We emerged from the darkness under the holm oaks just before sunset. All things were unified by a golden light: our bodies, the dust, leaves, rocks – all reconciled by a uniform tone. Then, below the sea cliffs, water emerged in an emerald lustre. This was Peaked Tor Cove on the South Devon coast, and we’d come for a swim. One hundred and fifty steps, and we were down on the beach. Gentle waves rockled the pebbles before us. Smiles. Hands on hips, we watched and listened. The tide was on its way out and so we made our way east of Saddle Rock, where the water was deeper and still swimmable. We took off our shoes and stood in our shorts and T-shirts, barefoot. My Gracie is a fine swimmer. She’s swift in a pool and wise in the wild. It had been a hideous few weeks, but I noticed her eyes were wide and happy.

“You are coming in too, Mum?”

I nodded. For sure.

I was healing from a hysterectomy for a blood-draining fibroid, and in a lab somewhere in South Wales, a pathologist had found fast-dividing cells, the non-life-sustaining ones, and so in my eviscerated womb I was due for an assault of radiation and chemotherapy, and we were here to treasure time under a cloud of great uncertainty.

Saddle Rock is a jagged limestone outcrop. Lichens and mosses on top root down soils and nourishment for native grasses and flowers, perhaps even a rare white rockrose or two. Below, biominerals from once-living corals and shelled creatures long extinct are silent in layers of matter and memory. In that ancient warm, shallow sea, their atoms had drifted into sediment when terrestrial woodland was only just beginning to evolve. After tectonic movement across Earth’s crust, unfathomably high pressures and the relentless forces of erosion, a wall of what is deemed ‘mid-Devonian’ geology is revealed to us in the present, jutting out into modern Torbay. The rock tempers any big waves powering in from the English Channel, soothing the sea for temperate coastal life to thrive, and for a calm, evening swim.

Here in the littoral zone, from the high-water mark to about sixty metres deep, all moves to the beat of our sun and moon, a rhythm more ancient than any life on Earth. It’s a rich part of what I call the nagorasphere, murmurations of life and life-giving matter through water, air and soil. The concept is inspired by work on bodily exchange by French feminist Luce Irigaray and the public, local gatherings advocated by the American social theorist Murray Bookchin.

N is for Nature
agora – ancient gathering place, sometimes a market where exchanges take place. All is flow and in multiple directions
sphere – ball, global

With each wave and tide flowing into the cove, living beings – and their moulted, glittering micromatter – migrate up and then down, out and then back. They metabolise, photosynthesise, multiply, and die. Sea spray and foam launch their traces into the air and into the wind. Sediments settle through deep time to eventually form rock. Held-fast seaweeds and other algae – dark and bright greens, blood reds and purples – the carrageens, wracks and dulses, sway with the flow, their aquatic microbiomes following the movement like comet tails.

Here in the swash, in the deeper pools and under fossil rocks, formed from whispers of sand and wave-worn fossil shells, there are common brittle stars and burrowing sea urchins. There are oysters clamped to boulders, pearlescent top shells, and periwinkles in the cracks. There are camouflaged cuttlefish and quick young mackerel. Masked and velvet crabs and snakelocks anemones hide and hunt among the crevices, washed by trillions of phytoplankton suspended in the water. A marine family of gem-like colours and the shine of the water are lures for wild swimmers. They are our semiotics of desire in the realms of our imagination, edible and reliable. We feel biophilia as more than a word: it is innate, a teleology reaching way back into our foraging and migrating ancestry, it is DNA deep.

The cove is home and a place of work, rest, love, secrets, deaths – burial grounds to all beings. The interconnections and directions are complex. Relationship is the only real constant, and this I value most of all. We rookie Homo sapiens are coming home to our elder kin, to realise them; to respect, love and protect them. Mother-daughter, and on behalf of all mothers and daughters, we coalesce with life-flow evolved over millions of years to sustain our shared commons, on the uncommon blue dot we call Earth. We submerge ourselves with devotion in marine life, and they with us. This is the home of all homes, where our DNA began. Salty shores nurtured the first momentous metabolisms of life. Fossilised stromatolites are the primary evidence of our own existence, again trapped in time and memory, yet still found alive in rare places as mats of persisting fast-dividing cells – the life-sustaining ones.

There are star ascidians in these waters now, budding tunicates, or sea squirts, fantastic and taxa-defying. Their ‘tunics’ are made from plant-like cells, and they cluster together like flowers, mutualistically thriving as filter feeders. But they begin life as eggs that hatch into tadpoles, with spinelike chorda, sessile in the water. They soon settle and grow as gelatinous flat communities no thicker than a pencil, attaching to substrate rocks, shells, and even seaweeds. Each point, or petal, is an individual animal, a zooid, yet part of a larger colonial animal, flowering around communal openings called exhalent siphons. Individually they inhale nutrients; communally they exhale water. Blues, greens, golds, oranges, reds – they contain both biochemical and colour warning defences to offput predators, but they have evolved an innate immune system resembling our own, dependent on powerful symbioses with bacteria. These beings look so utterly different from humans, but remarkably, they are our closest genetic invertebrate relatives. We are gene kin.

