A stroll along the esplanade, sun-worship on the beach,
Dining on oysters, clams or cod, there’s pleasure fit for each
And every taste, along the shore, delights enough at sea,
That, whether you are rich or poor, seaside’s the place to be!
I was born near water. I am not an avid (or skillful) swimmer and I don’t enjoy lying on the beach sunning myself, what with the high probability I’d burst into vampiric flames, pale as I am. But oh, my, I do love being near the water. Specifically, I crave the sound and spray and the whisper-and-crash sounds of moving water. Lakes and ponds are all well and good, but when I’m here in my present digs in north Texas, I’m not often close enough to the lakes and rivers to get as attached to them as to I am my bloodstream as it flows in the million waterfalls of the Cascade and Olympic ranges and pours back into the heart of the Pacific Ocean.
So this summer’s travel was a homecoming in that way as well: returning to some of those places where I feel the most connected and whole. The people who fill my life come first, of course; wherever my great friends and loved ones are will always be home. The places I love to go, visit, work, play and stay anywhere in the world have their merits that designate them home when I’m there as well. But few things have the same depth of attachment that, ironically perhaps, does not ebb and flow but remains strong and steady at all times in me, the same compelling passion, as the sea.
It was good to be at the docks, the marinas, the edge of the ocean–on the shore again.
Islands can bring out the hermit in people, as it seems–and conversely, the social butterfly. Some who go to islands voluntarily either do so out of the desire to cut themselves off, at least partly, from social pressures and demands or come to embrace the opportunity that appears when they’ve become islanders. But involuntary islanders, the marooned (whether by shipwreck or by job transfer), can often feel contact-deprived. Suddenly people who had no particular desire for company on a regular basis feel socially abandoned and hungry; who knew?
Me, I have never lived on an island. Certainly never been set adrift and stuck on one against my will. And I happen to have pretty serious hermitage skills when I want to haven them: I’m a master at finding the quietest, remotest, emptiest corner of any place when I sincerely desire it. So I don’t generally have to wrestle through either of those dire, trying situations mentioned above. And also, I don’t really expect to run into such a situation any time soon.
That means I rather like my visits to islands, which visits are thus far entirely intentional (unless you count wrong turns onto bridges leading to them), and I like aloneness enough to seek it. Even on an island, if need be. Truthfully, though, I’m quite happy to visit islands any time I can, for holidaying purposes. Whidbey Island, Molokai, Ireland, Vancouver Island, Puerto Rico . . . I will be glad to return to these and visit many another any time I might have the chance. Let me wander inland and explore the beauties beyond the islands’ perimeters. Perch me on a rock by the shore and I will be happy, no, delighted to spend my time in good company or solitude, either one.
Stillness at the Edges
We stood along the shore at break of day,
The water lapping gently at our heels,
And heard the distant crying of the seals
At gulls for stealing all their fish away–
The dawn was chill and misty, palely blue,
Our hearts in morning shadow just as cold,
And bone and sinew feeling early old
As soul and body waiting day will do–
The sea was restless, slowing at the last
To push up foam as streaky as the clouds
And gather shells and pebbles in those shrouds
Around our feet, we statues standing fast–
All this, because our spirits captive are
Until revived by sun, our morning star.
So lifeless, silent, still and cold are we
When gold has yet to tinge the morning sky,
So empty is the world but for the cry
The seals and gulls raise up in minor key–
So heartless is the morning chill ashore
We stand like stone and cannot take a breath
Until the sun releases us from death
And brings the flame of sentience once more–
At last the light of day draws us to wake,
And we’ll bestir ourselves to act and thrive,
Rejoicing to discover we’re alive
Until the world’s foundations start to shake–
We know the night will come again, and fast,
And so must live each day as if our last.
There are numerous living things that spend time up in the trees besides the trees’ branches and leaves. All sorts of insects and animals, not least of all various nutty sorts of anthropoid mammals that might be not only cousins of ours but a little more similar to us in character than we generally wish to acknowledge. There are, of course, also those companion plants we know as parasites and, more mellifluously, their subtler siblings the epiphytes.
