Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Deep Water Joy

Years ago, when we first moved to the San Juans, we rented a tiny cabin on the south side of our island. The cabin sat on a low cliff overlooking a rocky beach filled with intriguing driftwood and endless tidepools, and that summer our kids had a glorious time chasing crabs and fish and building driftwood forts.

But at some point near the end of that summer our lovely beach became littered and slippery with seaweed, particularly giant bull kelp, which made walking tricky. So I wrote to my landlord and asked if we were supposed to do something about the kelp, thinking that perhaps our beach had been clean because he made it so, and we were responsible for keeping it up. And I remember he wrote back and said that no, it was not our responsibility, it was just a part of the cycle of seasons. "The tide giveth," he said, "and the tide taketh away."

I remember being struck by the biblical quality of his response, because he was not, to my knowledge, a religious person. But I now understand that when you live close to nature you come to have an almost religious understanding of the vicissitudes of life. Close to nature, or dependent upon nature, you learn that much of life is indeed out of your control, and that it falls to you to make the best of what you've been given for the moment. So instead of being put to work clearing the beach, our children learned to stretch the bull kelp out on rocks to dry. From its dried bulbous tips made they made doll heads and flutes, and from its long broad tails wove all number of baskets and dreams.

Now we live on a different island, at the tip of a sandspit that curves around to almost touch land again, and through the narrow channel that separates us from the rest of our island there are tides that flow twice daily, creating a shallow lagoon. The bank above the lagoon on the island side is a bit fragile, and about two months ago, one of the dead trees on the bank lost its hold in the clay soil and tumbled into the water.

When the tide rose, the tree floated out of the lagoon but stuck in the sand a little way from the entrance. A day or two later, I saw some people pushing it out into the tide again, but this time it floated across onto our beach and lodged itself again.

It's not very attractive there, the tree that now lives on our beach. But it doesn't seem inclined to float away either. And sometimes I think that when the next high tide comes we should put on our hip boots and push the tree out to sea again, to lodge somewhere else.

But the truth is a mix of these things: that we are too lazy to do that; that at least on our beach the tree is safe, and will not become a submerged deadhead, jeopardizing small boats that drift into its path; and that there is a part of me that remembers my landlord's phrase, that the tide giveth and the tide taketh away. I choose to believe that when it is time for our tree visitor to leave, it will go.

And in the meantime? When the tide is out the birds frolic in its exposed branches, and the gulls drop shells on its hard trunk, to break them open and expose the tasty clams within. When the tide is in that trunk becomes a host to hundreds of barnacles, which are slowly turning the brown trunk gray.

And when the sun is out and the tide is in, our fallen tree adds texture to our view. And for that, I am grateful, a gratefulness that flows as much out of the beauty the tree allows me to photograph as out of my own happiness at being given permission to be lazy. This gratitude flows from somewhere deep inside me, and enriches my heart like joy; a deep water joy, or, as Raficq Abdulla describes it in Words of Paradise, "that subterranean flow of joy that runs like a laughing torrent in you."


Gberger said...

I love this photo. I love it because I know just where it is, and if you go around that point, you will see the dearest place of my childhood. My children hold it dear, too, because my parents live there now.
I love the memory that your words stir up in me, of learning to walk on the seaweed as a little child, and the sensation of ice-skating, yet not-ice-skating that it had. I recall a feeling of accomplishment, when others were slipping and losing their balance on the seaweed, that I had mastered this "art!" And I remember being made to eat the stuff, when my dad went through a phase of "living off of the land" (he still likes to garden, but in those days, we learned to eat milt & raw oysters, too). Fishing, crabbing, herring draws, digging clams, all are treasured memories that come with the gift of living by the sea. Thanks for bringing this into view through your lens and your words.

Gberger said...

I tried to leave a comment here yesterday, but the computer "ate" it. Just wanted to tell you that your beautiful image, and your words, brought back wonderful memories for me. You see, around the corner from that spot sits my parents' home, which used to be our summer cabin. My parents built the cabin with their own hands. You know that the beach is my favorite environment, and your story about seaweed & kelp brought back memories of learning the sort of "ice skating" moves necessary to keep upright while walking on it...and the pride that came with mastering that "art." Also, having to eat it, when my dad decided we should try it...along with raw oysters, milt, etc. We fished, dug clams, caught crabs, watched herring draws...the best memories of my childhood center on the spot just around the corner from your beautiful photo. So thank you for that, and for your words; I love to picture your girls working with their hands in the kelp.
This blog is a great way for us to see what you are thinking and working on. Thanks for doing it.