The Sea Around Us; The Sea Inside Us

One of my friends shared this quote by Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran today:


“There must be something strangely sacred about salt. It is in our tears and in the sea.”

— Khalil Gibran, “Sand and Foam” (1926)

After reading it, my mind immediately went to this excerpt from Rachel Carson’s The Sea Around Us (which I’m reading right now) in which she brilliantly/beautifully describes how the salt in our bodies is a kind of “link” to our evolutionary past:

When they went ashore, the animals that took up a land life carried with them a part of the sea in their bodies, a heritage which they passed on to their children and which even today links each land animal with its origin in the ancient sea. Fish, amphibian, and reptile, warm-blooded bird and mammal – each of us carries in our veins a salty stream in which the elements sodium, potassium, and calcium are combined in almost the same proportions as in sea water.This is our inheritance from the day, untold millions of years ago,when a remote ancestor, having progressed from the one-celled to the many-celled stage, first developed a circulatory system in which the fluid was merely the water of the sea. In the same way, our lime-hardened skeletons are a heritage from the calcium-rich ocean ofCambrian time. Even the protoplasm that streams within each cell of our bodies has the chemical structure impressed upon all living matter when the first simple creatures were brought froth in the ancient sea.And as life itself began in the sea, so each of us begins his individual life in a miniature ocean within his mother’s womb, and in the stages of his embryonic development repeats the step by which his race evolved, from gill-breathing inhabitants of a water world to creatures able to live on land…”

– Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us(1950)

Salt is about as vital for life as water — it is required for a lot of our body’s most essential functions (including water regulation and transmission of nerve impulses). The fact that our body requires a salt-to-water ratio that is similar to that found in the oceans is often thought to be a link to our evolutionary past — to our “shadowy beginnings” in the ocean. Unfortunately, because I am unable to tell you how that link holds up to scientific scrutiny, the thought will have to remain a thought for now and nothing more.

I will be heading to New England in a few weeks and am really looking forward to continuing my “naturalist’s exploration” of the ocean shore (which I first visited last December). The ocean shore is worlds apart from the shores of the great freshwater lakes that surround my home state of Michigan. Despite the fact that tidepools are some of the most biologically rich/interesting places on earth, I know very little about them or the life that occurs there…. looking forward to learning more.

“The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the sea.”

– Karen Blixen, author of Out of Africa (1937)


Rachel Carson at the dock at Sam Cahoon’s Fish Market in Woods Hole in 1951, just after the publication of her bestselling book, The Sea Around Us. Photo by Edwin Gray, courtesy of the Lear/Carson Collection, Connecticut College. Via the Marine Biology Lab website.

Read Khalil Gibran’s Sand and Foam here.

You can preview Rachel Carson’s The Sea Around Us here on Google Books.


2 thoughts on “The Sea Around Us; The Sea Inside Us

  1. Another topic dear to me, salt. There are many variations of a folk tale on salt. The folk tales cross western Europe into Eastern Europe and the Middle East, clear through to India. The typical story is of a father with multiple daughters. He asks the daughters how much they love him, and all but one answer with a variation on sweets. I love you as sugar; I love you as honey… And one daughter says, “I love you as salt.” The father is outraged and banishes her from his domain. Years later he is traveling and happens upon the home of his daughter and her husband. He does not recognize her, but she knows him, and she orders a feast prepared to welcome the hungry traveler. And it is all prepared without salt. … Here is one version from Pakistan:

    Thanks for your thoughtful essay.

    • Hi Melanie. I’m sorry I didn’t notice your comment until now. Thank you for sharing that story — really looking forward to reading more about it!

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