Most of us have a recurring dream of one kind or another. Some folks dream of flying, of losing their teeth, I dream of waves – giant, menacing, deep-water waves rising up in the night like dark-cloaked mercenaries. On and off throughout my life I have dreamed of waves. In my youth the inky swells would blot out some distant horizon while my dream-self watched from the safety of a hillside or through the window of a house. Lately though, the waters have advanced. A few months ago I stare dumbfounded as a wave towers over a friend’s shoulder on the picnic blanket across from me. Last week I am glued to the shabby wooden planks of a small dock as muddy water expands like an amoeba devouring my feet, legs, waist – before I finally wake.
I grew up in the swamps of the South Carolina lowcountry where erosion works at breakneck speeds; every few years a storm sweeping through, redrawing the whole topography of the place – a coastal forest now a beach, a river channel now an island. Even on stormless nights, the full moon will more and more time herself with the high tide and pull the marsh up like a blanket over the retainer walls and into the neighborhood streets and Bermuda grass lawns and under and through the doors and cracks and crevices of my mom’s old house, the one she finally abandoned a few years ago, moving to higher ground before it was too late to sell.
When I was young, my dad would take me and a johnboat up the Little Pee Dee River and when the bream weren’t biting, he’d find a particular birch tree on a particular bend in the river and he’d steer us under its canopy and down a tiny, winding creek off the main channel where the sky would begin to darken from the tupelo trees closing in, narrowing our path and shallowing the water until Dad would have to cut the motor, lift it into the boat and toss me an oar. At which point we’d proceed to paddle and bounce that aluminum dingy over cypress knees and overturned trees and further and further into a suffocating tangle of chigger-filled moss and briar and sweat and goddangit son-of-a-bitches until we’d suddenly miraculously drop into this beautiful, halcyon, deepwater lake hidden in the middle of the swamp. There we’d settle into silent benediction, ensconced by a wall of towering cypress on all sides, a blue cutout of sky above and placid blackwater below teeming with all manner of lily pad, dragonfly, turtle and crappy.
That’s a fish. Crappy. That’s why we were there, for the crappy… fish.
Fishing wasn’t really my bag, see, and these conservative-bullheaded-father with his queer-artsy-son boat trips were not without their challenges, but that lake… oh, that secret lake was worth it.
I think there’s a lesson in here somewhere, this not-knowing-the-end-but-still-committing-to-the-journey thing, because get this… the waves never crash in my dreams. I always wake before they take me. The dominant element is the threat; the growing water. It’s the future that haunts me. The unknown.
The dream books say water represents our unconscious, that mysterious part of the psyche that, like the oceans of our earth-world, accounts for three quarters of our brain-world’s surface. Waves in a dream can symbolize repressed emotions, muffled fears that are welling up, trying to be felt, trying to get free.
Did you know that civilizations on every corner of Earth have some form of a flood myth? From Noah in the Bible to the Gun Yu of China, the Ojibwe in North America, Australia, Ireland, South America, everywhere there is a great deluge summoned by the gods to destroy, to cleanse humanity in preparation for rebirth. The pre-flood humans in these stories are all royally screwing up, massacring one another, desecrating the land, until finally the gods say goddamn.
It seems to me like everything that’s happening in the world today is just the poison from repressed wounds bubbling up to the surface – human bondage, white supremacy, environmental pillage – all of it clamoring to be cleansed, to get free. And with a reality show host at the wheel, turning us against one another for higher ratings and that coveted second season renewal, yes, it feels like we’re sinking fast.
The ice caps are melting, the water is rising, but this isn’t a doomsday tale, friends, because we’re still in Book One. See, it doesn’t end with the flood. There are a small group of humans in all of these stories who are paying attention, who are privy to what the gods are laying down; humans who aren’t sinking in despair but rising to the occasion; humans who are gathering up the wood and building for a future that’s still too impossible to conceive; humans staring down the truth, unflinching humans, weary and afraid, you-and-me humans safeguarding all the innocent, vulnerable creatures of the world and riding out the storm.
There is no going back. We are out now, in unchartered, unprecedented waters; out where the wounds run deep and the dark waves devour. We can’t see the bottom of this. We don’t get to know what’s coming.
Still, we must rise. Still, we must build.