29 April 2019

Middens, Part 5 (At Rest)

Night air with its aroma of pelagic iodine brings with it a heightening of the senses. Hearing, touch, and sight in particular undergo an increase in their gain akin to dialing it up on a stack of amplifiers. Crickets in the dunes chirp with an intense clarity. My forearms rest on the desk. The burnished raspiness of the wood comes through as mild, electric warmth. By such solidity I can reassure myself that I will not plunge into the earth. I have an anchor as I continue to gaze out the window.

There is joy in bearing witness to magic. A silver ribbon bedecks the wine-dark sea as the moon begins its languid ascension into the sky. Breakers atomize into argentine drops, Poseidon casting coins onto a waiting shore. The scene spurs me to move. I am overwhelmed by the urge to walk the waterline and scoop up the bounty. The scraping of chair legs over planks ricochets around the cottage when I push back from the desk. Prickles of something akin to pain grind through the knees, the back, popping the joints. The sensation reminds me of stepping from the ocean into the embrace of a scratchy cotton towel. Slightly rough but offering tactile satisfaction. Standing feels good. I grab a flashlight from the shelf by the door and make my way outside.

Heat of the day clings tenuously to the siding and the sand. It is quickly being replaced as the night breeze swirls about. I know the path to the shore well enough to walk it on the dark, but moonlight makes a worthy accompaniment to the trek. Footsteps make their own music from the crunch and rasp of shells, sand, and dry grass. The sound is a balm, perhaps best enjoyed in the silence of a solitary walk when the mind can be fully present. As I approach the strand this current rendition is subsumed into the studied cacophony of the waves. It is a dialogue worth hearing.

I am at the tide line. The sand has that peculiar heaviness that comes from saturation. Density underfoot, with gravity. Seaweed scribes the beach with calligraphy untranslatable but intuitively understood. The vegetation is another shield, I find. A green rampart redolent of iodine, bedecked with remains of tiny creatures that did not survive the surf. There are pebbles, bits of wood, and shells. Clam shells in particular, with the odd fragment of whelk. The shells remind me of the oysters I had for dinner. Appetites come to mind. A shard of history surfaces in my mind.

Native peoples by the shore knew where to find sustenance. Ancient humans knew a good thing when they saw it. The consumption of oysters and the like over time led to the creation of huge mounds of shells, as we have discovered. Middens created by the survival imperative. Standing by the wrack, looking out over the moonlit sea, I am surrounded by the water, the walls of the cottage, the oysters in my belly: the middens between me and the world, keeping me alive and sane.

22 April 2019

Middens, Part 4

To be at rest in the present day is becoming a luxury. Technology is convincing us that not only should we be connected, but we have to be connected. All access, all the time, as evidenced by our anxious search for recharging stations in public spaces. I marvel at the growth of my own disquiet while the battery percentage drops. Retreating into the dynamic serenity of dunes and breakers affords ample space to realize the disquiet is symptomatic of an affliction, one that is a creeping corrosion of peace of mind. Another weighty breaker pummels the shore. Emphatic maritime punctuation to my belated realization.

The horizon is the next nearest barrier, and it is far away. Its arc is faintly limned by the silver light of a moon yet to rise. My thoughts a mirror to the glow, I can feel a revelation creeping in on little padded paws. The hearth smolders. I will wait and see what the currents bring.

To Be Continued

15 April 2019

Middens, Part 3

Sand, in the form of dunes, is the cradle here. I feel them swaddling the cottage. The day is on a gentle glide into night. Stars reveal themselves as burnished dimes embedded in a firmament of deepening indigo. I have lost track of how long I have been here in the chair by the window. Cool air redolent with aromas of iron and salt drifts though the casements. This is the scent of the world, of threads that bind me to it. It is an olfactory blanket which serves in part as shield against “dry land and its bitter memories”, to borrow a phrase from a favorite song.

The notion of shields has been hovering about my mind as of late. The world as it is seems to be on fire. Every day brings some new fresh hell of political chicanery, social disruption, or environmental chaos. The Internet alternates between being a crucial source of information and a digital dumpster. Having shields means having the means to preserve sanity and optimism. It means being able to endure. Satisfying our appetites, the hungers we feel, becomes it own form of shield. Eating comforting food, reading an engaging book, or laying eyes on a beautiful vista are all shield-building exercises.

Make no mistake here. These are shields, not walls. They aren’t meant to be permanent or static. Shifts occur as circumstances and needs evolve over time. It would be worrisome if this were not so. But what is true is the periodic need for protection, and thereby respite. Through a combination of temporal and spiritual means we seek and can find that respite when the world becomes too much and our minds overflow. Such is the appeal of this place by the sea, where the walls of civilization are not so close and the mind can expand into quiet, to actually hear itself.

It is getting dark. The line between the sea and the sky is near imperceptible. There is a lack of “something” there, yet that "nothingness" tells me here, I am safe. I am at rest. The profane is beyond the circle of light.

