seafaring message bearers

Windswept treeless headland on the edge of the Barents Sea. Feet moving cautiously, quietly sinking at every step as they press stones and plastic remains beneath, so that the hard and fragile bodies are made to speak to each other as they rub and crash, caress and grind. Sea swelling, waves breaking.

Round, smooth, chestnut brown. Not of stone, not even plastic, for a change. Its flesh seems to conceal more than the eye can tell.

A seed.

A bean shaped seed as big as a tablespoon head. I pick it up and hold it, my hand cupped around this beach treasure. Sjøbønne, a sea bean, I am told. In North Sámi, gollegádnu, gold can, or guovdegeađgi, sea serpent stone. In Sápmi they have been used traditionally as birthing stones: to be rubbed against the abdomen of the mother-to-be; or given to hold in the hand during labour. In Gaelic Ireland and Scotland they would be carried in one’s pocket as good luck charms and go by the name of Mary beans.

As an ethnobotanist I seek to understand the relationship between people and plants, and I find myself navigating through multi species entanglements where, while learning about plants from people, I always end up learning just as much from plants about all sorts of things. As a matter of fact, if one cares to listen, encountering a drift seed tells a story of complex interconnectedness across oceanic vastness and of mighty forces. Entada gigas is the name that science gives to the sea serpent stone, one of several drift seeds embarking on ocean crossings from all corners of the world.

Guovdegeađgi/sjøbønne/Entada gigas belongs to the pea family, and grows into a towering vine. It departs from Central America and drifts along the lines traced by the North Atlantic gyre of which the Gulf Stream is part.

Gyrating mighty sea serpents, ocean currents carry and connect. They have sculpted lands and shaped peoples by creating the climatic conditions that determined their unique livelihoods and practices. Yet they rest on a complex equilibrium now in jeopardy. These grand forces appear to be weakening and heading towards disruption due to sea level rise and the melting of the Earth’s frozen regions. From deep and mythological time they demand our attention. They call on us to abandon self-enclosed illusions of human autarchy and separateness, to turn back to our senses to feel beyond ourselves.

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