Oceans of Opportunity

Gold Digging and Clam Diggers

My lack of blogging in recent months has been due to anything but lack of interest or creativity. To the contrary, there is so very much to share with the world from the journey through this past stretch…

Despite the tremendously volatile industry I’ve managed to practice within – that being diving of the working kind – I’ve now survived more than two decades. Through that time, I’ve had some highs, some lows, and at times what would appear to be insurmountable failures. I can honestly say that at times it feels as though I’ve lived multiple lifetimes already, each chuck full of life lessons; while at the very same time I still see a only starting line out there on the horizon. Despite the volatility, I’ve found immense satisfaction in one simple fact – I am able to do what I love to do by doing what I love to do. I dive [for a living] which helps create the opportunities to continue diving.

I’ve found some reassurance in the last several months that I can carry on with this trajectory of living the life aquatic (perhaps my masterful social experiment) through an exercise in simplicity. Among my favorite quotes is Einstein’s “out of clutter, find simplicity”. And through emerging from what had become an all too complicated professional environment, full of stress, and lots of that volatility, I reigned it all in to refocus, find simplicity, and find a sustainable path – and I found it in the least likely of places which happened to be right under my feet for decades – clams.

When I first started diving, I had an employer/mentor that gave me a shot in the commercial diving sector who always reminded me, “Mikey, if the diving ever dries up, get out there and dig quahogs [our local hard shell clam]”. So, that’s what I did starting this past spring, and it has revealed a massive wealth of knowledge and experience in a very short period of time.

Many of you are probably asking, “why is this guy out there digging clams?”. Well, let’s boil this down to some basics. First, the obvious is that while hard work, I can spend everyday out on and underwater and make a decent living. That’s it at face value, and as time goes along I’ll find ways to make the effort more efficient, possibly scale the operation up, and turn this into another nice small business venture. However, it’s the not so obvious benefits that really have me hooked.

Since the spring, I’ve spent 200 hours underwater digging clams. It’s monotonous, dark, muddy, and quiet. It’s the perfect environment and opportunity to spend uninterrupted time doing relatively mindless labor which has made for 200 hours of doing some of my best creative and introspective exploration work. In fact, I wrote this Blog piece this morning while mucking about in 30 feet of water while up to my waist in thick soupy black mud. I let my hands to the work, and my mind acutely focus and strategize through my long laundry list of to-do items. All great.

More importantly has been that the quiet time in the dark has shed light on just how screwed up the world is. Before getting in the water, I caught a Facebook post from a respected colleague calling for “more, more, more….to raise awareness of ocean and environmental issues with the intent of making change”. The post went on to ask, rhetorically, “what will it take” to protect the ocean resources that we are all dependent upon. Well, this, like many related questions are viewed as highly complex, I will argue that the solution itself is simple….we [humanity] will never take care of our planet unless we take stock in its assets. That’s both the problem and the solution – we/people don’t really care, and we won’t care until not having something triggers a selfish button. We the people, at least in the modern developed world, have been programmed as gold diggers.

We all have our fixes, want our excesses, need our treats, our creature comforts, and somehow and someway we’ve been programmed to accept that all of these things equate to our happiness. As I’ve written about numerous times, this consumptive position on the planet is at the root of the problem, since the industries required to support these consumerisms are toxic and just monster bureaucratic cash cows. We did this to ourselves.

I have my fixes too and am far from the greenest person on the planet, so I am not critiquing any of you – I am equally a victim of this global cancer called industrialization that followed the gold rush.

In my recent time simplifying, I’ve been fortunate to see things from a different vantage point – as a clam digger. As with any farming, fishing, or harvesting venture, your rewards are directly proportional to your work ethic, and willingness to reinvest towards creating a sustainable enterprise. Quite simply, if I harvest a lot of clams, I get a good day’s pay. If I don’t work too hard, I don’t see the rewards. If I protect my clams, re-seed areas harvested, and harvest responsibly, they will be there indefinitely, and I will be sustained indefinitely. Since I don’t eat the slimy shit sifters, I sell them at the local fish market (or rather barter them for cash since we pay our bills with this paper surrogate for economic value). Interestingly, rewind only a few centuries, and it was indeed wampum (beads made from quahog shells here in New England by the Wampanoag and Algonquin Indians) that was used to establish a surrogate value system for barter.

Now, I am not at all suggesting that everyone start digging clams for a living, but I do believe that this presents us with some perspective. What if we the people established a mechanism for economic value that was based on the health of the planet and its resources? Forget the middle-man (empty government backed promises of monetary value – essentially funny money), and let’s hedge our bets on the planet and its very real assets that we depend upon. Would we care then? You betcha…because your life depends on it.

Would it then matter to a farmer in the Midwest if a coral reef in the South Pacific was being destroyed by climate change? Yes, it would matter, since his ability to trade and conduct commerce with the world round him would become visibly strained since the South Pacific nation can’t produce their natural resources in a sustainable fashion, and vice versa. But for now, no one cares…the oil keeps pumping, we keep taking, the planet keeps hurting, and we will start hurting…our consumption is the killer, and the economic engine will never run a full cycle back towards real environmental sustainability unless we take just as much stock in our planet as in our consumer industries. Spending most of my days out in the field, I see changes happening that make me very scared for all of us, and we need to be reminded that the human race is not immune from extinction – we’re just another species on the inventory list that probably won’t get a ticket for the ark this time around. So, this begs the questions, “…how do I invest in the ocean, how do I invest in trees, how do I invest in clean air, in freshwater, etc?” By ‘invest’ I mean put our money where it retains value, and grows in value – i.e. not purely philanthropic conservation or advocacy measures.

I am no master economist, just a pragmatist diver who digs clams…but what I can say with great certainty is that we the people will never protect, restore, and manage what we don’t value, and value cannot be solely aesthetic. Somehow, someway, we need to take real stock in our planet,

How we do this? Well, that’s a topic for another post and a journey for another venture. It can be done however, once we treat an investment into our planet’s health, as an investment into our own.

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