Even after the evolutionary invasion of land by adventurous amphibians, survival of life on land was still dependent on finding ways of bringing the oceanic ashore. Moving to a new terrestrial address meant that we had to invent creative means for dealing with the threat of desiccation. One of these inventions was the amniotic egg, which kept amniote embryos perpetually in water thanks to their hard, calcium-rich shells. Other innovations included various salt and water uptake mechanisms, for while aquatic animals were constantly immersed in water and appropriate amounts of saline, terrestrial animals had to actively seek these out. Such inventions ranged from the infiltration of the porous oral and anal surfaces of terrestrial woodlice, to the dew-collecting innovations of a certain Namibian desert beetle who, when fog is dense, scuttles to the top of a sand dune, stands with its head down and belly up, and drinks the water that condenses on and then flows down its body toward its mouth. This beetle was not alone in its resourcefulness. Others produced tough skin (to prevent excessive water loss), absorptive intestines (to allow water in), big lungs (to replace oxygen intake through water), and tears (to keep exposed eyes moist and allow vision to become acute).
But a final innovation reveals the role of water as not only a tool for self-survival, but as a milieu for the proliferation of other life, too. It is what scientists Dianna and Mark McMenamin call Hypersea—that is, the interconnected system of terrestrial life that has extended the sea and taken it along for the ride. The trick: folding our watery habitat inside our bodies. Without the sea to serve as a prime communicator and facilitator, life on land needed to chart its own watercourses—most available in the watery tissues and body fluids of other life forms.
Science fiction writer Ursula LeGuin was right when she speculated that the first tool in our evolutionary history was not a weapon, but a carrier bag. Maybe these carrier bags were the bodies of terrestrial beings themselves. Not only did our bodies need to serve as a watery gestational element for our prenatal descendants, but they also became a hospitable watery milieu in which altogether different species could dwell either permanently or temporarily; these watery carrier bags were our first tool of an embodied, social commons.
In other words: When we tired of the seas, eager to finally stand on our own two feet, we devised an interconnected system of terrestrial life that extended and (literally) incorporated the sea. Survival, yes; but also multiplication.
We are bodies of water. Meaning we primarily comprise water, but we are only bodies at all because of our myriad watery debts. We are all part of an aqueous ecology of wet matter in which humans and other bodies of water (animal, vegetable, meteorological, geophysical) are always already implicated as lively agents in one another’s well-being. Hypersea reminds us that bodies are not only individuals joined together by one form of connective tissue or another; bodies are themselves those tissues, those milieus of life.
We form the condition of possibility for each other’s being. We bathe each other into being, in all sorts of ways.