Thoughts on coasts

We think about history in categories that are the imprints of how generations of tradition have told the wide story of the past: rise and fall of civilisations, the phases of nomadism, agriculture and industry, the gradual mapping of a world defined by inner lands of continents, not the liminal boundary of unmasterable oceans. The peopling of the world radiates out, after a forgotten migration, from the great inner Fertile Crescent, and its successor originators. Our most decisive innovations are the European heritage of civilisation – farms, factories, and a certain idea of freedom. We push back into the long forgotten past social categories of our own over-described world, and ignore the more diffuse experience of another world.

The history of coasts show the insidious effect of the story of civilisation archetypes. Coasts were our first home, our salvation from inland drought, and our beacon lights of discovery. The first bands of humans left inland Africa and found the abundance, the variety, the encounters of the coast. They peopled the world by following its long chain to other lands. It was here trade bloomed. It was here our earliest forebears combined their talents to fish and to farm, to hunt and to gather, to war and to trade, to speak and to succumb to the greatest force we can touch, the ocean swell.

My own nation is a land of coastal dwellers. Its inner heart is red but dead. Most of the peoples of the world now follow our example, with close to 3/4 of them settling in cities and towns near the coast. We are all beachcombers now.


The disappearance of stories from the world

If Snorri Sturlusen had not turned his court poet ear to the old stories among his people, which the Church urged them to forget in favour of just one book, then the stories of Freya and Odin, Loki and Yggdrasill would have disappeared from the world.

Yet these stories survived. Their conquerors were followers of the book, and learned enough to know retelling a story is not a declamation of faith in its magic. They did not burn or bury the stories, but gave them new life in Christian robes.

Other stories fall into ruins, and from ruins into illegible dust. Some lonely wandering stories never know life even as a ruin, but disappear from the world like a suicide slipping silently into an icy river.

We mourn the disappearance of languages from the world, and bemoan the destruction of the artefacts of Syria or Iraq or Afghanistan. Yet, everyday, quietly without a word, stories as beautiful as Freya’s Brisingamen slip from our modern grasp. The unifying stories of culture have shattered, like a new Babel’s tower, and from the looted altar a thousand confused robbers run alone into the desert, where they will die alone, unheard, unbidden by the ones who know.

So, the leopards become part of the rite.