The Sea is thumping and warm as bathwater. I duck the first wave and get a snootful of salty, warm saline. It is saltier than any seawater I have slurped before. There is a wicked rip and unpredictable cross currents. The surf is chest high, cockeyed, bouncy and I cannot predict where or when it will break. I learn fast not to fight my way thru the surf, but to go with the waves, duck or float, don’t fight or resist and they reward me with distance made to the outside. Standing shoulder deep about 100 yards off the beach I play with the waves, duck some, ride others, feel them suck me away from shore as they jack up over the sand.
The Yogi pedals his bicycle to the Sea and sets up on the lawn, in the park behind the riprap seawall, next to the wrecked Dolphinarium. His view is past the promenade, over the rocks and out to the horizon. The busy road and hotels are behind him. He comes at sunset and sometimes sunrise too. He wears a pair of orange shorts; is about 6 feet tall, bald, 170 thin muscular pounds, maybe 65, tattooed across his right shoulder and pectoral. He sits, meditates, casts his gaze to the Sea, looks around, gages the mood and begins his practice. He has no music, no partners, no accessories – just he, his mat, his bicycle, and his yoga. He is superb.
Adam gives Eve a push on her surfboard down the face of a chuckling little two foot wavelet. She gets to her feet, wobbles, wavers, bends her knees, remembers to extend her arms and glides to the beach. Adam gives a whoop as Eve drops off the board, turns it around. She hops back aboard all akimbo and immodest, shining wet in the sun. They are all but naked and are without flaw, check, or defect – immaculate. Perfect in their own love bubble, they only see each other, we do not exist. Their brown skin glistens, their black hair shines, they smile and kiss, he launches her down another wave and our hearts break.
The Mediterranean Sea is a tremendous saline solar engine. Water in the Med evaporates and is replenished by an immense surface inflow from the cold Atlantic at Gibraltar. As it floods east, the water becomes more saline and dense until off Israel – in the Levant – it sinks and begins a subsurface flow back west. A plume of dense salty water spills over the underwater ledge at Gibraltar while the cold, less saline Atlantic inflows above. The currents divide and converge in whirling gyres, eddies and countercurrents across the basins of the Sea, but the basic surface flow is from West to East, and subsurface East to West. The Sea’s volume is maintained by inflow, its salinity by outflow.
The afflicted Levant is the easternmost basin of the Med. It is the hottest and most saline region, getting hotter and saltier. The Levant is ultra-oligotrophic – nutrient poor – and is changing fast. Few rivers deposit nutrients from parched deserts into the Sea, and since the damming of the Nile at Aswan, Africa’s organic material sinks unused to the bottom of Lake Nasser. Even in the best of times, the Levant did not teem. It still does not. The Israeli fishery has collapsed – fish landings have declined 80 percent in the last few years and new regulations to protect declining fish stocks keep the few remaining trawlers idle in port.
Invasive species from the Red Sea migrate North on ship bottoms thru the Suez Canal. As the Sea gets saltier and hotter, the invaders thrive and indigenous species decline. The population of the venomous striped eel catfish – whose sting from its pectoral spine may be fatal – exploded in the Sea over the last decade. The juveniles of this species form an intense ball of fish that moves in a roiling, rolling, insatiable mass like a single organism with 1000 mouths to vacuum the bottom for mollusks and crustaceans leaving nothing behind. The mollusks and crustaceans they seek are also invasive.
Another invader, the giant Nomad Jelly clogs Israeli power plant cooling water inlets. Native to the Indian Ocean, it finds perfect conditions now in the Levant. Big as a basketball, icy blue, stinging – it’s swarms can be 100 km long.
Schools of sharks congregate in the warm outflow waters of Israeli power plants several times a year. The sharks enter the hot plume, ride its turbulence offshore, then circle back to do it again. For Israeli divers it is a badge of honor to get in the water with the sharks. They have great fun diving among them and advertise special tours where you too can dive with the big predators. The jellyfish swarm when the temperature is right (high) and the moon is full. Some romantic scientists think their swarm is related to reproduction. The same may be true of the sharks. Or perhaps sharks like to swim with Israelis as much as Israelis like to swim with them.
Adam and Eve rinse away the salt in the freshwater shower just off the beach. Adam takes the board and straps it to the side of his E-Bike. He straddles the seat and Eve stands on the rack over the rear tire, her hands on his shoulders. He twists the throttle, the bike lurches and they zoom away laughing down the promenade scattering a flock of pigeons. Tomorrow is Shabbat, and the market is only open for another hour. The fruit and veggies are fresh and succulent and the baklava to die for.
The Yogi puts his head on the ground, cups his hands behind and walks his feet forward. He hops and lifts to a headstand, inverts ocean and sky. He moves one leg parallel to the ground, keeps the other lifted vertical, every muscle in his abdomen twitching. He repeats the pose with the other leg, then splits them apart, brings them together again, ramrod straight over his hips. He glistens with sweat, focuses on the far horizon, seeks to meld his consciousness with that of the Sea, the Earth, the Sky.
In the evening, I sit wave watching on the riprap, mesmerized. The same waves mesmerized Ulysses and I can hear Calypso call. Every second they heap in the shallow, rise up milky jade green, and begin their inevitable topple. The sun shoots thru the lifted crest, illuminates the translucent instant just at the apex as the wave surrenders, and falls silver-tipped and foamy to swirl demolished along the rocky shore. Above the background hiss of broken water, each individual wave roars, whooshes, gasps its own noisy addition to the water-sound every second – now, then and forever.
There are no sea-birds along this urban shore. Not a single pelican, gull, osprey, plover, curlew nor even oily cormorant. There are hundreds of thousands of people on this beach, they have been abandoned by the birds.
We may yet leave this place an empty rock, it’s sand glowing like an isotope and the Sea a hot steaming salt pond. But that is not foregone. Adam and Eve are not turfed from the garden yet and an ancient Yogi shares his sublime practice. Waves born in the mistral and scirocco roll ashore, break wild, green and beautiful. A couple’s innocent love, a Yogi’s devotion and the immense Sea make the coarseness, failure and greed of our affairs seem trivial, even forgivable. They flood the world with grace and everything – the ruined Dolphinarium, the wet riprap, the couples strolling on the promenade, the green grass of the lawn, the high rise hotel – is made divine and transcendent in the fading sunlight.
Transcendance hitches a ride with the sun over the horizon to wash up on some faraway shore where the mystery of what we are doing here may yet be unravelled.