Tony Bennett has said, “Nature is the master artist.” The arkhi-tekton, the chief builder. While it is our nature to personify nature, the sea is never angry, she is just the sea. When I think of water, I often think of her as the artist and architect. As an artist, she is this planet’s greatest sculptor and painter; on the design side, she is the architect of civilization and our lives. Even our beautiful, yet overdeveloped, limited-access, bulk-headed, and highly modified St. Johns River is a testament to how water designs a life. It’s an odd conundrum that we can’t fight nature but it is our nature to do so. No matter what JAXPORT says, we lose every time, and then re-adapt. When we adapt, as a civilization and in our tiny personal lives, water becomes the chief builder, master artist, and we are merely canvas under its brush, paper under its pencil. Take note.
This pencil hit the paper forty-five years before I was born at Shore Road Hospital on the Hudson River in Brooklyn, New York. The hospital was formerly the home of William F. Kenny, a palatial Mediterranean-style house, built around 1910. After ten years, it was converted to “a full service hospital, [specializing] in maternity care. Thousands of Brooklynites were born there.” I’m one of them, born on the river. Thank you, William. Mom tells me she could see the river from the window. I like to believe I could hear the sound of the water from my bassinet. I’m convinced it was the first door of an enfilade of experience in my life, the water always nearby, guiding me from one journey to the next.
In 1960, living on Long Island, surrounded by water, I’m five years old when Category 3 Hurricane Donna strikes, creating a record storm surge. I feel joy helping my dad bail water out of the basement as it pours in through the ground- level windows, and seeing a neighbor rowing a boat down the flooded Daywood Court. I want to swim out there. Mom says “No.” It’s the first time I have ever seen a rowboat, realizing that her sounds are enticing, or experienced a hurricane, and recognize that they have genders.
Written by Jim Alabiso