Just about a year ago, I said goodbye to Brooklyn, New York and set out across the country to Bozeman, Montana. I was invited to come out to Montana State University to teach writing and film production in their MFA program in Science and Natural History Filmmaking.
I expected that it would be different – I would be trading skyscrapers made of steel and glass for ones made of rock and ice. Trading the frenetic pulse of the city for the tempered beat of “mountain time.” And trading the sirens and horn blasts for the bugling of elk. All that seemed a pretty fair trade by me. But there was one thing I wasn’t quite ready to trade – and that was the song of the ocean for the silence of the mountains.
I grew up in Rhode Island, “The Ocean State.” And if there was one language I thought I understood well, it was that of the sea. I was familiar with her rant through a storm, as well as her easy lullaby on a quiet summer night. When I moved to New York, I sought out that familiar voice to cut through the noise. Whether taking a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, strolling the Boardwalk on Coney Island, or dipping my toes in the Atlantic at Rockaway Beach, the voice of the ocean was a constant companion and it centered me.
With a move to Montana, I expected that voice to be hushed. The nearest ocean would now be the Pacific, and that would be 800 miles away.
As a filmmaker, I guess I should have known to expect the unexpected. . .
Eight-hundred miles sure seems a long way for a voice to be carried, but nature works miracles. The mighty Pacific perpetually evaporates and whips itself into clouds which hitch an eastbound ride on the wind, halt over the Rockies, and bless these rugged peaks with Te Mana O Te Moana, “The Spirit of the Ocean,” cloaking them in white for nine months of the year. It’s simple, it’s elemental, it’s poetry . . . it’s music.
Yes, even here in this land-locked state, the language of the ocean is communicated in rich, full verse. It’s not heard through the pounding of surf, or lapping of waves — the summertime serenade with which I was acquainted. Here in the mountains, the ocean sings in a different register, with a clarity of voice found only in winter: it pings across the ice of a blue-white glacier, it rasps in the whirling diamond dust on a sub-zero morning, it grunts in the steamy breath of a bison rooting for forage, and it whispers as softly as a lover as it falls as snow on the evergreens. It’s the Ocean’s very own Rhapsody in White.
We often think in terms of what separates us: our religion, our color, our land, our language. We tend to frame our lives in the context of “boundaries,” but if there is one thing that I have learned in these months with the Voyagers, it’s that nothing is truly isolated. Everything is interconnected, interdependent. Mountain needs Ocean as bone needs blood. As modern society needs ancient wisdom. As music needs ears that are open.
If we listen closely to the Ocean’s voice, we become part of her symphony, no matter where we find ourselves — on the edge of shoreline, in the heart of a city, in the thick of a forest, or at the base of a mountain. Our Blue Canoe works in concert and with every lungful of fresh mountain air I take, the breath of the ocean sings into me and connects me to you.
Writer & Story Producer, “Our Blue Canoe”