To Be Continued

08 April 2019

Middens, Part 2

My hands are dry. Stillness compels me to hold them out before me, quivering under the influence of nerves and pulse. The unkindness of desiccated air has roughened the skin. Across the fingers is a skein of tiny cuts brought about by the raggedness of shells. Wavelets of pain flare across them as I flex my hands, calling attention to debts paid in order to eat. There is a clarity to this pain. It is a pain that I understand. Pain, hunger, joy: among the interlocking gravities exerting actions at a distance on the bodies we call home. They can take us out of ourselves but ultimately they bring us back. We ignore them at our peril.

Dinner settles in my belly. To experience such fullness is to experience modest grace. What matters is that we do not abide in ignorance of manifest hunger and the satiety which slakes it. I ponder this while watching a squadron of black-backed gulls tussling over the corpse of a fish down by the waterline. Sometimes the line between a gull and myself is nearly nonexistent, crossed as it is in the assuaging of hunger. In this way the gull and I understand each other.

The cottage needs room. Opening the casements ushers in the balm of salt water and warm sand, zephyrs like wee cats’ feet riffling the papers atop the desk by the windows. Papers. Journals. A smattering of pens. These too are tools used in the satisfying the appetites of mind and soul. The frequent exhortations of the page, as inscrutable as they are sometimes, bring me to the desk over and over again. This is imperative much like the need for an ocean view with time to contemplate the breakers in their infinite variety. Words and waves, the DNA of new stories using familiar elements.

A seventh wave thumps the strand. Vibrations from the impact work their way through the floorboards of the cottage to shiver my legs. The sound nudges me out of reverie. The afternoon is on its way to evening. Aureate light intensifies around the headland to paint the cottage in a warm gold sheen. This is precious time out here. The atmosphere is of a sort to have photographers scrambling for their cameras. Ordinarily I would do the same. But not today. Today the sea quietly suggests that today is not the day for the capturing of beauty, it is a day for experiencing it. This logic shall not be quarreled with.

If beauty has a purpose in life, surely it must be as a bulwark against the brutality and despair of the world outside ourselves. This thought puts its hands on my shoulders and gently pushes me down into the chair. Gulls call, shrill piercings that crack the sky and dissolve in the static of foaming water. I follow the fading cries into the sand.

To Be Continued

01 April 2019

Middens, Part 1

The counter above the sink is disappearing under a Lilliputian scree of natural detritus. A crab shell. A pine cone. The dessicated corpse of a monarch butterfly. An ever increasing collection of oyster shells which echoes a trio of clam shells. In their turn they speak of the butterfly wings. All crowding up an earthenware bowl cradling a pair of silvery, greeny looking onions. Bulbs of garlic nestle up to the onions like penguin chicks. A scattering of garlic peels, snippets of allium papyrus, adorn the onions and the bowl. Doing the dishes, one cannot escape the sight of these gleanings from field, farm, and sea. Soft light reflecting from water and dune turn the cottage into a vitrine. I am among the objects on display.

I dry my hands on the rough cotton towel that hangs down the cabinet face. The hook from which it hangs was fashioned from a smallish cleat I excavated from the sand years ago, in the wake of a ferocious storm that had walloped the headland. Howling winds and horizontal rains ceding overnight to a stiff breeze scrubbing an azure sky punctuated by dandelion puffs of clouds. Walking the beach that day I spied the dull chrome tip jutting out of a ragged wreath of dulse. Brushing the sand off revealed the clear to be in good shape, so it came home with me.

Afternoon light fills the cottage. My hands wrap the towel around themselves as my peripatetic mind ponders the remains on the counter. I am reminded that the origin of the collection is fuzzy in my memory. The pine cone has been on the ledge for nearly two years, a curio brought back from a visit with family. The crab shell, perhaps from that trip as well. The clam shells I vividly remember saving from a particularly good batch of chowder I made in the fall, a brace of years ago. The butterfly? Date and time of collection is lost to history. But it is all a collection. A faded inspiration catalyzed the beginning of it. The intent, if it were ever to be coupled with action, was to create a series of still life photographs. Fading daylight reminds me that the intention has yet to be fulfilled. Another idea flitting away like the butterflies themselves.

Silence inhabits the cottage. It is not the aural sterility of anechoic chambers. Rather, it is the quiet of blankets and morning forests. There is the murmur of the waves, subdued. Accompanying them is the occasional cry of a kittiwake frisking about down by the waterline. The sounds reach me through a layer, gauzy on the ears. In this silence I recognize that my need to collect these avatars of nature has roots in a resting state denied me by current events, anxiety, and an addiction to information. The absence of input is a gentle reminder to step back from the chatter. It is not a theft of time to cradle a shell in the hands, trace the contours with a fingertip, and consider the threads that tie you to it.

Shell as tool. Shell as totem. Shell as container of food. These are the states by which I know them. The gathering and gleaning of these things is relief. The contemplation of these things is meditation. Either state is a frame of mind worth inhabiting. I know this having received revelation in the shucking of an oyster, and in the placid track of sunlight across the antediluvian scales of a pine cone.

To Be Continued