In our last edition, Lauren Stack invoked the concepts of “Blue Mind” and “Red Mind,” both terms popularized by author Wallace “J” Nichols. While those references may seem somewhat esoteric, a recent personal experience suggests that Nichols is onto something useful and important.
Back on May 2nd, my wife, Diane and I took a two-hour drive east through the Mohave Desert to the Colorado River. We were looking for somewhere to get away for the day where we could relax by the water and go for a swim, seeking to connect with our blue minds, so to speak.
We’ve been going to the arid shores of the Colorado throughout our entire lives, and it’s always proved a great getaway. There’s something about the beautiful river flowing through the otherwise barren landscape that is so exciting and inviting. Growing up in Southern California, “the river” was always the place to be for a fun time. It was where we could escape the confines of society, and experience freedoms we didn’t enjoy in the suburbs. Some of my favorite life experiences have taken place on that fine edge between the soothing waters and vast desolation.
On that day, we were largely motivated because it was widely reported that most of the recreation areas on the river were open so long as everyone practiced social distancing. Sounded reasonable to us, so off we drove with our dog and supplies for a fun day in the sun.
Unfortunately nothing in our experience could have prepared us for what we ran into when we arrived. Every spot along the river with accessible shoreline was packed with people who had the same idea. We were looking for just a small bit of beach in a stretch of the river south of Blyth, Calif., an area so remote most of the time there are only a handful of people sharing the shore, if anyone at all. Much of the shoreline in the area is very steep and completely inaccessible, so you have to find a level spot to set up shop. No such perch was available.
The crowded conditions were unusual, but that wasn’t what grabbed our attention, after all crowds and water do often go together in hot weather. It was the angry, and at times, overtly threatening feeling in the air that was surprising. It was a sort of territorial mentality on display, with many people defending their spots on the river by brandishing firearms and blatantly seeking confrontations with anyone who pulled up next to them. The angry stares were everywhere and there was no question in a couple of instances that the slightest provocation would result in conflict. Tensions were running high to say the least and it occurred to me that calling it a “red mind” kind of experience would be entirely apropos.
Maybe we just ran into the wrong people on a blistering hot day and it certainly doesn’t make any sense to get upset about it, but at the moment it did seem like somebody wrote a new set of rules where hostility and the not-so veiled threat of violence are part of the scene. We’ve seen it recently on ocean beaches, as well, where riots and confrontations have erupted in places like Huntington Beach, Calif., as some people are so desperate for a day by the water they are willing to threaten others and break the law to get it.
As we were disappointedly driving back to our home in Palm Springs that day, I couldn’t help but think about the tension that can arise from scarcity. It’s human nature to want that which has been denied us, and for many that pressure point is on the water’s edge. With the nagging anxiety of isolation, unemployment and overall uncertainty, it’s not terribly surprising that our thin veneer of civility has been obliterated, or at least it has for some people.
The fact that proximity to water ratchets up emotions is a powerful indication of the critical nature of aquatic spaces. It’s become abundantly clear that there has never been a better time to own a swimming pool, because in these strange days, being able to recreate at home is not only wonderfully convenient, it also keeps us out of harm’s way. Pool ownership is arguably no longer a luxury, but now a matter of comfortable co-existence with each other in this time that is making some people behave in a decidedly uncivilized manner.
My hope is that these tensions are temporary and mere aberrations driven by the current extraordinary circumstances, and that we all will soon return to more familiar modes of behavior. My hunch is that when it comes to the watershaping business, there are some significant silver linings in that more people will come to fully embrace the power and value of having their own little private spot on the “shore” in their homes, where tranquility and peacefulness reign, now and always. And isn’t that what the “blue mind” is all about?