Posted by: rebeccanmckinnon | November 14, 2011

The Constructed Liminality of Water/Land Experiences, Humanity’s Fight Against a Natural Admixture of the Two

St. Vincent's Hospital, picture taken from

“Consider the subtleness [and] universal cannibalism [of the sea]; all whose creatures prey upon each other, carrying on eternal war since the world began. Consider all this; and then turn to the green, gentle, and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself? For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half-known life” (Herman Melville, Moby Dick).

In my previous blogs, I explored some of my past and present experiences with the St. John’s River and the Atlantic Ocean. I’ve also discussed sustainability efforts, such as coastal beach clean-up events, aquaculture, and aquaphonics. For my final blog, I want to steer away from this emphasis on our relationship with water’s health and instead turn to water’s relationship with the land and our relationship with both.

I took a walk at night from Memorial Park through Riverside’s neighborhoods until I hit St. Vincent’s Hospital. I stepped off the concrete sidewalk onto the road, headed toward the river, which widened as I walked toward it on my own wide asphalt path. Eventually I got to the edge of the river and walked along it behind St. Vincent’s community gardens and outdoor eateries.

I was on the divide, so to speak—the liminal concrete block between sidewalk and dark river water. I began to wonder what importance this divide may have in terms of Ecocriticism. I sat down on it with my legs dangling off the side, looking out to the river with sounds of the wind in the trees and traveling cars behind me. Does ecocritical thought start at this divide? Certainly in terms of clean-up, the divide is the easiest place for us to start and stop our efforts at sustainability. Indeed, when I saw plastic utensils sitting precariously on the edge of this concrete block, I moved them into a trash bin. But what did I truly do in this action? I preserved the sacred nature of the divide; it certainly felt like I was being sustainable. But, as Sylvia Earle wrote, who knows where that trash bag will end up; there is no “away”. Maybe it will end up in the river anyways, in some less publicly identifiable way.

Sustainable and ecocritical thought does not start at the divide. It ends there. The divide is simply a phantom ideal humans constructed as a means to separate land and water, which are truly inseparable constructs. Before St. Vincent’s built a concrete barrier between its patients and the river, the land probably blended into the water as seamlessly as any other coastal beach area. The dirt became sand, became wet sand, became water. Where does land start and stop in this scenario? At the tide’s break? The tide shifts constantly, so are certain areas of the beach sometimes land and sometimes water? The point being, it’s silly to place boundaries where boundaries consistently shift.

Overall, I realized during my walk that humans desire the separation of water and land, when in reality, nature consists of a natural admixture of both. I included the prior mentioned Herman Melville quote because it explores this admixture as it manifests itself in our own psyches. We are natural beings, made of a similar admixture of liquid and solid. I believe we need the land just as much as we need water, and I believe the act of dividing them simply divides ourselves in the process.

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