There is no hierarchy here, all being flow. The only forces that impose upon life are the forces that sustain life – forces from the sun, the moon and the tides, gravity, mass, oxygen, carbon, and evolution itself in a seemingly ever-exchangeable and complex shaping. My own ecophilosophy, fluminism, recognises symbiotic flows in multiple directions, the processes of the biosphere that sustain life, nurtured for all to flourish. It also requires our human imagination to engage in perceiving this relatedness: the complexity is endless, the minutiae beautiful. Fluminists accept that we are a part of the flow. More, we step into the flow with devotion because this is life at its best and most meaningful. It is love, and in no way limited to the human realm. In this understanding, prejudice fades away, there’s no exclusivity, no social or ecological segregation. At best, it is unconditional love, even in death (an ecological death). All is flow, so let it be life-enhancing flow.

Saddle Rock makes the straight side of a natural, deeper swimming pool for humans, long enough for a lap of butterfly strokes. But in Victorian times, this beautiful cove was segregated for only gentlemen to swim and relax in. What a sadness I feel about this: it is a life-nullifying thing and a waste of all kinds of possibilities. Even in modest bathing clothes, people were deemed unable to withstand the lure of Eros to be able to swim together. Yet they unknowingly consented to a blind communing with myriad naked males, females and hermaphrodites in the form of other species, some inevitably engaging in the powers of Eros. For a fluminist, any form of segregation is an act of violence, because interconnectedness is what is most valuable.

As the philosopher and professor of law and ethics Martha Nussbaum attests, stigma and pollution around water have played an irrational but strong role in ‘othering’ and racism, including exclusion from beaches, swimming pools and drinking fountains, especially in the case of Jim Crow laws. In the nagorasphere, the epitome of uninterrupted flow, to break or dam those flows is to block life itself, causing unecological death, a maldeath. The only pollution that exists are the techno-chemicals and the radionuclides fed into systems that never evolved to withstand them. These are truly ‘other’ things; things that made my cancer grow. They drift and are then ingested, travelling through the trophic levels. They cause suffering and death, dulling the glittering nagorasphere.

Our bare feet curl over slippy algaed surfaces, and we step forward, waving our arms for balance. I peer down through a swell of reflected sky into the water, mindful of safety as a mother should be, looking for sharp rocks and glass.

“Be careful, my love.”

I look up. Gracie is already up to her waist, wading deep with such confidence. She leans forward to the point of no return, sinks into a gentle swell, and pulls long and artful strokes through liquid life.

It was my turn, and the sea and sky seemed a kaleidoscope of sensory intensity. Colours blazed. The smell of ocean life sank into my soul. Salt water fizzed on my tongue. The water lapped and seemingly caressed every nerve-ending in my body. DNA lifted from my skin and became the sea. We swam together, moving our limbs to the rhythm of the life of the cove. We sucked in air and blew it out in bubbles of laughter, brine and spit, diatoms and bacteria. My stitches still healing from the surgeon’s knife began to sting, but this made me feel only more alive. Around our blood-leached feet, fish fry flashed their silver sides and vanished, along with all of my anxiety.

Flat rock tops began to appear as the tide sank, their vertical sides crusty with whelks and barnacles. I grazed my knee on a submerged rock and blood spilt into the nagorasphere. I decided my swim was over and emerged refreshed. Way out beyond Saddle Rock, I could hear my daughter still laughing as she spun around using her hands and heels like fins. She was of this cove. There was no thing that was external. The same things that might threaten my daughter threaten all the life here in the cove. Disturbance, harassment, physical injury, contaminants. Reduction in food availability, ignorance. In my own matter and time, passed down from thousands of ancestors, I have tried to be her wall of rock, her ancient prokaryote mother cell, shielding her from those huge waves to create these calmer waters. But life events do sometimes crash in and over and through. Like a mother diagnosed with cancer. Like a biosphere under increasing duress. But she does know how to swim and knows how to learn.

As with all the many species of love, swimming with our kin in wilder waters becomes the creation of an image, assembled fabric of experience and memory, then boosted by endorphins it fits us like a watery heirloom cloak. Knowing the life within this pool and between the rocks, on the cliff edges and deeper into the bay, is to enjoy a feeling of belonging, a humble tenderness towards something much bigger than ourselves, the flow of life itself, but that also makes us valuable. Kinship is a nurturing force, life expressing care for all of us, magnified by as many species as in our company, as in this cove.

Not all lives are bound to, or free from, each other. But all things are relational, beyond our own abilities to sense, and so it has been for three and half billion years. That power will outlive us and all of our constructs. There is a greater force that we’d do well to understand. Others may call it something else, but I call it fluminism. By this understanding it is possible to reset our own values; they cannot and should not be enforced upon all other species. The law is something shared only between humans, but deeper laws are shared by all life: the ecological processes that proliferate life in abundance and diversity. They are sacrosanct. And it is the breaking of these deepest laws that leads to pain and suffering. Instead, humans may nurture the deepest possible respect and responsibility for all life, as a mother nurtures her daughter. And it’s the same force that bonds all life. We are kin. We are bacteria, we are star ascidians and eroded limestone corals: essential and as beautiful as any relationship.

This is an edited version of an essay that first appeared in Kinship: Belonging in a World of Relations, and is reprinted here with permission of the Center for Humans and Nature Press.

Ginny Battson is a member of the Consortium of Environmental Philosophers. An eco-linguist, she also creates neologisms to aid human/Nature relationships, and is studying for a PhD at Manchester Writing School.