Seeds and Fleeing Daylight (Part 3 of 3)

Seeds and Fleeing Daylight (Part 3 of 3)

This post is contributed by Coastal Rivers Trustee Barnaby Porter from his archive. This is the third part of a three-post series. Read part one here or read part two here.

During my recent sojourn in the equatorial Pacific, I was very aware of the Sun’s elevation and the length of day. Wherever I am, I have always had a habit of relating the environment around me to home. When I left Maine, the fall foliage was within days of reaching its peak color, kindled as it was by the early evenings and brisk October nights.

Nine degrees north of the equator, the only color was the startlingly vibrant blue of the open sea, and nearly every other shade of blue there is, from sky blue, China blue and blue-gray to blue-green and aqua. And the sun added its complementary fire of orange and red, purple and pink. Wonderful colors, yes, but nothing like the autumnal visual feast of home.

Having left October in Maine, I was first struck by what seemed a place of continual summer. Both the air and the sea maintained a constant atmosphere in the high 80’s, the sun rising at 6:30 and setting at 6:30 or thereabouts, longish days with a high Sun angle at noon. Day after day the weather was the same, uncomfortably hot and humid. Nothing changed but the clouds. I had no sense of season, only the worrisome realization that just a few hours exposure in this watery desert would roast my flesh on the bone and turn my shriveling skin to leather.

I gazed hard out over the shimmering blue, convincing myself I could see the Earth’s curvature, with me but an invisible speck on its swirling sapphire surface. The sameness in all directions, the immensity of this great water that covers three-quarters of our planet, made a far greater impression on me than the tattered atlas on my bookshelf that I have poured over through the years. From the deck of a ship at sea, I nurtured the realization that the rich environment I come from is a jewel on this globe, a place of unbounded variety and fertile stimulations, and while I do have great desires to experience what else the world has to offer, I am yet branded for having settled my affections on a land called Maine.

I found myself thinking of the shortening days I knew were lending their sweet sadness to the waning pulse of life back home, knowing in my long familiarity with it that the true essence of the place is inseparably tied up in the annual dormancy that surely was on its way. It is one of those facts of life I am used to, and therefore one I will not do happily without. In that dormancy, of course, rest the hope and expectation of renewal, and that, ultimately, is what we as living beings find most comforting.

Seeds, I thought; they are the epitome of this hope and expectation that carry us through the cycle of seasons. The winged maple seed, acorns, milkweed down drifting over the fields, goldenrod and cattails – these I pictured in my mind, familiar elements in the world I come from. Yes, I am a man of temperate latitude, one who thrives on the change of seasons. No seeds in this place, no visible spawn of any kind for that matter – simply the vast blue expanse of the sea that extended over the horizon and beyond my comprehension.

A day or two later as the ship steamed homeward, I hung on the rail by my armpits, absent-mindedly watching the waves passing under our bow. Then I became aware of a floating mat of vegetation, palm fronds, and, under it, a congregation of fishes. Soon I saw another and here, then there, coconuts bobbing in the waves. My mind returned to seeds. I remembered in the book about the drifting voyage of the raft, Kon-Tiki, Thor Heyerdahl described how he experimented with coconuts to see if they would remain viable after floating for months across the Pacific, to possibly explain how the coconut palm has gained a foothold in so many far-flung places.

The hope and expectation of renewal certainly have a wonderfully buoyant effect on the spirit, and as I applied this notion to the role that seeds play, it became all the more remarkable to me to consider how such passive germs of life, pitted as they are against the ravages of cold and heat and world-encompassing oceans of brine, will in the end germinate.

We were nearing the Mexican coast, still some 200 miles distant. This sighting of the floating coconuts, so foreign, somehow had a familiar feel to it. I felt I had visited this scene before and recognized in it that often-surprising image of hope, rising out of hopelessness, that so often attends life’s reproductive adventures. Like a fir seedling in the roof gutter, like a dandelion growing in a crack in the pavement, a Mexican coconut floating across the Pacific Ocean to some beach on an atoll in the Marshall Islands might not be such an unusual event really, and probably isn’t. But I was on my way home; the coconuts floated past, and I lost count of them.

Arriving back in the paling November daylight of Maine, inhaling the cool scented air, returned to my senses all the familiar cues that this season holds for me. Within a day, I felt quite normal again. I am glad to know something of the range of possible worlds in this life – indeed, I yearn to know much more before I am done – and yet, each time I make my way home to this place, I quite contentedly settle back into what I know are my appointed natural surroundings.

Barnaby PorterArtist and author Barnaby Porter has had a varied career in marine research, aquaculture, and woodworking, among others. Most recently he partnered with his wife Susan as co-owners of the Maine Coast Book Shop & Cafe in downtown Damariscotta. On October 7, 2021, Barnaby completed his tenure on Coastal Rivers’ Board of Trustees after six years of service.

Milkweed photo by Kris Christine