Insignificant Matters

On the Importance of seemingly Insignificant Matters

There had been a strong gale blowing last night, and he has been laying awake listening to the thunder of the waves crashing onto the beach. He was not worried, quite the opposite, he felt comfortable, embraced by the sturdiness of his cottage. It had stood against many storms in its life behind the dunes.

Summer storms never lasted long and he already longing for the morning, they were always special after a night’s storm. The blue sky was saturated even deeper; the clean air would have an added aroma from the conifers and the mangroves from the inlet. There was a charge in everything, like champagne that made all giggle and be silly.

At sunrise, the wind was still brisk, but nothing could hold him at home any longer. As much as the deep soft sand permitted he stomped up the familiar path leading to the crown of the dunes, soon he left the trees behind, and there was the ocean, calm as can be, small, timid waves tantalising the sand.

Today there was an even stronger smell carried by a warm northerly; that of debris and seaweed, which had been washed ashore last night and was now sweltering in the already biting morning sun. And there was a lot of it almost reaching the highest marks where the strongest waves had dug into the base of the dune.

Once he was reassured himself about the horizon being still horizontal, he let his eyes wonder first to the north where he could just recognise the lighthouse on the headland and then he turned south where the endless beach vanished in nowhere.

This was his favourite view, which encompassed an unportrayable panorama. To the left the ocean, in the middle the endless line of the beach bordered by the dunes and the low conifers behind, which were hiding the village, and in the blue haze the mountain range in the west.

For how long he has been standing there? Who knows but momently he felt an intruder in his solitude. Someone must be down at the beach. Whoever it was must still be beyond his range of visibility. He waited… for nothing.

After a timeless while, he saw someone staggering amongst the debris bending down every so often as if collecting something. Casually, he made his way down to the beach. He was curious about the person, and it is always good to have a chat. He decided that the person must be a woman because not many men have long hair and even fewer let it fly in the breeze.

The woman was much occupied with her action. Startled she paused when she realised the silent man standing there motionless only a few metres away. She relaxed with his grin and sent one back in return.

The man had noticed, she had been picking up starfish one at a time and throwing them back into the ocean. There must have been millions laying at the beach, dying.

After completing the customary welcoming ritual, just a wee bit arrogantly, he asked: “What are you doing that for? There are millions, and the few, you throw back, do not really matter.”

The woman, not the slightest bit affected, continued confidently, and when she threw the next starfish back into the ocean as far as she could, she accompanied it with the shout: “It mattered to this one.”


Wolfgang Köhler
3 December 2000

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