Posts Tagged ‘nature’

This morning, the ocean threw a brick at me. 

My wife and I are out at the coast for a few days (we’re working things out, which is Very Good News) and, as is my wont when at the seaside, I got up early(ish) . . . earlier than she, anyway . . . and went for a walk along the shore.

Most people, when they walk along the seashore, do it in one of two ways: either they walk up along the high tide limit where the sand is still hard (but they won’t get their feet wet), or they walk down along the wave limit (where the occasional seventh wave might submerge them up to the ankles).

Yeah, that’s not me. I grew up on the Pacific coast, and the Big Blue is a critical actor in my emotional life. It’s where I go to purge my buffers and reevaluate the importance of things. Sitting on the edge of the world, glass of wine close at hand, I can look out along the curvature of the earth and watch the sun sink into the quicksilver sea; this is my heaven, my Fortress of Solitude, my recharging station. But walking along the water’s edge and not being in contact with the sea? . . . Yeah, not an option.

When I walk along the shoreline, I walk that gantlet between surf and shore. I’m always barefoot, and the water is always rushing in or flowing out around me. Sometimes this puts me knee-deep in some very cold water, but after the first five minutes, my feet don’t care anymore. They’ll complain loudly later, but for now, numbed by the northern Pacific’s chilly grasp, they’re quiet.

This morning, the colors of the water ranged (appropriately enough) from aquamarine and pale jade to cobalt blue, the deepest teal, and a series of greys from gunmetal to steel. Foam topped the curling waves and washed in on gentle rollers, highlighting the crests with white, ivory, and an algal yellow. 

At one end of my walk along this section of the coast, in addition to long stretches of soft sand, there are outcrops of rocks, half-drowned at low tide, that add interest to the seascape. I walked among them, thigh-deep in the rushing grottoes, smelling the funk of barnacles and anemones warming in the early sun. Seagulls pried at the shells, hoping to find a loose one among the tightly packed multitudes, and plovers poked thin beaks between the stands, searching for worms and other digestibles. The scents of salt and seaweed mingled with the iron smell of sand and the tang of carbonate. It was . . . luscious. I felt at home. I felt at peace. I felt whole.

At the other end of my walk was the D River, the shortest river in the world (running from Devil’s Lake to the Pacific in just under 124 feet at high tide). I stood in the debouchment, where river meets the sea, and silently marked the pendulum of wave and outflow with the words “Fresh water. Salt water. Fresh water. Salt water.” as the river and the sea pulsed to and fro around my feet.

But it was midway along my trek that the Pacific got stroppy. I was walking through a rip, where the curve of the shore focuses the waves and forms a strong seiche of power. The sea pulled back her skirts to show me a graveled bed of pebbles and shells, and then launched a wall of water in my direction. Beneath that lunging froth I glimpsed a flash of red, a sizable chunk, tossed and tumbling in the clear salt sea, coming right at my shin. I stopped and saw that it was a brick, a full-sized everyday brick, red as a brick, hard as a brick, with clean sharp edges. It rolled past my foot, missing me.

Where the hell did it come from? There were no brick buildings I could see along the miles of shoreline I’d walked. The Pacific was adept at throwing pebbles up on the shore here, stones perfect for skipping across a placid lake, bits and pieces broken off from the outcrops I’d visited, but nothing the size of a mason’s brick. Nothing even half that size.

Was it personal? Was the Pacific angry with me? Had I been away from it for too long?

It’s tempting to think these things, to assign reason to an event that is completely random, but that is folly. The truth is that the Pacific, mother of my youth, heart of my soul, is just a body of salty water that has no mind, no intellect, no will, no reasoned purpose. She—and I continue to call her “she”—cannot even recognize my existence. She cannot sense anything.

I know this. 

Yet, I still love this ocean, this birthplace of what I call “me,” and I will still talk to her as I walk her shores, ask her what I should do, and, depending on her mood, I will hear the answers in the murmur or the roar of her waves.


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Misty MorningOur drive west to the ocean is quiet, the road hissing beneath our tires, the drizzle hiding the greater world around us. It is just us, the dashed stripe down the pavement, and the last vestiges of winter along the highway’s edge.

Washington is the Evergreen State, and it is always, ever, green; winter or summer, rain or sunshine, something is always green. In this season, it is the cedars, pines, firs, and spruce. They covered the hillsides and the slopes between us and the limits of the grey-misted world: tall, shaggy, dark green sentinels ranked in thick forest ranks, or short, stripling, pale green youngsters rising from the steaming refuse of clear-cut acreage. But not everything is green.


