Most of us have a recurring dream of some form or other. 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, I would mostly watch them from a distance, a hillside perhaps, or sometimes through the window of a house, the swell rising on the horizon. Lately though, the water seems closer. A few months back, I’m having a picnic as a wave towers over my friend’s shoulder. Just last week, I am on a dock when the water below me expands like a balloon, swallowing the dock entirely right as I wake up.
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 geography 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 the doors and through the wall cracks and crevices of my mom’s old house. The one she finally sold a few years ago, fed up with constantly having to clean up that mess.
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 this particular birch tree on this particular bend in the river, and he’d steer us under its canopy and down this tiny, winding creek off the main channel where the sky would turn dark from the tupelo trees closing in, narrowing our path and shallowing the water, until Dad would finally have to cut the motor, lift it into the boat and toss me an oar. Then, we’d proceed to paddle and bounce that little aluminum dingy over cypress knees and fallen trees and further and further into this growing tangle of chigger-filled moss and briar and sweat and Goddangit son of a bitches, until we’d cross the last stumpystumpfuck of an obstacle and suddenly drop into this beautiful, halcyon deepwater lake hidden in the middle of the swamp; groves of towering cypress on all sides, a blue cutout of sky above us, and placid blackwater below, teeming with lily pads, turtles, dragonflies and crappy. That’s a fish. Crappy. That’s why we were there. For the crappy… fish.
Fishing obviously wasn’t my bag, and these conservative-bullheaded-father with queer-artsy-son boat trips were not without their hardships, but that lake, oh that secret lake was worth it.
I think there’s a lesson in this somewhere, this not knowing the end but still committing to the journey thing, because, get this… the waves don’t crash in my dreams. I always wake before they consume me. It’s the threat that dominates; the water rising, coming, never yet here. The future is what haunts me. The unknown. The unknowable.
The dream books say water represents our unconscious, that mysterious part of our psyche that, like the oceans of the earth, consumes at least three quarters of the brain’s surface. Waves in dreams can symbolize repressed emotions, muffled fears welling up, trying to be felt, trying to get free.
Did you know that civilizations on every corner of this 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 civilization, to cleanse humanity in preparation for rebirth. The pre-flood humans in these stories are screwing up royally – killing one another, destroying the land – and the Gods say Goddamn! Canceled.
It seems to me like everything that’s happening in the world today is just the poison from repressed wounds bubbling up – slavery, colonization, 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 can make me want to sink.
The ice caps are melting. The water is rising. But this isn’t a doomsday tale, because we’re still in Book One. That’s right, it doesn’t end with the flood. No, there are humans in all of these stories who are paying attention, who are privy to what the Gods are laying down, humans who are not sinking in despair but rising to the occasion, humans who are gathering up the wood and building. Building life-saving vessels. Building for a better future despite the overwhelming uncertainty of their time. Safeguarding all the innocent creatures of the earth and riding out the storm.
We are not playing in the shallows anymore, where the waves have settled and the bottom is clear. No, we are out now, way out past the breakers. The wounds run deep here. The bottom is obscured. We don’t get to know what’s coming, but still… we must rise and still… we must build.