Scott Stillman

"There is magic in stillness. That place where all thought stops, and only beauty remains."



This is not a book about the fate of our oceans. Or the merciless slaughter of dolphins. Or the dying sea turtles and plastic bottles and acidification of seawater. If you want to read about these matters, try Rachael Carson’s The Sea Around Us, Sylvia Earle’s The World Is Blue, or Cynthia Barnett’s The Sound Of The Sea. There are many others written by environmentalists more credible than me. I’m no marine biologist. I just know that whatever happens to the sea happens to ourselves. Our fates are intertwined.

But you know these things…. Yes? Yes? Am I not speaking to the choir? Would another such book save the seas? Save the planet? Save the human race? I’d like to think so. But again, this is not that kind of book.

Occasionally we need a break from the gloom and doom of the world. Sometimes what we need is hope. A reason to get out of bed in the morning. A reason to live another day.

We must have escapes. Emergency exits. Portals to secret worlds where we can sneak away for a while—reclaim our souls. Without escapes, we’d surely go insane. It could be a forest meadow, a neighborhood park, a secluded beach. Or perhaps it’s the pub, the coffee shop, the library, the casino. Or a sailboat in the wind, a fish on the line, a surfboard on a breaking wave. The back of beyond… whatever that means. A break from life, from whatever reality you’ve found yourself trapped in at the moment.

I’ve had many escapes. They fill the pages of my books—lonely desert canyons, lofty mountain ranges, dusty old roads to who-knows-where. Away from people, pollution, progress. Places where I can hear myself think, put things into perspective, regain my sanity.

Solitude can be a powerful healer, but it’s not always the right medicine. Sometimes we need to experience some semblance of normalcy. Smiling faces, easy conversation—connection. So we can find some hope for humanity.

In a world increasingly obsessed with safety and security, we’re losing grasp of a fundamental human need. Without human connection, we risk becoming trapped inside our own minds, locked inside our own prisons, spiraling out into mental illness until there’s no turning back.

It’s all about connection.


All my life, I’ve been following water. It started in the creek behind our Ohio family home, chasing crawdads, bluegills, box turtles. In high school, it was canoeing the Little Miami River with friends, chasing girls in bikinis. I caught one named Valerie and she became my wife. Together we explored the Big South Fork and Red River Gorge with backpacks, meandered the lakes of Kentucky and Tennessee by boat. Camping on the shores of small islands, we made love by moonlight, sleeping beneath a sea of stars.

As we ventured further west, water grew more sparse and intimate, yet no less enchanting. In Colorado, we found winding rivers, gurgling streams, sparkling alpine lakes. Wild rivers snaked across granite valleys. Kayaks splashed through whitewater canyons. In the red-rock deserts of Utah and Arizona, there appeared to be no water at all. But this was an illusion. Precious water flowed in deep canyons, hidden places of exquisite beauty and grandeur, tempting us to journey across miles of parched sand and bare rock—chasing holy water.

All my life, I’ve been wandering deserts, foothills, mountains, plains. Making my way home, back to the sea.

All comes from Mother Ocean, all returns to Mother Ocean. Each of us begins life in saltwater, the amniotic fluid in our mother’s womb nearly identical to the sea. We hold the ocean in our veins, as the saline water in our cells is similar to seawater. The Earth is seventy percent water. Likewise, we are seventy percent water. The similarities go on. The moon controls the rhythm of the great tides and the rhythms inside our own bodies—in ways beyond our understanding. Humans can go weeks without food, mere hours without water. It’s all connected, and it all leads to the sea.

On a map, I can trace my route—from that childhood creek to this sandy shore by the Gulf of Mexico where I now write these words—and see my watercourse. Lakes, rivers, springs, seeps. Foothills, mountains, valleys, plains. Slowly making my journey back to the sea. Not a straight line, but a maze of undulating routes twisting and overlapping like the frantic doodling of a madman. But my path is marked by water, a wild river flowing to the sea.