Kissing under the mistletoe is a pleasant enough excuse for familiarity with such entities, but mistletoe isn’t necessarily a specially handsome bit of greenery on its own, being a modest clump of small leaves with some inconspicuous pale berries clinging to them. Mistletoe, in fact, only really comes into its own in wintertime when the host oak trees shed their seasonal clothes and the puffs of the mistletoe’s tidy presence reveal themselves among the branches against the winter sky. This is not only reason enough for the plant to be a fitting representative for the winter holiday season but for us to appreciate it as a remarkable and pervasive and even likable presence in oak country, particularly since it does no notable harm to its host plant, unlike many parasites of all species.But if we’re to talk about the kinds of plants that make their homes in the trees, I’m even more of a fan of the epiphytes, many of which were only vaguely familiar to me some years ago thanks to occasional visits to botanical gardens and conservatories and parks. I find their ability to live, virtually, on air astounding and, somehow, poignant. Oh, I knew lichens and mosses and algae pretty well, what with living in the moist and miraculous Pacific Northwest among the old-growth rainforests and craggy granite faces and the richly green shores of Puget Sound and the ocean. But I can tell you that, like most people who live in treasuries, I knew the sparkle of the jewels but nothing of their true nature.
When I had closer contact with those parasites and epiphytes at last, it made for a short descent to fall in love. My lifetime romance with moss and seaweed expanded to welcome bromeliads and all sorts of pretty flowering epiphytes. I found all of that mighty attractive when I would get drawn in by the strangler figs and pulled into the pretty gloaming of the tropical house at the conservatory, the steamy glass room of the jungle displays at the horticultural center. So, so lovely. Then there was the trip to Panama. Ahhh, Panama.
Opportunity enough to see firsthand a whole lot of gorgeous bromeliads and previously unknown green joys in situ, to experience a whole new level of admiration for the variety and intricacy in the plant universe. Poinsettias, my natal flower as a December baby, meant little to a northern-born kid who’d only seen their showy bracts in hothouse display and known them merely as holiday decor: suddenly, on their own turf, I was able to learn that they can grow as tall as four meters and thrive like showy weeds in the sparest of small dirt patches. To see coffee growing in its accustomed shade on the slopes of a dormant volcano, overlooking rainbow-crowned valleys and orange plantations. And to look up into the cloud forest canopy and see tree trunks hugged all ’round by glorious orchids. Among the many wonders of the region, we stumbled into an orchid farm. Bliss!For one who had been impressed by but hardly addicted to orchids, to arrive in the environs of a farm specializing in orchids to the tune of about 2400 varieties was a stunning and heady shock of new delight. Finca Drácula, named for its showpiece orchid variety, was a superb baptism in the beauties of the breed. And yes, it did make me want to swing from the branches of the trees like my monkey cousins. What an irresistible lure is an orchid smiling down from the heights. Funny that the Christmas crop of mistletoe has led me the whole winding way to Panamanian orchid country. Then again, they could both inspire an urge to engage in frenzied kissing if one got caught up in their fantastic beauty.
One day in my car when I was a-glide
and watching the highway (mostly),
I stopped for a fellow who thumbed a ride
to go farther west, more coast-ly–
After all, the sun was high in the sky
and the temperature creeping northward,
so it seemed a mercy to take the guy
and deliver him farther forth-ward–
He was pleasant, and smiled, and tipped his hat,
but I’d hardly call him talkative,
which I took as caused by the reason that
in the heat he’d been too walk-ative–
So we rode along, Silent Sam and I,
toward the coast and the broad blue sea,
’til I blinked in the glare of the sun to spy
his hat lying next to me–
No sign of the smiling, silent bloke;
what a startled twitch I made!
My sunglasses flew right off and broke
as if put to shame by a shade–
Well, I got to the shore soon after that,
keeping watch on the highway (mostly),
and was glad for the shade of the shade’s broad hat,