August 6, 2012

Beach Stories

This past weekend, sitting on a low beach chair, my legs in the sand, my eyes closed under the protection of a straw hat, hearing the murmur of family conversation but listening to the incessant sound of surf, I was reminded that I am never so relaxed as on a warm breezy day at the beach. There is something about the overriding whoosh of the sea that enters into the rhythms of my body, slowing and calming them. I am in the midst of reading Moby Dick, and think that because of it I'm having a tendency to think in metaphors about the seaside; Melville uses a tremendous amount of metaphor and allegory, whether writing about whiteness, or a doubloon, or a whale that's free or "tagged". Do our bodies, which are more than half water, yearn for the sea? 

Shells are moved and worn by the tides, left behind by a bubbly wave, pushed about by circumstance.

Once-living things are left piled along the strand, alongside a sea-weathered rock, which looks as though it was made of the sand it rests on, a compacted sandstone; it is a transformative process, like alchemy changing one material into another, just as the shells will break down over years and become part of the sand.

Another piece of rock tells a different tale, of small animals adhering to the rock and leaving their imprint.

The seagulls are a joy to watch as they waddle about on shore, or take to the air where they become soaring, graceful creatures. On the sand they are very amusing; last summer I spent an afternoon sitting quietly among them, noticing the differences of coloration of feather and beak, laughing at their attempts to grab a little something to eat.

There are always some plants that manage to thrive under what seem to be the most adverse conditions: in a bit of sand between rocks, doused by salt air and water. They are a lesson in perseverance.

The geometry of slat fencing plays off beautifully against the green and sandy dune it is protecting, but it is also a reminder of the wildness that came before.

And the marks of human carelessness are unfortunately always in evidence. Will we ever learn?


  1. I see that your sister has left a few shell for the others.

  2. I see that your sister has left a few shell for the others.

    1. What a memory you have, Howlie, that you remember my sister is a shell collector. I'm afraid that mussel shells aren't at the top of her list, which is probably why there are so many of them.

  3. I too spent the weekend at the beach, up near Lincolnville Maine. It was a perfect weekend to get lost in the senuousness of water, sand, sun, quiet.

    I recently reread Moby Dick. I was riveted, loved it utterly. Every word. At 15 I was in no condition to understand why it is and continues to be the greatest American novel. Astounding. Eager to hear about your response.

    1. I was older than 15 when I first read Moby Dick, slowmuse, but I certainly was not able to understand it in the way I am now. Reading it is an enveloping experience.