“You can’t have a better tomorrow if you are thinking about yesterday all the time.” ~Charles F. Ketting “Nostalgia, a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.” ~Adapted from Everybody’s Free (to wear sunscreen), by Mary Schmich
We now are firmly planted on Sunabe Seawall, with roots just now reaching out to grasp the soul-enriching nutrients of the sea which blankets us with life. This is where I desire and desired to be, and which I longer for Jody to experience and understand, for countless, assorted and wondrous reasons which only commence making sense when savored firsthand. While this fraction of Okinawa – the Miyagi neighborhood of the town of Chatan Cho (as much as I can determine how property parcels here are arranged) – remains magical in numerous ways, it has also changed…as all things do. Better in some regards and at a nostalgic loss in others profound.
Graffiti in Okinawa is of an utterly different sort, basis, and aim than that which I would think most people would associate with and within the United States. At many locations on Okinawa, in widely dispersed locales, graffiti is frankly not frowned upon by the resident peoples nor the controlling authorities. Although I’m not convinced it is directly or openly encouraged, nonetheless it is abundant and displayed proudly, mostly along the large seawalls that can be found bordering the island’s lengthy intersection with the sea. For example, in the northern city of Nago, there are numerous pleas and portrayals of the return of dolphins, which in the past were brutally slaughtered to near localized extinction. On the way to Mama-san beach on the east side of the Island, there is a large array of happy and colorful graffiti along the seawalls there. And, of course, there is Sunabe, which in the past had the most eclectic if not eccentric collection of painted public art that could be seen island-wide.
What’s peculiar about these particular paintings is that having lived on the seawall previously for almost two years, and before that having spent an awful lot of time along the seawall, primarily diving, many times late at night (midnight dives under full moons are creepily amazing here!), I never once saw painting-in-progress, or even a single person with a spray-paint can loitering about the area. And believe me, while the canvas was permanent, the artistic displays changed often, especially with peoples of all backgrounds celebrating birthdays graphically on concrete and stone every week of the year. The idea of spontaneous art appearing randomly made every walk or run along the seawall something of a joyous anticipation: what new glyph would have to be deciphered since as it does in Japan so many concepts are lost-in-translation? I always cherished this element of the Sunabe Seawall, and looked forward to my return here to act in part sociologist and in part archaeologist, ready to intervene with my own personalized understanding of the marked messages left for all to consider.
But then there is also the ocean. Or, more appropriately, the East China Sea (the Pacific abuts the island on its eastern side, the side where I am not residing). Graffiti is only one dimension of the seawall which makes it so exclusively unique.
Okinawa lacks, in almost all regions, sand beaches that make places like Pensacola or Miami so wonderful to so many people. I’m not sure many people ever stop and think about this, but why is this so? The reasoning is especially important to scuba divers and fishermen because it involves the presence and health of coral reefs.
South Florida has terrific beaches, with coarse, large-grain sand. The main drawback is that the nature and makeup of this sand – crushed shells primarily – make it an extremely efficient heat-sink, and it gets brutally hot in the summertime. The west coast and panhandle of Florida have very fine while sand made mostly of silica, much described as “sugar.” But why is there sand on the beaches in Miami and Pensacola, and NOT in the Florida Keys? Reefs. The present of a coral reef acts as a wave-break, diminishing the aquatic power of the ocean long before it reaches the shoreline. And without wave action to grind rock and shell, sand cannot and is not produced. The areas of the Florida Keys with terrific offshore reefs therefore lack, in large part, any semblance of nice, sandy beaches. However, the contrary is true for much of the rest of Florida peninsula, especially on its west coast and up into its panhandle. There is little to no reef in these whereabouts, and what reef is there is sparse and low-profile soft corals growing on simple limestone ledges. This limited underwater relief allows the energy embedded in waves to break upon shore, where it acts to grind large bites into ever smaller bits, resulting in a sandy refuge for pale-white, overweight Canadians. No offense intended ‘eh; I dated a Canadian…ONCE.
