What Lies Beneath

"Fin Art"

Images of whales abound in the Northwest. Tourists come from miles around in hopes of seeing orcas breach the surface of  Puget Sound. Cute cartoons of  black and white whales adorn everything from coasters to key chains.

Surrounded by the casual commoditization of the idea of killer whales, it’s easy to forget the power and awesome reality of the actual creatures.

But on a windswept expanse of open ground at Magnussen Park in north Seattle a remarkable work of public art conveys the mystery and the grandeur of whales in an unexpected way.

Seattle artist John T. Young created “The Fin Project: From Swords to Plowshares” in 1998 using 22 decommissioned diving plane fins  from 1960s U.S. Navy attack submarines. Massive steel fins rise out of the ground, some atilt, some buried deeper. The effect is subtle yet striking. As you walk among them you can’t help imagining giant creatures below the surface.

It’s what you can’t see that sparks the imagination.

The work resonates in many ways, but yesterday, as I revisited the site, I found myself thinking of the way we all carry on blithely on the surface of this Earth, taking for granted its solidity, its gravity, the secure foundation of our homes and hopes, forgetting, as we humans are so apt to do, that the Earth has issues of its own. The horrific devastation in Japan from the most powerful earthquake in its recorded history reminds us how puny we are in the big picture. The Earth shrugs, our fragile civilization collapses.

In the years to come, as we rebuild from this most recent natural disaster, more such events are inevitable. The continued survival of mankind will depend on our ability to help one another. Beating swords into plowshares is a start.