Today is the World Ocean’s Day, and I will celebrate it by sitting here, at the bottom of the ancient Tethys Ocean, writing a chapter of a book about a sea monster.
Tethys was ocean that occupied an east-west corridor between Gondwana and Laurasia during the Mesozoic. In the following two-hundred and fifty million years the Tethys basin and its sediments were involved in the breaking up of continents, in the opening of the Atlantic and the Indian oceans, and in the Alpine event that caused the formation of the highest mountain chains in the Old World.
Snippets are preserved, folded inside of the moutains, or as sedimentary rocks.
Here where I sit, this used to be a shallow water lagoon (probably), in which sharks swam.
Oceanography is sister to Geology and indeed I would have liked to study the former much more than the latter. But I lived at the foot of the Alps.
I studied Oceanography as a hobby, reading books and taking online courses, building a weird curriculum that cuts through Earth Sciences, Oceanography and Archaeology.
And if you are curious about the oceans, I highly recommend the free MOOC by the University of Southampton, Exploring Our Oceans.
It should be available now.
Or you might like to check out the old – but still solid – Introduction to Physical Oceanography, by Robert H. Stewart. At least the introductory chapters might interest you.
As for my story about sea monsters, it goes more or less like this…
Itzcali was walking along the shore, collecting seashells, when the great beast came out of the sea.
His father Nenetaca and his uncles were riding their totora reed crafts, just beyond the point where waves started breaking. Itzcali had grown bored watching them cast their nets and catch fish. He was squatting on the sand, examining a large shell, its margin broken and its spiral cracked, when he heard the shouts and turned.
The great beast rose above the waters, its slate-colored skin glistening as it soared above the blue. Itzcali looked at it in disbelief, his mouth open, his collection of seashells forgotten. The men were watching too, each sitting astride his small craft, their nets in their arms.
The beast did a half-turn in the air, and for a moment was as if it would remain suspended there, in the early morning sunlight. A seagull screeched, and the creature fell on its back, and it splashed in the water, causing a tall column of white spray to rise in the sky, and a rainbow to spread over the water. The men were bathed in the mist caused by the splash.
Itzcali waited, holding his breath, his feet wanting to run away but his eyes insistently fixated on the ocean.
And again the creature rose in the air, its flippers spread like small inadequate wings, its long snout pointing at the sky. Again the long, slick body glimmered black-blue in the sun, and then it came down on its side, like a felled tree. White foam erupted, and a wan rainbow was born and soon disappeared.
Nenetaca had told him about those giants, and how they sometimes were seen playing off the shore, as peaceful as they were scary. Itzcali would be a fisherman himself, one day, and it was important for him to learn the ways of the sea, know and respect the animal spirits the Moche people knew and respected.
The boy looked around swiftly, and having spotted a rock rising from the sand, he ran there, seashells scattered on the beach and forgotten. He jumped on top of the improvised pedestal and again scanned the sea, the waves breaking in front of him, the far horizon, the fishermen floating gently. The water was still and undisturbed under the sun.
Itzcali licked his lips, and squinted. Was the creature gone?
Other peoples were acquainted with other spirits: the hummingbird, the condor, the monkey, the spider. But the lords of the sea of the Moche were loyal to the spirit-animals that dwelt in the waters. Much more mysterious, much more powerful, forbidding and incomprehensible.
Why was the whale dancing? Would its dance continue?
Itzcali was old enough to know that to be witness to such a portent was an omen of strange things to come. But he wanted to see more of the beast. He wanted to know more.
And as an answer to his wishes, for a third time the long slick body of the sea beast emerged, standing tall, its flippers stretched. Again it seemed it would take flight, like a huge, strange fish swimming in the air. And just as it twisted and began its descent, a second creature, larger than the first, burst through the surface, its colossal maws open, and it bit cruelly in the revelling whale. Long teeth knifed the dark skin of the prey, and blood sprouted crimson on the wet skin of the beast. The fishermen were shouting, and paddling furiously, as two battling behemoths crashed together in the water, the spray rising in the air speckled in red. The water churned and a monstrous tail waved above the surface and then splashed down heavily.
This is the first part of the first draft of the first chapter.
Because one has to start somewhere.
Happy World Ocean’s Day, everybody.