Thursday, November 30, 2023

Cruising the Ocean and a Sea of Grass.

Looking out at the ocean from the balcony of a Celebrity cruise ship

We took a cruise this month, and we had a balcony that allowed us to watch the ocean from our stateroom. I spent many hours just sitting and reading and watching the sea go by, and marveling at the immensity of the view outside.

Looking out at the ocean always makes me feel small, almost insignificant. Its vastness, its seeming permanence, puts many things into perspective.  Paradoxically, it also imbues me with a deep serenity that makes cruising a favorite way to relax in between bouts of work.

In almost the same way, looking out across vast grasslands gives me the same feelings. There is this spot nearby with a large field of grass where I sometimes park my car and just spend an hour or two reading. The panorama might be a colorful green or a rust red instead of the dark blue of the seas, but the solitude and the tranquility of the landscape never fails to make me happy. 

I sit and read by a sea of grass

This equivalence between an ocean and vast grasslands is replete in literature and history.

When European settlers first arrived, they encountered what many described with wonder and awe as a  "sea of grass" that spread for 60 million ha, and stretched from the Rocky Mountains to what is now Indiana, and from Texas north into Canada. These were of course the prairies of that time, most of which have been diced and sliced and now occupy but a fraction of their previous immense area.

But the feelings of almost religious wonder at the vastness of grasslands might actually be inherent in our makeup. In Egyptian mythology, the afterlife is depicted as an endless Field of Reeds (A'Aru),  where the souls of people who have passed away can exist in a bountiful paradise. 

Field of Reeds (Moon Knight, Marvel)

In a similar way, the acclaimed film Gladiator depicts the afterlife as a vast field of wheat, with the protagonist running his hands through the wheat in one of the most iconic scenes in the movie.

The endless fields of wheat in the film Gladiator

In Dan Simmons' Hyperion, the planet Endymion contains a region called the Sea of Grass, which the protagonists must cross using so-called wind-wagons that surf above the meters tall "grass".

Dan Simmons' Hyperion and The Sea of Grass

"My God," breathed Brawne Lamia.

It was as if they had climbed the last hill of creation. Below them, a scattering of docks, wharves and sheds marked the end of Edge and the beginning of the Sea. Grass stretched away forever, rippling sensually in the slight breeze and seeming to lap like a green surf at the base of the bluffs. The grass seemed infinite and seamless, stretching to all horizons and apparently rising to precisely the same height as far as the eye could see. There was not the slightest hint of the snowy peaks of the Bridle Range, which they knew lay some 800 kilometers to the northeast. The illusion that they were gazing at a great green sea was nearly perfect, down to the wind-ruffled shimmers of stalks looking like whitecaps far from shore.

"It's beautiful," said Lamia, who had never seen it before.

Barring aside the improbability of windwagons being borne on the tops of masses of plants (no matter how strong the culms), the idea of travelling above vast seas of grass to distant lands is irresistibly attractive, and even romantic. Perhaps such adventures will be possible in far-off places with less gravity than ours, but for now, I'm content to just spend time by my decidedly more earthly landscape.

*sighs and goes back to reading Hyperion, while gazing at the dark brooding masses of clouds now gathering above his Sea of Grass*

Where's that windwagon?

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