Recently I had a strange encounter on Oak Beach near Fire Island Inlet. Walking in the moonlight on the beach west of the Sore Thumb, I saw the water become confused with thrashing. I stopped short and stood still as a strangely dressed man emerged from the waves. He wore a jeweled crown and gown and carried a trident. He beckoned me to him. My heart was pounding. As I got closer I detected a heavy seaweed and fish smell. He looked me straight in the eye and said “I sir, am King Neptune”.
Now, I knew King Neptune was the Roman God of the Sea but this encounter was making me view this fabled king in quite a different manner. Here I was, alone, standing on an empty moonlit beach, with what I always thought was just a myth, a story, a cartoon, something from a Sponge Bob episode. But alas, what stood in front of me was the real King Neptune and so began a strange dialog.
ME - “So what brings you to Long Island your Highness?”
NEP -“I visit all parts of my realm to see how they fair. I have been here before but you are the first mortal I’ve run into in these latitudes in over a hundred years. The last human who saw me was from the old Oak Beach Life Saving Station and he fainted right on the beach.
ME -“What is it like in your very wet kingdom?” I have often wondered what life was like down where you and Davy Jones reside.
NEP - “I gotta tell you - do you mind if I use your name? It’s Mark, right? (How did he know that?) . Things are not fairing so well in my beautiful kingdom. Once I ruled over complete natural harmony but now--- (A salty tear fell from his right eye.) Look at the mess you land lubbers have created.”
ME - “Kinda know what you mean Nep. In my years I have watched the degradation and it’s scary.’’
NEP - “Scary! Think of how I feel, I’ve been around since the seas were born but things really started to go astray when whaling became the big thing. Almost wiped out all the whales.”
ME - “I know what you mean.”
NEP - “You don’t know the half of it. If landlubbers don’t wise up in 25 years they’ll be nothing left. I try to warn my aquatic subjects away from giant trawlers with mile upon mile of deadly nets.
ME -“You’re a king. Can’t YOU do something about it?”
NEP - “Mark, don’t let me lose my temper here. You know it’s not only overfishing.” (Nep was so excited he was thrashing his trident wildly. I had to duck several times to avoid being impaled.)
It’s the oil drilling and spills; it’s cruise ship garbage, cities dumping sewage, factories dumping chemicals.
Why just the other day, while in the Pacific, I came across 50 sharks that had been finned and 14 giant turtles floating dead with vinyl trash bags in their stomachs. Why, there are seas of floating plastic out there, some bigger than your state of Tex-ass, or whatever you call it. And what about those greedy b------d’s stripping the bottom of the Bering Sea for gold. It just goes on and on. The loss of so many coral reefs, the heating of my oceans because you people are cutting down the Amazon jungle and even here in your country greedy politicians in the pockets of big business are lifting environmental laws. Mark, how does it all end I ask? With dead seas? If the seas die the entire world dies. Are humans so dumb they don’t get that?”
ME - “Nep, You gotta calm down. There must be some good things happening in your briny realm.” He leaned on his trident as I helped him sit on a beam from an old wreck. He gazed a while at the beautiful inlet for a long, quiet time. Finally, he began to stir.
NEP - “Maybe there is hope, Mark. Do you know where it will come from? From children and young people. That is where real change will come from. I watch from inside the waves sometimes. I have seen kids picking up trash on the beaches of Coney Island and Rockaway. I spied young fishermen practicing catch and release at the Magnolia Piers in Long Beach and the Jones and Captree Piers. I have seen the younger charter boat captains out at Montauk fishing plastic garbage out of the ocean with nets and gaffs, and I have seen trawlers out of Manasquan Inlet sort their catches quickly to limit undersized fish mortality. The young are at the forefront of cleaning oil spills and other catastrophic incidents. They actively seek to reverse the new removal of Environmental Standards by your political leaders who are so uneducated about the state of our oceans due to misuse. It’s those young people I now rely on. No offense but you old guys, maybe you tried, but not hard enough.”
I must admit that last statement by “His Highness” pissed me off a tad, but when I thought about it, Nep was right. All of us oldsters could have done more. Except for a few outstanding advocates, we talked a lot and really did very little.
At that point, Nep asked me to help him up. He told me he had to get back in the water. Being on land made him feel too confined. As we got to the water's edge Nep began to perk up. He turned to speak.
NEP - “How would you like to take a trip undersea with me. I will show you incredible sights no human has ever seen and take you to my coral castle in the deepest depths of the ocean.
ME - “But I can’t breathe under water, I’ll drown!”
NEP - “Not with me you won’t. Grab onto my trident and off we go!’’
Into the waves we dove and Nep streamed through the waters accompanied by schools of dolphins and seals. We went through amazing forests of giant kelp, mountains of vivid coral higher than the Himalayas, through schools of tuna, sharks, and squid and then down, down, down into uncharted depths. We passed what looked like the wreck of Captain Nemo’s Nautilus submarine, then the Lusitania; Titanic, and Spanish treasure galleons awash with gold and jewels. Finally, we arrived at his castle, pink and glowing in the aqua sea. A cotillion of hammerhead sharks came to meet and guide us in.
We swam into his throne room and he sat down. Treasure was piled all around him. He saw me counting it with my eyes.
NEP - “Don’t bother Mark, I only collect this to remind me of man’s folly. It’s all worthless. What is gold? A metal. That’s all.
(“Not to me, says I”) And diamonds? It’s just compressed carbon you can see through. Big deal! (Yeah, a really big deal to me if I could scurry some in my pocket when his Ocean Highness wasn’t looking.) “Nothing is wealthier than the sea. It gives the earth life. Without healthy oceans we are nothing but a dead moon.” Remember that when you sit by the ocean with your grandchildren. Remember to speak that truth to all who will listen.” And then I seemed to fade out.
I woke as the sun rose over the ocean. I was soaked to the skin and exhausted. I stood up and removed all types of seaweed draped over my clothes. A blue claw crab crawled out of my pants and startled me. I must admit for a second or two he had me worried, if you catch my drift. I was cold so I walked back and stopped at Jed and Jolene’s house at Oak Beach. “Come in, warm up, and get dry. Did you fall off your boat?” they asked in a worried manner as they handed me a cup of tea. I was so confused I had no answer. Was it a dream, nightmare, reality? I figured I best keep it to myself so I replied, “It’s so humid and I was out hiking. I just sweat a lot.’’ I leaned over to remove a still flapping sand eel from my deck shoes when out of my pocket rolled one huge diamond. I caught it in mid-air with no one the wiser. How it got there I have no idea. I plan to donate it to Operation Splash, but then again there’s this boat………… Greedy humans.
Article and Illustration by Mark C. (Sea) Nuccio
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