“The health of the eye seems to demand a horizon. We are never tired, so long as we can see far enough.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson
Living in the city, weeks can go by without sight of the horizon. No panoramic views, a lack of vastness in which to feel reassuringly small.
On the coast of Maine, where I grew up, the horizon is where the ocean meets the sky. As a kid, standing in the cold shallows and looking out at the Atlantic, I imagined England was just over the line, just as I believed that if I dug down far enough in the gray sand, I’d end up in China. Fingering the globe now, I see that Tasmania would have been more geographically accurate.
I knew, early on, that the Earth was round. My primary school classes were interrupted by Apollo launches and splash downs. I also knew that, once upon a time, people believed the world was flat and ships could sail off the edge and fall into a pit of dragons.
Though the dragons also seemed plausible to my young self, the horizon never felt dangerous. It felt, instead, like a place to try to get to, an obvious destination. When I went out in a neighbor’s lobster boat, buckled up in my orange life-preserver, we never got closer.
On the rare mornings I’ve been on the beach before sunrise, the sun showed itself first as a brightening, then as a red-orange blob floating up from below. When the orb clears the horizon, it always seems like it should make a popping sound, having freed itself from below.
E.O. Wilson wrote convincingly of biophilia—our innate human love of life forms and processes. Our horizon-looking may be a more abstract love of lines and shapes, the underlying algorithms that form all forms.
Standing on the same beach, a boy once told me the horizon was fourteen miles away. He was wrong. It’s about three miles away, a distance easily walked, though constantly receding.
My eyes are tired, Emerson. Done with the unexpansive city. Let’s venture out to the edge. Nothing (or a dragon) will revive us.