best flow and I was drawn there, fishing, beachcombing, staring at the waves, or watching Jacques Cousteau on TV. I grew up an hour away from the ocean and seeing it was a special treat until I moved to San Diego when I was 21 and learned to surf. My connection was a pure “love the ocean” connection at first, and the urge to “save the ocean” only came up gradually through my 20’s.
I’m part of the last generation of ocean lovers to grow up without the oppressive burden of ocean decline. I caught and sold salmon before the great collapse, and when the salmon weren’t biting it was easy to catch huge “bottom fish.” Those days are gone, and I know that from personal experience.
Part of my drive now comes from what I’ve seen and what I’ve done. The fish that I caught, and the things that I’ve seen, like a feeding frenzy of dolphins, fish and diving birds. But the real attraction for me is my urge to get into ocean “flow.” Matrix-like, it’s the source of my superpowers.
An ocean connection can be more grit than glory, especially on Bainbridge Island where I live. The ocean is mostly cold and gray, and it seems about as friendly as a grouchy grizzly bear. No problem, the connection is still there. It may take a bit more effort, but once I get my ocean “flow” on, I’m in heaven. The connection can be so strong that when I pull myself out of the water and look around, a bizarre question pops up: “what world is this?” I’ve put daily life so far behind me that it’s like returning to earth from another planet when I get out.
A real immersion in a current always feels this way. It can be strange to get in, and hard to get into, but so strong and sticky that getting out is a harsh re-awakening. If you can imagine doing part of my Swim Around Bainbridge Island alone in the cold gray water, yet feeling shocked, stunned and disappointed when it’s time to climb out, then you get the picture.
The more connected I get with the ocean, the easier it is to call on that connection when I’m not underwater. I may be in a sterile room somewhere, arguing with someone about fishing and trying to push ocean conservation. And I might start feeling small, outnumbered and in doubt. If I can just reach deep and find the ocean inside of me, then the superpowers come back, and I’m re-energized.
My ocean connection all started with discovering the feeling of transcendence that the ocean gives me. Later, my ocean conservation drive arose when I saw, in my own lifetime, in my own places, the beginnings of the great ongoing collapse. Thank goodness the connection comes with superpowers.
Where there is great need, an ocean connection provides great determination. If the task seems too big, remembering a day underwater brings new strength. Just like seeing the matrix makes it possible to leap over tall buildings if there are a dozen “Agent Smith” characters trying to block conservation. Best of all, we don’t have to do it alone, because the captivating power of the ocean makes it easy to recruit others to the cause. Oceans Forever!
O4E: Get more from Mark – visit his blogs Blogfish, Swim Around Bainbridge and Carnival of the Blue, home of the ocean blog carnival – all linked at right.
So what do you think - Mark, and we wonder -is the wilderness of the ocean a place, or a feeling?