We move through of an ocean of air, a vast and shallow atmospheric sea we call the Sky. Under our feet and stretching away towards every horizon spreads the hard body of the Earth, the watershed for this ocean of air. We are something like a small bug wiggling away between two sheets of paper, one soft and translucent, the other gritty and opaque, either one capable of squishing us out of existence at any point in time. Too often we take our place in this space for granted and focus too much on where we’ve been or where we think we may be going than on where we actually are. Occasionally something spectacular or dreadful may happen that jerks us out of our distractions and reminds us of the precariousness of our position here between the sheets. Hurricanes lash coastlines, tornadoes scourge a landscape, floodwaters drown the countryside. Occasionally a mountain disintegrates and blasts its guts across the countryside, or a seamount slides and creates a tidal wave that buries hundreds of thousands of souls in muck and mud or sweeps them away into the sea. We watch and listen attentively, even if we are hundreds or thousands of miles away. We react appropriately, usually showing unbelievable fortitude if we are in the eye of the storm, or demonstrating real concern and abundant generosity if we are merely electronic witnesses. And then, like ants recovering from an attack on the nest, we return to the more prosaic aspects of everyday living.
The recovery may take some time, particularly if we happen to be actual survivors of the event, rather than merely witnesses; but for the vast majority of us the sense of urgency rapidly ebbs and the level of concern steadily fades. With the incredible resiliency and amazingly short memory of our species, we return to business as usual. We rebuild in the floodplain or resettle in the shadow of a “dormant” volcano; we buy a condo in the Bay Area or move into a trailer park outside Wichita; and we do these kinds of crazy things invariably and repeatedly and most of the time without a second thought. We would be better served if we moved forward within this vast envelop with greater caution and a more profound sense of respect. Above all, we should remember where we are at all times. We should get to know – really know – our watershed addresses.