Lessons from the Ladies of the ocean

I recently found my way to the website for a local company that does riparian and wetlands restoration, and proceeded to read every single project entry on their website, feeling increasingly emotionally compromised and weepy, but having no desire to stop until I’d read it all.

Part of it is almost certainly that it’s just really really nice for a change to read about positive things people – real live actual human beings! – are doing to make things better, to fix some things that other people broke, to make an attempt, at least, based on our current knowledge of how these systems work, to improve watershed health, try to restore healthy habitat for fish and birds and everything else that benefits from water systems functioning the way they used to (that would include us, too). Maybe most of it is just that contrast, seeing project after project, not just one isolated instance, and knowing that this is not the only company doing this kind of work, knowing that there is not just one government agency this one time that said, “Oh, okay, let’s do this,” that there’s enough understanding out there that this is important to do, to spend the time and money on.

There’s another piece, though, that I can’t ignore as possibly influencing my feelings that this is important, and that’s been the nudgings and pressure and aid I’ve been getting to look more into this, into this whole landscape restoration thing, which keeps pushing me in the direction of restoration related to water systems. (I don’t know if that’s because, here in the Portland area, a lot of the work being done IS related to watersheds, because there are two major rivers here, with lots of tributaries, or . . . if this is the plan for me. There is other restoration work being done in the region, but I keep finding myself involved with work related to water. HI. YES. I SEE YOU OCEAN DEITIES and I’m not dumb, just slow, but I’m also hesitant to leap to believing This Is The Thing. I may be new here, but I know that often the road is not straight, there are a lot of twists and turns even if the overall direction averages out.)

Loki was the first to tell me something about “landscape” work. Then I heard it from Odin. Then Loki told me again. And again and again and a g a i n in several different ways, and while I dropped my pursuit of work in the architecture field, it took me a little while to clue in to where TO look; once I did, I suddenly started finding volunteer opportunities, and low/no-cost educational things related to this work.

Then I heard something from – well, let’s just say “a land spirit,” because that’s what I thought I was dealing with, and he may actually be – and that conversation included something akin to growling when I expressed some fears/doubts about certain aspects of the work.

I may have heard it from the Undines, too, though understanding what They’re trying to get me to learn has been an exercise in feeling very, very stupid and slow over several months.

. . .

It started last September, the trip to the coast about a year after I started doing regular devotional work for Ran and the Undines (I go out every month here).

They were very very Present, more so than I’d ever felt before – it was stormy; warm, but the beach was nearly deserted due to the driving wind/water/sand mix – and the experience was . . . I could write a thousand words trying to describe it and they’d all have to be metaphors because I literally do not know the words for what I felt. Something like transcendental Joy – Theirs. I heard a word or broken phrase and suddenly just knew that what They were telling me was that it was time for me to start learning from Them (I knew this was on the schedule, just not when).

They were so strongly there, I Saw Them – quick flickers of motion, some brilliant red partial glimpse of a scaled body in the surf; there is nothing like that in the ocean here, and nothing would, could, have moved like that.

I felt I had an almost-understanding of something big and True and then it was gone before I could grasp it. Waking from a dream in which you’ve had some amazing realization, which slips from you as soon as you awake. Like I had walked into a room that was dark, and I could see nothing yet grasped . . . something vast and grand; I was staring blindly at the beach and still could see everything.

I cried, I knelt in the sand (my rain pants were long soaked-through), in the driving rain and sand and cried; I couldn’t do anything else, it was beautiful and overwhelming.

It still is; I’m still thinking about that from time to time.

In October, things were calmer. After making offerings, I sat down on part of the rock protruding from the land that felt like the right place, and waited to speak with Them, to find out what, if anything, They intended to start teaching me.

“What do you want to know?” They asked.

. . .

I was not prepared for that. I hadn’t even thought about what I might ask Them, I figured They had the syllabus, you know?

I said something vague and clumsy like “what do I need to know, what will help me do . . . uh, whatever is I’m supposed to be doing;”

I don’t remember clearly, but I think They told me to look around and tell Them what I saw. So I did that for a little while. They told me to “Look closer” after a while, and again, say what I saw.

I remember leaving the beach feeling very, very stupid.

November was stormy and terrifying.

When I picked up the Zipcar, there was a small ceramic bowl, flat-bottomed, with vertical sides, just under the driver’s seat. It had a light brown exterior and a dark blue interior glaze. Someone had had sea water in it; it was dried, but there was fine sand left behind, in the outlines of the last little bits of water. It felt uncanny, this little bowl. With its sand and remnants of the sea. In the car I was going to use to go to the ocean.

When I got to the beach, I felt very strong Presence right away when I got out of the car. I felt like I needed to take the bowl with me to the beach; I got some further understanding/direction about how to use the bowl to do part of my usual offering. (When I was done, I put it back in the car where I’d found it, though I almost forgot to pick it up, because things were so intense out there I was a bit distracted.)

This time, I’d done some divination, asked a couple sources for advice, so I had a couple of things to ask Them, and They answered, and showed me how to do a thing I’d asked about, but I didn’t feel terribly enlightened in any kind of big picture way, except that They/the ocean were utterly terrifying.

Most of my prior experiences with the Undines was that if They said anything, They’d say something teasing like “Come play with Us” and then respond with “You don’t need your feet” when I said, “I’m sorry, I can’t. It is too cold in there, my feet will freeze off.” They often seemed mildly amused.

They were not amused in November. They felt remote and uncaring, yet I felt like I was being very closely examined, and the sea, so rough, felt – not angry, but “easily angered.”

