Living in Santa Barbara has afforded us an intimate and everlasting relationship with our Pacific neighbor. For centuries the inhabitants of Santa Barabara, from the early Chumash people to the current collage of Hollywood royalty and derelict college students, have shared similar levels of reverence, curiosity, and respect for our watery partner. However, years of playfull splashing has done little to reveal what the ocean is trying to tell us with every successive clattering of its waves along our shore. This is why I ask you to take a pause from your day to day life and attempt to listen for the voice that lays beyond the dull thuds and wooshing of the waves and to unearth the majesty of the Pacific.
The voice of the ocean is rarely if ever, considered when we think about the sea as a component of our planet. The ocean is just an ocean to many of us. It does not speak. It does not have emotions, and if it did, how would we know. The scientific superiority of western thought has defined the minute ratios of Sodium, Chlorine, and Potassium across every expanse of the ocean. Even I can, with unequivocal confidence, explain how sustained surface winds create swells with distinct periods, height, and speed. Walk up to any random UCSB student, and they can most likely tell you what it felt like when a strong swell carried their board to shore. But how many of us listen to the voice of the waves and decipher their emotional inner voice? What we can learn from listening to the voice of the ocean, supplants any scientific definition simply because of a voice, regardless of its non-human source, channels empathy.
To listen to the ocean begin by resting beside the ocean isolated from the outside world to the best of your ability. Adjust yourself to the rhythm of the waves, become familiar with their pace, temper, and nature. Allow yourself to become an equal of the wave and mentally align yourself as an extension of the ocean. Move beyond the simple loud and quiet definitions of sound and attempt to humanize the sounds you hear. Are the voices of the waves full, or are they shrill and sharp? Do they remind you of painful or happy memories? Are the waves your friends, or are they your enemies? It is often helpful to apply words to the sound of waves to help the emotional voice come through the accessory sounds. For example, I hate you can carry an entirely different meaning when it is said through a soft smiley voice versus I hate you being brashly screeched and yelled at you from across the room. So try with each crash of a wave to associate the sound with words to highlight the subtextual voice of the ocean.
While disguised in a different form, every wave contains the same sonic qualities of a human voice but in a non-traditional context. Waves have tone, pitch, timbre, and varied volume. Waves, like any voice, carry information about the ocean and help establish the ocean’s identity. It is pivotal that we begin to listen to what the waves are telling us to form a sustainable relationship with the ocean.
The concept of a non-traditional voice as a critical component to our spiritual dialogue with the earth can present itself as foreign and conceivably unnecessary to our engrained western standards of thinking. However, in this era of dramatic climate change and the growing threat of ocean acidification and the real potential of a total ecological collapse, I would like to insert the world-saving possibility of finding the ocean’s voice. My goal for attempting to find the voice of the sea is that we as a society, can establish a personal and interconnected relationship with one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world and, by doing so, have a better chance at saving our oceans, planet, and our future.
What’s the sea trying to say with every splashing wave? Are the breaking waves cries for help, elated celebrations, or are they simply oceanic head nods from across the hallway? Are the waves my friendly neighbor, or are they nature’s version of the potato-shaped men of the world who share an intimate and fiery relationship with their car horns during rush hour traffic. I wish I knew the English translation for crsshhshh, bbbblumobb, or wooohshwefwhc and the countless other words being expressed by the ocean through their endless waves. I want to respond and talk with the whole of the sea. I want to ask about their days, I want to learn about the oceanic gossip and their favorite songs. (I would typically ask a stranger about their favorite movie, but it is obvious the sea loves “The Shape of Water”).
While my fictitious inner dialogue with the waves will never cease, I would rather observe and describe the sounds I do hear from my perpetually splashing and watery neighbor. The ocean’s voice is carried through waves. But the voice of a wave is not like my voice, your voice, or your dog’s voice. Lacking a mouth, vocal flaps, or lungs, an ocean’s voice is carried through the slapping and thrashing of hundreds of pounds of water against the sandy and rocky belly of the shoreline, creating an awesome eruption of noise. The ocean’s endless explosions emerge together as a unique and varied voice containing the emotional side of the ocean. The sea speaks through its waves, and while the language of the ocean will remain a mystery, the voice of the waves shares the ocean’s intentions.
The low rhythmic baritone of a subtle wave (bbbblumobb) tells us that the ocean will remain at ease and in harmony with our shores. A shattering high pitched wave (crsshhshh) hints at a foreboding expanse of water in our future. The pace of a wave intersects with the sound of a wave to create an urgent voice. The presence of a wave instills a sense of power and danger. Still, that brash assumption can be reimagined by listening to the voice of a wave and hearing the welcoming its welcoming calls. Like any voice, a wave contains the identity of the speaker. It allows us to interpret the subtle intentions of the speaker, such as “Aquaman,” being the ocean’s favorite comic series.