Before I stepped onto the airplane I had been exploring the moss and lichens covering some of the most ancient stones on the North American continent in the foothills of the Appalachians. When my feet reached the earth once again as I walked off the steel and plastic of the flight and onto the former wetlands at the back of the bay a few miles form the Pacific Ocean, I immediately felt a gap, a change, a divide that somehow separated the land I had walked off of that morning from the land I had just touched. It was one of those slippery moments that I know are important, but refuse to explain themselves unless I stop what I am doing and carefully pay attention. I took the time and here is what I learned.
The coast of emergence here at the edge of the ocean where the sun sets is a place where the old is brought up from repose in the past to be thrown together in such a way that forces new methods of networking and living to be created. The forces that cause this to be so carry out the process in a way that leaves no other option. This is true of the macrocosm of the geology, and it carries across into the microcosm of human individuals and relationships.
California is composed entirely of pieces of the former sea floor and former islands that have been smashed and torn apart by plate tectonics, then thrown against the edge of the continent to form another edge. It is a new liminal space made exclusively of older liminal spaces. You have to travel all the way to the basin and range country of western Nevada to find a place where this is not true.
Culturally it is also a place where ideas and ways of being human are thrown together by the forces of greed, hope and excitement to create something wholly new. People come here from all over the globe to live their dreams. Once they arrive, the economic, climatic, and spatial realities combine to create an unstoppable force of change.
Dreams are smashed against these forces just as the former sea floor sediments and islands are squashed into the edge of the continent. In both cases, the result is not what was expected before the process began. Sometimes a thing of amazing beauty emerges from terrible ugliness, and sometimes the reverse is true. In either case, the driving force is transformation. The past is here and has been here as long as it has been anywhere. But there are few places where the future is so demanding of the present. It is even illegal to be dead in San Francisco and all of the bodies of the ancestors from there must be moved across to Colma before they can lie in repose over the years. This is the most extreme example I know of, but it serves very well as a symbol for a set of ideologies that inform many of the choices made in the area where I live.
The coast of submergence that underlies and composes most of the eastern seaboard has the opposite effect on both humans and their enterprise. This is not to say the future has no power there, for it most surely does. But the past is always intensely present, slowly gaining weight until the land and the stories of those who once lived on it slide gently beneath the waves around the barrier islands and shores of the great bays.
The mixing of cultures also takes place there, but it lacks the frenetic, back-to-the-wall necessity of the same phenomenon taking place on top of earthquake zones. Many also come to the East with their dreams, only to find them transformed. The results are also beautiful and terrible by turns. The difference is that the monsters and glories produced by this process in places made over by the slow reclamation of the Land by the Sea take flight from the solid footing of their dreamers’ past, whereas those that take flight from the cliffs at the edges of the crashing plates do so with no memory of where those who manifested them came from or with a strong desire to eradicate any memory that lingers. There is a rootlessness in this process that can allow for something completely new to happen faster than it could in a place with a stronger memory of itself. The steadiness of the past where the land sinks into the sea allows for traditions to grow in ways they cannot where the land is charging up out of the ocean to throw itself onto the edge of the continent.
The strongest forces of emergence are in the Pacific Northwest, starting near the San Francisco Bay and moving north from there. The strongest forces of submergence are in the Southeast starting around the Chesapeake Bay and moving southward. This creates a pair of actions slowly spiraling in opposite directions energetically. The Southwest and the Northeast are a second pair of dancers moving on a slightly less dramatic course because the forces of emergence and submergence are not quite as strong there as they are in the other two areas. The two greatest estuary systems on the continent that manifest the Chesapeake and San Francisco bays are their own liminal spaces reaching their watery fingers deep into the land. It is no accident that they are the key places in this dance where one pair becomes another pair. And in keeping with the different attitudes towards the past, the eastern bay carries a name that originated in an indigenous language, while the western bay’s name is in a colonial language.
Though this way of looking at things can have political implications, that is not my goal in sharing it. Compared to the time scale on which these currents are operating, the details of human politics are so rapid they do not even register. As I see it, the pairs in motion are not in opposition. These are not enemies carrying on an endless fight against each other. We humans are making plenty of that to go around with a lot left over right now. But if we can detach a little from this frenetic moment and attempt to look back at now with eyes that can see 10,000 years and understand them, I believe a different scene can possibly emerge.
I see two sets of twins that have much to learn from each other and ever more to give us if we choose to accept their gifts with respect and honor them for what they are, not what we wish they were. I am suggesting that these tendencies be considered in a long view that hopes for the continued presence of humans in these places many generations in the future. The Land will still be here with or without us. It is our species who has a choice to be living on it or not. I would like my daughter’s descendants to have the same choice to make because to be alive in a body is a wonderful experience. In order to make that happen, I believe it is important to get to know the Land where we live and listen to what it has to say. This is what was shared with me several years ago. After doing my best to live with it in practice for the time between then and now, I found it to be very helpful to consider when making decisions and seeking understanding, so I am sharing it in hopes that knowledge of it may do the same for others.
Now may you have a Blessed Beltane and a Merry may!