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I rise early; dawn is just a hint behind the eastern hills. I slipper down to the kitchen for coffee, then, hot brew in hand, slipper back to the office. I snap on the worklamp, turn on the computer, then sit and sip while I wait for the heat to come up from the furnace,

Outside, dark grey clouds hang in an oyster blue sky. The rain has eased and all is quiet until, just there, from the south, down the street, I hear the call. It’s a faint “Honh!” Iike a French adolescent clearing his throat, first one, then another. I rise and step to the window. I pull aside the curtain and peer upward. “Honh, honh” gets closer, is repeated. Different voices echo the first, and craning my neck, I see them, a vee of dark wings just above the treetops. Black necks, white cheeks, beaks pointing north, they “honh” to one another. Passing instructions? Keeping tabs? Giving encouragement? They fly over my house, and I can see their fingertip feathers against the paling sky. Now past, continuing onward, their calls fade with distance as they travel, as they head north to their nesting grounds.

Every year, I hear them–south-bound in winter, north-bound in spring–and every time I smile. I live right along their route, right along the necklace of lakes and ponds that guide them: Green Lake, Bitter Lake, Twin Ponds, Ronald Bog, Echo Lake, and beyond.

They’re a bit early this year. A mild spring, then, and an early summer ahead.


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They don’t have a cool collective noun like “a murmuration of starlings,” but they were enthralling nonetheless.

Yesterday, I stood on the beach while a wing of plovers gyred and swooped around me. I stood transfixed, my feet freezing in the cold water, watching them, hearing the whispers of a thousand wings surround me. They flew as one creature, sides flashing like a school of fish in clear water, black wings, white bellies, gyring and twisting as one, creating shapes in the air above the sandy waves.

They rose in a mass, split into two amorphous shapes, each one moving around the other, until they merged like droplets of quicksilver. They spindled into a long roll and swept across the sand before piling up again into a heap, a mound, a pillar fifty feet tall.

As the wing spun and eddied, individuals would fly off from the body, peeping as they shot outward, slate-winged rockets ejected from a massive, living firework.

And then they settled, falling like heavy leaves back down to the sand, the rustle of wings replaced by a piping chorus that drowned out the roar of the surf. The wing of plovers in the air, now a congregation on the shoreline, dipping each black beak into the sand, searching for food, skedaddling back and forth in time with the waves until the ocean sent another big roller to make them take wing once more.

I stood there for the better part of an hour, rapt, giddy, grateful.


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Kurt R.A. GiambastianiWe each have our own Restoration Point, a place that speaks to our inner being, calms it, and recharges our spirit.

My wife is lucky; hers is at home. She loves being at home where it’s peaceful (when I’m not there, one assumes), pretty (when the gardens are in trim), and she can do what she wills (most of the time, anyway).

I’m not as lucky. Sure, home is great, and we make it as peaceful a place as can be, but for my soul, it’s the ocean or nothing.


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It fades, Summer does. It does not leave in a rush or slip away overnight. It fades, its brilliance seeping into the ground, the sky, the air.

At first, it cedes the night, relenting in the early hours, allowing the world at last to breathe and with a cooling sigh to sleep, finally, sleep.

Then the evenings fade. The sun, now tired from its summer’s work, runs low across the sky and gently slides toward twilight, returning hours it once commanded back to moon and stars.

Today, the morning faded, too, as gentle fog hid the buildingtops and seagulls mewed above, unseen. The streets were mist, the sky a blanket, and every streetlamp was a halo-shrouded gem.

The afternoon now is Summer’s only realm, but not for long; its threats are all worn out, its bark now has no bite. Flanked on either side by dewy morning and the star-shot dusk, it has no time to muster strength and soon will leave the field. The gold of summer grass will green, the green of summer leaves will rust and blaze, and Autumn, soon, will come into her own.

Summer’s nearly done. It’s fading as we speak.


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Last week was trying. The day-job seriously got in the way of my life. A big project I have been building for six weeks went into production. I was up late, shepherding it through deployment, and then I was up early, converting six years of historical data. Pretty standard stuff, except that it all went in flawlessly, performed much better than expected, applied all the edits, and successfully moved everything to where it needed to be.

Then the users showed up and said, “Oh, that’s not what we wanted.” Typical example of a rookie mistake: I gave them what they asked for, not what they wanted.

So, today is a stress management day. It’s early, and the day has yet to grow warm. I’m out on the deck, sipping coffee, listening to the birds call through the trees. Moisture glistens on the leaves, and the slanting rays of morning sun give everything a pristine, contre-jour brilliance. The shadows are long, but welcoming, and even the street sounds are gentled, muffled, as if the modern world has yet to fully awaken.

Here, in my bower of leaves, I dream of distant days where this becomes my every-morning, where spiders spin their nighttime webs to catch the sunrise light, and flowers lift their sleepy, dew-spangled heads in preparation of the day.

In cool sunlight, I dream. And I am refreshed.


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