The first time I remember seeing the ocean, I was ten years old. My family was in Cape Canaveral, Florida, to watch the launch of the NASA Mars Pathfinder mission. The launch was delayed several times due to poor weather conditions, but not until after we’d arrived to watch it, and we spent a lot of time staring up at the night sky that trip. My encounter with the ocean, sandwiched somewhere in between these unsuccessful launch attempts, stunned me. I remember being awed at the smell and feel of it and the way it seemed to stretch out eternally. I remember being frightened of it the same way that I was when thinking about the vast emptiness of outer space. For me, the two will always be linked.
When I read John Stilgoe’s “Alongshore,” and when I settle in and think about the life cycle of my net and floats and the intimate maritime connection of the historic sturgeon fishermen of Port Penn, Delaware (which is a sentence that feels absurd to type), I get caught up on their devotional attachment to something that I personally find slightly sinister. It’s weird to think that our encounters with the same body of water could be so completely diametrical.
Upon reading Dell Upton’s “White and Black Landscapes in Eighteenth Century Virginia,” I think I know why: We navigate different, if parallel, landscapes.