The vast majority of Okinawa is ringed by coral reef, located almost immediately off the shoreline. This is exactly the case at Sunabe, which makes this particular place one of the premier dive sites on the island, second in popularity only to a place called Maeda Point. Stay tuned for detailed blogs on the island’s individual dive sites – once the weather allows for my return to the seas here (3rd tropical storm in as many weeks so far)! The entry points along the seawall are eased by stairs and protected by breakwaters, and the reef at high tide is easily within 10-25 yards from shore. In probably 100 yards, you find yourself in 70-80 feet of water, with a high-profile shelf-reef running generally north and south, and islands of life found more distant in the sand. Found here are many of the sea critters topping most divers’ bucket lists: night stand table-sized anemones with multiples of resident clown fish; cuttlefish displaying their tentacle-enhanced light shows in the day but mostly by night; territorial lionfish
that seem to hover gracefully in the water, only consciously moving when a camera is stuck in their face; large octopi hunting just after sundown; eels of all kinds, along with the similar-looking but air-breathing reptiles the sea snakes; slipper and spiny lobster; along with a wide assortment of nudibranchs, sea slugs, flamingo tongues, scorpion fish, cone shells, and even a somewhat rare frogfish or two!
One of my favorite nostalgic memories of Sunabe involves my daughter Naomi. In 2004 my family settled a block off the seawall in a 3rd floor apartment, just a block or two from where I presently live. Her bedroom had a window from which she could spy the sea, an earthly element she had taken to, as they say, like a fish takes to water. At the time she was almost 12, her brother already 16. I had no qualms about them heading off on adventures in the sea, secure both in their ability to swim, coupled with well-taught sound judgment and well-informed decision-making skills (or so every parent hopes). Although I had been ordered on a no-notice, eight month deployment to Iraq, I was able to spend an early birthday with my daughter, which centered to a large extent on explorations of the sea. As such, she received a medium size specimen tank, along with some accoutrements large and small that could be employed to secure sea creatures for humane capture and temporary display. I turned my children loose on nature. Okinawa offers perhaps the safest environment for childrearing…at least in terms of terrestrial threat, and certainly that of fellow man. And although the seas carry their own inherent dangers here, I had no issue with their examination of the tidal pools on fair-weather days. What did I expect her to bring home? Perhaps if she was lucky a fish or two; more likely, however, she would capture a sea cucumber, starfish, or one of the similarly slower moving creatures.
I was shocked one afternoon when Naomi arrives excitedly back at home with a creature in her carrying tank. What was they grayish mass filling a full third of the portable habitat? An octopus, mind you, and a sizeable one at that! “Dad, look what I caught!” Naomi excitedly proclaims.
I was really speechless. “You’re kidding!” was about all I could respond with at the time. I’m sure we were both equally amazed at our new pet, although not as much as our cat Tora was (she was entranced, albeit for quite different reasons!). While I was astonished that she was merely able to capture such an elusive and intelligent cephalopod, I’m sure my daughter was equally surprised at her opportunity to bind so closely with such an elusive marine biological contingent of nature. Octopi are one of the more extraordinary creatures undersea; I like to think of them as the cats of the water-world, for all the same reasons cats have been held in such high esteem throughout culture and through time. “Can we keep him?” she asks quizzically. “Well, only for the afternoon, Honey. That guy needs oxygen to breath, and I’m not sure how much is in that tank. Besides, he has hardly anything to hide in or behind, and he’s probably very stressed being here. But let’s enjoy him now, and then we all can return him to his home tonight after dinner.”
We took many photos of her catch, but alas they are not in my digital photo-stream, most likely a victim of my divorce and division of property split and lost. I yearn for those pictures as I write, and I won’t lie: I lament their demise, along with moments shared with my children such as these…. I, like many, nostalgically long for the past, the version of what once was but is no longer. This idea of tying the past, perhaps more idolized, to the present, perhaps in hopes of easing our way, is at the very nature of the human condition. Recycling the past is almost impossible to avoid as we live our lives and constantly are forced to leave the past behind and create, hopefully, a better, fuller, richer and more satisfying future.
The seawall has grown, changed, and become modernized, directly analogous to all the personal changes we all experience in the passage of time. Left behind are the fond memories of my children exploring this oceanic playground, along with the graffiti which one adorned this place. The seawall’s very structure, like the basic underlying foundation of my person, has been rebuilt and strengthened, able to withstand better the tests of time and stormy conditions. Esthetically, the seawall is much improved, offering far better amenities, accessibility, and general appearance. I would like to think of both of us as aging gracefully with time.
Nostalgia is like a grammar lesson: You find the present tense and the past perfect. Impossible to avoid, it is however neither harmful when embraced appropriately. The loving and fond reminiscences of this bygone space can easily be retrieved from disposed memory, wiped off, painted over and recycled to embrace once again anew. And although the Sunabe Seawall can never be overvalued, I will attempt to do just that starting today, writing as I will so often, surveying the seawall and its constant neighbor the sea from the looking glass of nostalgic soul and contemporary home. The Sunabe Seawall is dead…. Long live the Sunabe Seawall!