I feel as though I’ve been floating on a life raft, drifting with the Earth’s currents. Where streams have diverged, I’ve taken obscure routes, drifting off into unknown territories. Along the way, I’ve encountered dry falls, choke stones, cliffs, dead ends. Places I’ve had to grasp for a rock, a root, a clump of tamarisk to pull myself onshore, fighting the current back, back, back to the last juncture. These diversions—right, wrong, or indifferent—have been my best teachers. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that life is about taking risks. Calculated risks. When everything goes to shit, can I make it back to the last fork?

Mother Nature will carry you where she pleases. You may find salvation, you may find death. The trick is to flow—to navigate her natural rhythms like a bird on the wind, a surfer on a wave, a sailor on the open sea. There’s a fine line between playing safe and playing smart. If you play it too safe, you risk reaching the destination but missing the journey. We’re all headed for the same place. We all die. The difference is how we get there.

“…from the wavering edge of risk the sweetest honey of freedom drips.” —Tom Robbins

In a world where global and technological changes are occurring faster than ever, no one knows the future. If there’s anything we can count on, it’s that the future is uncertain. Overpopulation, water shortages, air pollution, deforestation, chemical imbalances in nature—it seems we’ve reached the point of no return. As suicide rates fly high and more turn to alcohol and drugs, mental illness is slowly becoming the “new normal.” It doesn’t take a genius to see that old rules no longer apply.

How to plan for a future so unpredictable?

As much as we try to cling to the shore, the river of life flows. We forget that the ground beneath our feet is not steady but hurling through space at unfathomable speeds. With each passing year, the moon drifts further away, the Earth’s rotation slows, and our days get progressively longer. As our climate warms, the oceans are advancing, coming back to reclaim the land—to wash away our sins.

Everything goes back to the sea.

Gloom and doom, or cause for celebration? When the world is ending, do we wallow in fear or have a party? I find it exciting that we get to witness such change in our lifetimes. Remember that Mother Nature ebbs and flows like the tides. It’s all part of the Great Happening, and who are we to say it’s not going perfectly as planned? If we could only step back, refocus, and see that we’re not the main characters in the play. Not even supporting roles. In due time our buildings and houses, sidewalks and superhighways, strip malls and Walmarts will be brushed away—like dust from a rose. But the show…

The show goes on!

The world doesn’t need saving. There is only saving ourselves. The problem is we’ve removed ourselves from the pulsing rhythms of life. Powerful technology has brought us to this unparalleled brink in time where Mother Nature barely recognizes us as her own. Looking down upon the Earth from outer space, we must look like aliens. An invasive species festering on the land.

Fortunately, there’s a way back to nature, back to ourselves, if we ride the tides—going with rather than against Mother Nature’s currents. Only then might we hope to reclaim the status of Earthlings.


The van is loaded with all the necessary equipment. Kayaks for paddling, masks and fins for snorkeling, a paddleboard for surfing, and my wing foiling gear (similar to windsurfing) for sailing. Simple, non-motorized vessels to help us connect with the ocean’s elements: wind, water, and waves.

Valerie and I cross the border into the Sunshine State and stop for necessary provisions—beer and tequila—before heading south, then east on Alligator Alley through the swamps of the Everglades, and on toward that string of islands dangling off the southeastern tip of North America: the Florida Keys. On our map, they look like periods, commas, semi-colons. No possibility of a road. But as we know, a road indeed exists. U.S. Highway 1 is a rare spectacle of implausible engineering. Bridges up to seven miles long cross open expanses of water with panoramas in all directions. At times you can see the curvature of the Earth, thousand-hued waters blending seamlessly from sea to sky. Despite its close proximity to civilization, the place remains wild, exposed to storms, waves, the great rhythms of the tides. Like our mountains and deserts, the ocean rightfully demands our respect—a poignant mix of beauty and violence, tranquility and chaos.

End of sample.

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