After They answered my queries (and I felt no impatience, nor anything indicating I had caused offense), I kept hearing, “Come closer . . . something to show you . . . come closer . . . “ and it did not feel like teasing. (I did walk closer to the water, though after a certain point I declined to go farther.)

I don’t think I can convey the particular kind of terror I felt there. I didn’t feel like I might actually die out there, or that They’d suddenly lash out, but I felt like I was on the edge of a precipice nonetheless.

I’m still unnerved, thinking about it.

In December, They surprised me by rather gently telling me, basically, I needed to get over my fears of getting deeper into all the spooky stuff. (I got that message from other sources in December, too, some with rather more glaring directed my way; see also: previous comments about the land spirit growling at me.)

In January, I sat down and Someone directed me to move my arms this way, now that, good, repeat that. Now this sequence. Do it again. Good. Done.

I thought that was it for the day; the encounters never last very long.

It was only after I went to get my lunch, and wandered out towards the beach to eat that I realized that this time, I had heard only one voice. That was different. Normally what I heard sounded either like multiple voices speaking at once, or one immediately repeating what a previous voice had just said.

I wondered Who that had been, and immediately got “Ran” in my head.

That was the first time I know of that She has been present when I’ve gone out there, but I don’t know for certain.

The conversation after that was one of those weird ones that it seems most deities run me through as a sort of introductory thing. The general formula seems to be something like “What are you doing here/why are you talking to Me?” which is then often followed by some combination of odd remarks that leave me feeling like I am a) being tested in several different ways and b) cannot possibly be hearing/seeing/sensing what I think I am because really did You just say/do that?!

It’s very uncomfortable and I want to disengage, because if my perception/comprehension is that off then I am just talking to myself, and I don’t want to engage in that, but what if I’m NOT “off,” then turning my back and pulling my concentration to other things might be really rude.

So that was strange and awkward (made more so by some of the particular things She asked), and the energy trick She’d showed me was exhausting.

Again, I left wondering what the point was of all that: I had no idea what the energy-moving was for, or if the later conversation had been anything deeper than deity-style “testing you to get to know you,” or how any of this fit in with anything else I’d learned in the previous months.

Then February came around and it was (oh not again) a lot like October: “Look around. What do you see? . . . Come closer; stop. What do you see?”

So I described trees and how they’d grown in the wind, and how the land and sea and air all came together here, and eroded land, and then I Looked as They instructed, and half-Saw moving figures, engaged in what looked like an unceasing interplay of action and reaction, reminiscent of the flows of energy I imagine exist on the beach, where these forces all come together in one place. I rambled about ecology for a minute, hoping at some point I’d get a strong enough “yes good” kind of vibe to understand that I’d hit on the point of all this. They seemed to like a lot of my commentary, particularly about land eroding, and the sea-land-air boundary whatever, but nothing really stood out to me.

And then: “Come closer. Stop. What do you see?”

. . . It was all the same stuff, I tried to say new things about it.

“Come closer. Stop. Look down. What do you see?”

. . . Seriously? Help. My feet. Sand, water, the patterns the water leaves in the sand.

And then They were done.

Like October, They’d seemed amused or no worse than neutral at my answers, so I figured I hadn’t said anything too stupid or wrong, but I felt even stupider than before.

I went back to the car; it was too cold to eat outside, so I sat there eating my sandwich, thinking this over, thinking over the previous, equally opaque conversations, wondering what greater metaphorical meaning I was surely missing, thinking that this time, for reals, I needed to do some divination to ask “What on earth am I missing here????” and wondering how many times this general conversation was going to repeat before I finally had the right insight.

While musing over all of this, I got off on a bit of a mental tangent, thinking about things I’ve learned about salmon and the forests, how salmon start life as tiny little fish, and they aren’t very large when they leave their streams and rivers for the ocean – and then, those that survive, they are MUCH LARGER when they return home, to spawn (hopefully) and then die where they were hatched, bringing all those many pounds of nutrients from the ocean into the forest.

People have learned that there is an isotope of nitrogen that is only created in the ocean, and it has been found in trees far inland – trees near streams that are home to anadromous fish, like salmon, steelhead trout, and a few other species with river-ocean-river life cycles. Bears don’t always eat salmon right on the water’s edge – they drag it off and eat it deeper in the forest. Trees near streams that bear anadromous fish get bigger, faster, than in places that aren’t part of that cycle.

I thought about how this literal flow of energy, the ocean literally feeding the land, has been so badly disrupted by dams, by removal of downed trees from rivers, by so many things (urban development, agriculture, channelization of rivers, burial of streams, trash, runoff from erosion caused by development, logging (erosion and water quality issues; disrupted streams due to culverts – roads are bad news in watersheds), water too hot due to removal of trees and other vegetation near the water, etc., etc.), and how important for the health of the forests it probably is to have this balance restored – and then I sat back in the seat and said, “Oh. Oh, shit” because suddenly I felt like I’d gotten a very slow but very heavy brick upside the head, and I felt some odd sense of smugness from somewhere that wasn’t me.

Energy flows. From the ocean to the land. Disrupted. Right. They probably do care rather a lot about that, don’t They?

I am not positive, by any means that this realization is what all the funny “What do you see?” questions were getting at, but I feel like getting some weird hinky understanding that They care about this literal landscape work I am getting nudged into is at least part of the puzzle.

At any rate, I felt like perhaps that day, I might have gotten more than a gold star for showing up and trying. I felt less stupid, at any rate.

And it was less than a week after that, during some downtime at work, that a little link-hopping from a news article to another website lead to finding this website showing major stream restoration work right here in this area, and hoping I wouldn’t have a complete meltdown at the office, because I kept thinking, “This is such Important work.”

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About Fjothr Lokakvan

More or less Northern Tradition polytheist.
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