277: “If Water There Be” (Herman Melville)

                “Let the most absent-minded of men be plunged in his deepest reveries—stand that man on his legs, set his feet a-going, and he will infallibly lead you to water, if water there be in all that region.” -Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

                A friend and I once designed a series of “nonsense questions” for students. I don’t remember most of them now—you and I could spend a few hours, sometime, coming up with new ones. Something like:
                “Is your thinking more sunlight, or moonlight?” 
                “Where would you look for last winter?”
                “Have you ever heard a quiet that was loud?”
                I’ve been remembering them, and thinking about thinking. I’ve been making up silly taxonomies about how my thoughts have learned to move. For instance, if the choices are earth, water, or air, I’d say my culture’s thinking is pretty earth—here, that’s the first step, and here, that’s the second. Solid and ‘real.’(Interesting that fire thinking didn’t make it onto my list). Or to come at things from another side, I think we’re a culture of seers—not that we see the future, but that seeing is believing. Not hearing. Not even touching. Where are the oracles who taste what might happen tomorrow?
                We’re earth thinkers, I would have said. Or maybe metal thinkers: an emphasis on precise, on clean, on strong. Or maybe ore thinkers, trying to refine what we have into something we can sell at a profit. (That’s how it looks to me, at least). And then Melville reminds me of water. I remember sitting by the sea, watching the swell roll in, watching it breath spray over the rocks. I remember college, when I would walk through the forest to the lake, and walk around its water, frozen or quiet dark. I remember just earlier today, the touch of the tap when I turned it on, and how for a moment I was outside the apartment—streams to rivers, rivers to oceans, oceans to skies, skies to rain, and which part of all that was for a moment tickling me? I’ve gone to earth, too, burying my fingers in it. I’ve gone to fire, staring into embers or licking flames. I’ve gone to sky, standing on a hill as the world rolled in. Though to be honest, that wide sky has always felt a little like another sea. Melville mutters to me, and I remember all that, and I wonder a little what I’m looking for at the edge of the water. More than that, though, I’m happy there’s water in these regions. And I want to go back. “Back,” which will of course be “here” once I’m a-going.

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