The ancient gods

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Editorial and Opinion  |  House: Booksie Classic

a look at the arrogance of man in the face of nature

The Ancient gods-by Captain Edward Carboni


The 32 foot ketch moved slowly across the water on the inside of the reef line off Key Largo on starboard tack under jib and main. With the sails filled in a light breeze a familiar contemplation came upon me once again. This act of sailing had been practiced for many centuries.  It was, in my opinion at least, a beautiful and almost poetic balance of machine with nature. It is, undoubtedly, a reliance upon nature.It was wind that allowed me to move across the water, a wind I had no way to regulate, no tool to control. The wind served my purpose, but only if I respected it.  For the same wind that propelled me, could easily, and without warning, blow my small boat over, break a mast, or whip a sea that could swamp and sink it.

It was then that the thought of the ancient gods came to me.  The deities of the ancient Greeks and Romans controlled such things as wind and weather and how we have lost respect for those gods.  More specifically, we have lost respect for the forces of nature they represented. 

It seems that as we have advanced in our culture and gadgetry, and even in a time of unprecedented human consciousness of the natural world, we have somehow lost respectful reverence for that world.We look at the forces of nature no longer as gods who are the masters of all, but rather we see nature today more as a beautiful but sometimes unruly child, who requires governing by the careful and knowledgeable hand of man.  We are the caretakers, and if something goes awry, it is simply a flaw of humanity, somewhere.  We have replaced the gods with ourselves, and the gods are not happy about it. 

A gust of wind heels my boat and I let out the main sail a little.  The boat slows down a bit, but the heel is gone.  Adjusting our actions to the elements seems to be an art long lost to technology and our unquenchable thirst for the easy life.

Many of us in this modern world of mechanical miracles go through their daily lives surrounded by the conveniences engineered for our comfort.  Our cars are built so that not a thing of nature can intrude.  We are climate controlled, noise canceled, surround sounded, smooth riders through the storm, with a strong WiFi signal to boot, just in case we need to access the internet from our lumbar supported driver’s seat.

Our travel is a bludgeoning of nature with hubris and technology.  What an ocean voyage used to be is no more.  We sail the seas on floating cities where the greatest travesty is the ugly inconvenience of only three bars to choose from at four a.m. as we cruise to the next souvenir stand port of call, all the while touting ourselves as adventurers.  The Argonauts would cringe.  We hurl ourselves in aluminum tubes across the globe in our never ending, maddening rush to be there faster.

A few hours out and there are dark clouds moving from the horizon toward my boat.The main sail is reefed and the jib is bagged.  A turn of wheel and a trim on the main and a new heading points to home.  Loose items are stowed and secured.  It could get a little rough from the looks of it, but all that can be done has been done, the day belongs to the gods.  I am now at their mercy.

When our notion of the child of nature throws a tantrum- a hurricane, earthquake, or tsunami, our first response is to blame some human entity,  some organizational bureaucratic failing  for the disaster.Rarely is it mentioned that humans are never a consideration of natural events regardless of how much we try to humanize them. More to the point, the glaringly obvious (to some, anyway) fact that there are places in this world people should not be, regardless of whatever faulty logic keeps us there. A couple of locations that come to mind are a city under sea level and another built on an active tectonic fault line.  It is a certainty that those places will again be visited by known natural forces, and we again will sing the disaster dirge when it undoubtedly happens.  But people still live there, and they know all this. The most disturbing thing about that is they demand some human entity take responsibility for their safety. Truly this is an example of the extravagant arrogance of humanity in a world where the gods, though denied, still hold sway.  A world where even the mighty iphone cannot stem the tide when Poseidon is angered. 

Anyone who has spent some time on the water has a certainty of one thing.  Weather forecasts are reliably unreliable.  Even with our Doppler radar, computer modeling, sensor imaging, satellite linking and so on, the standard rule is that a weather forecast beyond a day or so is nothing more than a probable possibility with a 30% chance of rain.  And yet, when a politician throws some numbers at the wall in a prediction of the weather 40 years from now, we ramp ourselves up to battle the scourge we have ourselves wrought.  It is not that ecological initiatives are a bad thing.We desperately need to have greater respect for our environment, and making necessary changes in our societal/environmental habits are long overdue.But to claim that we are solely responsible for climate change and clanging the catastrophe bell is simply replacing one obtuse arrogance with another.  Zeus just shakes his head.

But that’s the world we have convinced ourselves we live in, and the reality is that triple 250hp Mercruiser outboards can get you from Miami to Bimini in under an hour. That kind of technology can easily have us believing in our own invincibility, dismissing the gods again, irrelevant in face of the god human.  But we will meet the ancient gods again, because our machines do eventually fail. The engine can break down,  the electric power can go out and we can be stranded on a starry night in the gulf stream, not knowing which way is which or where we are because we have never given consideration to the stars in the sky, or how to read them.  The reason being that we never had to show respect to the natural world.  The new gods Garmin and Raymarine promised us we never would need the old stars again.  They had given us new ones, much better and more accurate.  The old stars are now obsolete until, of course, we need them again. 

The boat slides into the channel just ahead of 30 knot gusts and a line of foreboding dark clouds.  There is no mention of it on the marine radio, and there could easily be trouble with the small boats passed while rushing back to the safety of the harbor.  The ancient gods would have another moment on the sea, for no other reason than that they are fickle, and we, the new gods, cannot control them.  But one thing on this day that I realize is that we need, now just as before, to have more respect for them.


Ed Carboni is a licensed 100-ton Merchant Marine captain.  He keeps his personal O’Day 32 ketch in Key Largo, Florida and is the author of three books; Surviving the Douchebag Apocalypse, Cinderella Joe, and Boss ralphie.

Submitted: April 20, 2012

© Copyright 2022 Edward Carboni. All rights reserved.

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