The Bones of the Beach

I grew up pretty near the Pacific Ocean. It was a matter of a couple of hours to get to its shores from home, and mere minutes’ drive to Puget Sound, and I have always loved any chance to spend time along the water. At home in Texas, it’s not so easy: there are a few man-made lakes within a short drive, with a few public beach spots along the edges of each, most of the time too hot for strolling, and that’s about it. So that recent trip to Puerto Rico was a brief but lovely reminder of what pleasure I find in wandering the beach when I can, absorbing not only a bit of salt water through my happy bare feet and the tangy air through my expanding lungs but also the great sense of history and adventure inherent in all of the findings strewn along the tidal brink.Digital collage: Beachcomber's Trove

Despite being so much a water-baby at heart, I’ve never so much loved open water swimming—after all, my people are the pale, easily fried folk of Norway who transplanted to the familiarly brisk spank of the coastal waters to fish and farm and forest-hunt as they’d done back in the old country. But I’m drawn all the same to explore the tide-pools and comb through the heaps of hidden-and-revealed treasure that line the beach, sucking deep breaths of sea breeze happily right down to my soul. I love to see all of the bits of shell and bone and stone piled up and intermingled with molted feathers, ship detritus and the petrified lace of corals and seaweed. Every tiny piece seems to hold such a storied past that I can stare and sift and dream endlessly.Photos: Beach Bones

What caused that lone shoe to wash up here from unknown shores? Why are those pieces of sea-soaked driftwood burnt but not in the fire pit, rather appearing like a dragon-singed skeleton in a distant heap down the shore? How did so many colors of ghostly and sandblasted beach glass come to bejewel the line of the tide together? Who were the creatures that fished the shore and left bleached fish bones here, a crab shell there? When did the storms kick up such a foment of foam that the inland side of mean high tide has a gloss of it lacquered firmly across the surface of its sand? Where are the children whose sandcastle ruins are still tucked behind the biggest boulders on the beach, waving flags of leaf and kelp from their stunted battlements? And most importantly, when can I return to the beach to stroll and dream of such things again?

Memento Quod Vivitis

The longtime artistic tradition of the ‘memento mori‘ has always appealed to me. I think it’s valuable to recognize our mortality and the limitations of our time on this plane to devote to earthly enjoyments, the better to value them fully. Not to mention that I love skeletons and a lot of that stuff so often used symbolically in these works. I’m not disheartened, horrified, or unsettled by death and the subjects surrounding it, under everyday circumstances, in the way that some people are.digital illustration from a photoThe main thing is, I think it’s even more important to (as my guesswork-Latin post title suggests) remember that you’re alive. It’s not enough motivation to live a full, meaningful, rich, purposeful life just to know that you’re going to kick the bucket one day; everybody knows that, and it’s probably not even a majority of our kind that actually give serious thought to being fully present in their lives and making the most of their life spans. I know for certain that I haven’t always been especially good at such things.photoSo I’m rather happy to have an eye-opening, soul-tweaking glimpse of my little collection of death-defying totems, kept in view around my home and work spaces, at any moment when they happen to some into my field of vision. Not a bad way to refocus me and make me feel especially alive.

Little Dragon with a Big Appetite

Ever feel tiny? Like everyone and everything else in the world is, by comparison, huge and powerful and towering and you can’t begin to compare, let alone compete? Have you let yourself be measured in comparison with anyone or anything else? Yeah, me too.graphite drawingBut isn’t it worthwhile to break out of that miniscule self-containment somehow? Isn’t the most valid measure of my worth found more truly in what I do as my best self, in what I become over time by growing into a finer and grander version of me? What you see is what you get–for now. And then I plan on continuing my progress as well as I can manage, for as long as I live. That’s all I can promise. With one little [ahem] caveat: I know that the best defense against seeing myself as inadequate to any task is the blessed ignorance of my true inadequacy. So I promise as a small [ahem] part of the larger issue that I will do my best to forget that there is such a thing as the improbable, let alone the impossible, and just get on with living my life, however insignificant it may seem likely to be. [Come on along.]

Rare Beasts & Royalty

Sunset over the Serengeti & a Slight Belch from the King of the Beastsgraphite drawing

It happens sometimes on the plains, where Splendid Starlings and the strains

Tok-tokkie knocks create a song that’s just as rhythmic as it’s long,

Where Shongololo rolls and runs ‘tween rise and setting of the suns,

Where the hyenas sing their tunes betwixt midnight and morning’s moons:

It’s there the leopard’s race was lost–surprise–at noon, and at great cost,

To one old lion whose good luck dovetailed with leopards run amok,

To the degree that one loud crunch announced the end of it at lunch.