Surrounded by the Sea

Fri, 11/18/2016 - 10:45am

We live surrounded by the sea, we hear the sound of it in the dark and feel its dampness on the raw east wind. We smell it when it is filled with sea weed and roiled by a storm passing off to the east, we taste it on our skin when we walk too close to its salty mist.

We see more or less of it depending where we live. Most days I need only lean slightly one way or the other to have in view the seam of the horizon; at night there are lights of fishing boats and, now, of the turbines wrapping around the southeast corner of the island, and there is often the reflection of the moon.

The tides have been great these past few days, the pull of the moon exposes rocks rarely seen and covers sand usually beyond the reach of the waves.

We all see the moon, but it is with these extreme tides at the lunar perigee that I am most reminded so much of our country is beyond the sound, feel, smell, taste, and sight of the ocean. Perhaps it is easier to dismiss as — at worst — voodoo science or — at best — some vague theory, the concept of climate change when one lives so far away from the ever-reaching sea.

It is afternoon when I finally head to the beach with the dog. It is not even three when we leave the house but the sun is already low in the sky, at an angle that illuminates every bit of dust in and every trace of salt on the air, and I walk with my head down, wishing I had thought to wear sunglasses.

On this road it is the better way to walk; last night's forgotten rain left puddles not evaporated or blown dry during the gentle day and, worse, small stones covered with a skim of mud, dry to dust in places, still slippery and dark in others.

It is all golden where the privet hedges tower and utility poles, not especially old, but leaning and bleached, tell the way of the wind and power of the sun. I remember when the hedges were planted, in a double row, along the side of the road, some 20 years ago, when the poles were replaced, most of them, to accommodate a new line to service the great house of stone and glass and metal on the far side of the old Mansion site. 

The shore is wide and, for the most part, smooth, the travel of the water over the past cycle of the tides told in shells and traces of foam, in places where sand, cut sharply by earlier tides and winds, has been softened but not yet quite flattened.

There are tracks in the soft sand, as there always are, no matter the time of day or of year, the wide tread of a sports bicycle, the broader track of a four-wheel drive vehicle, but mainly footprints, treaded shoes, dogs of varying sizes, and the fine imprint of shore birds flown away before Autumn and I arrived.

Looking northeast, down the beach, my back is to the sun, and the glare that was so bothersome is caught on the line of the low breaking waves, all glowing white riding on brilliant blue and I walk on the hard packed sand that is a benefit of a very low tide. 

The faces of the dunes are in shadow, but I see the spill of the beach forest, bayberry amidst goldenrod and sea wort, and, always, some unexpected plant that set its roots in the salty sand and decided not to leave.

There is a harshness, still, to the profile of the dunes at the north end of the beach, a reminder of the damage done by Sandy more than four years ago. It was not that bad a storm, I told people all the following summer, it just took out a couple of roads, and the bait dock and ravaged the whole of the east shore in a way I had not seen in my lifetime. It was a strange qualification but we truly did not lose houses as happened so many other places along the coast.

There is one lone gull, brightly white, off on a rock, but no seals that I can see are lounging offshore. I will not go north of Jerry's Point; the beach is gone, returned to the solid scree of winter. The tide is low, as far below the norm as it was above it when I went to town in the morning, when, of all the rocky garden that spreads below the Surf Hotel, outside the red jetty, only the tip of the greatest boulder was visible, wet and shiny in the sun.

This is where there are tidal pools in summer when there is more sand, where little creatures dart in the shallows, where as children we pulled periwinkles from rocks to see them slam their tiny doors shut against the sun and air, where we collected starfish bent on suicide. 

Today, the tide was so low that rocks that do not so often feel the full bright sun were high, their covers of flowing green fibers almost dry, rising like so many grassy little hillocks, the hue of deep spring, a wonder in the ever-shortening days of November. They are both familiar and alien, a filamentous sea of weirdly dyed wigs, a memory both familiar and one that would never be recalled without this vivid reminder.

It is warmer walking home, in that last burst before sundown is hurried, so much warmer that I shed my jacket. There were birds at the gate, flitting in and out of the brush, speckled brown and I wondered if I saw a cardinal in the yard the other day or if it was just an imagined flash of something joyous in the dark of this season.