Human beings must always be on the watch for the coming of wonders. –E.B. White
Human beings must always be on the watch for the coming of wonders. –E.B. White
Ebb tide. My calendar is packed, but I head down to the beach anyway, camera in tow.
At high tide, Goff Island is mostly underwater. The ocean heaves and swells, bursting into plumes of frothy waves as it crashes against its rocky edges. But when the water recedes again, hidden treasures come into view. I want to see them, name them, learn how these tiny creatures navigate their pocket-shaped homes.
Sunlight pierces the murky tide pools, spotlighting their strange and beautiful inhabitants. Sea anemones flourish in these underwater gardens, as do sea lettuces and coralline algae.
Snails graze on gently swaying seaweed, blissfully unaware of the predators that lurk in narrow crevasses, waiting for the just-right moment to pounce.
Shell fragments bear silent testimony to this oft-repeated drama, as do the oxygen bubbles, slowly rising to the surface. Here, a mirror image of the universe itself: a microcosm of constant change and perpetual motion, in which everything is interconnected.
I straddle the channel where the harbor seals haul out at mid-tide, pivot toward the shoreline and refocus.
Such an aha moment, to see the shoreline from the pinnipeds’ vantage point!
I don’t suppose the jagged rocks are any big deal—if you’re cushioned with blubber, that is.
But hmmm…Where do the tide pool creatures go, when they’re displaced at mid-tide by these larger animals? We’re dealing with water damage at my house, so I’ll have to save that question for another day.
I’m settled into my backyard glider, watching the hummingbirds sip nectar from native wildflowers and then zip across the sky.
Earth Day is tomorrow, I just remembered, and I’m hosting our Art Challenge on this blog.
But first, I will watch the sun slant through the palm trees, and listen to the sparrow’s lullaby. I am a child again, sitting in my Nana’s porch swing and blowing dandelion wishes into a rainbow-sherbet sky.
We’re so easily distracted, all of us. We lose sight of what’s important, ignore our inner longings. Hence, these monthly Art Challenges!
I like best that they invite me outdoors–playful spirit at the ready, all senses engaged.
Like tiny seedlings, our prompts are rooted in the things that matter most. Our environment, for instance, and the beautiful creatures with whom we co-exist.
We’re a diverse group, amateurs and pros who express ourselves in different ways. Using a monthly prompt as our muse, we come together in the name of “art.”
These challenges aren’t a competition, by any means. Participation is our goal, not perfection. It’s all about capturing a fleeting memory, exploring our passions, renewing our childlike sense of wonder, and yes! making a joyful noise.
It’s about storytelling, in words and pictures–being transported to another time and place, or finding our way home.
For this art challenge, we’re showcasing our beautiful home, in all its glory.
Let’s get this party started, shall we? Some artists will lag behind, but no worries: That’s what comes of being members of a global community. Take the tour when you’re able, and then return for another visit!
Gallery of Artists (with links to their Earth Day entries):
Life isn’t a pailful of herring, you know. Not for Freckles the harbor seal, any more than it is for the rest of us.
Not for nothing does Freckles have this spindle-shaped sleekness. He forages the Pacific Ocean for hours at a time every day, grabbing snacks on the go because he’s also got to keep an eye out for predators. Manmade dangers, too–like gill nets and ship propellers.
Freckles navigates rough waters every day, so no surprise! When he finally hauls ashore, he’s exhausted. But as leader of this pinniped posse, it also falls to Freckles to defend their onshore habitat.
You might be wondering: How does he manage?
Look deep into those liquid brown eyes, and you’ll find your answer. There’s wisdom in that sleepy-eyed gaze of his, not fear. He’s been around the tide pools a few times, our Freckles. He’s earned every one of those grey spots.
He’s not afraid to go nose-to-nose with his problems, but he also knows when and how to chill.
You’d never guess, for instance, that he’d just squared off with Clancy, the interloper up front. Once Freckles laid down the ground rules, he nestled himself into the algae-softened rocks again, angled strategically between his long time friends and this brazen newcomer. Peaceable kingdom, restored.
That’s how Freckles rolls. He just takes care of business, tra la la, and then settles in for another nap.
We could all take some cues from Freckles, now couldn’t we? Tuned in, blissed out…finding our happy place, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.
Rainy days and Mondays, included.
On my way to Goff Island yesterday, I happened upon a family reunion. Tourists, probably, drinking in the winter sunshine after savoring a picnic lunch. The women wore modest clothes and hijabs, and the men wore ankle-length, cotton robes. While the younger children built sand castles, replete with fancy turrets, a teenaged boy –positioned at a distance from his group–dug through the sand, examining and discarding tiny seashell fragments.
I lifted my sunglasses, smiled and waved. They waved back, generous smiles spread across open faces.
I thought I’d read the tide tables right, but Nature keeps her own timetable, doesn’t she? The Island was mostly submerged, so the harbor seals hadn’t yet hauled themselves onto the rocks where they typically congregate.
The ocean heaved and frothed. Seaweed floated in swirling eddies. But while I sensed the seals’ presence, I didn’t see any bobbing heads.
In the sheltered cove, where the turquoise waters deposit their treasures, I found a pearly white seashell–exquisitely shaped, perfectly whole.
I wandered toward the group of children, seashell cradled in my palm; and when I reached the spot where the older boy knelt, I slowly opened my hand.
I saw in his face a kindred soul, someone for whom simple things oftentimes bring about the greatest joy.
I spread my fingers wide, and the seashell spiraled downward. It landed gently in the boy’s lap, as if it were meant to be there, all along.
“Thank you,” he said softly, in beautifully accented English.
You’re so welcome, I thought, but I let my heart do the talking.
It was a quick exchange, no fanfare or fancy wrappings, but it felt to me like a Christmas blessing.
I went down to the beach again yesterday–after the tides receded, when the harbor seals typically sun themselves on the rocky shores of Goff Island Cove. It was a hallmark day: the 7th and next-to-last chemo treatment for my friend on the East Coast. Same as always, she was counting me to send pictures and videos, to help get her through the final weeks of that grueling regimen.
In the same way that I look to the skies for hummingbirds, she scans the ocean for seals. They are her spirit animals, harbingers of comfort and hope. No way would I ever want to disappoint her! That’s why, over the course of her many treatments, I’ve observed very closely “our” seal family’s habits and habitat. I know, from watching them and observing the tides, when they’re most likely to appear. They’ve become very comfortable with my presence; I call some of them by name. They’ve always revealed themselves to me, even when they hide from others. But yesterday…even before I descended the wooden stairs that lead into to the cove, I sensed that they weren’t there.
I blinked hard in the strong sunlight…didn’t see them on the rocks. I scanned the open water…no bobbing heads.Nature has her own, mysterious ways. She doesn’t operate on our timelines. I know and respect all of that. And still, I struggled against a rising panic. How could I explain to my friend that the seals hadn’t shown themselves–on a chemo day, of all days?
Tourists came and went, snapping selfies as they climbed all over the jagged rocks where the seals usually chill, calling out to each other in loud, jolting voices that would surely send the most habituated sea life into hiding. I watched an elderly couple explore the cove, clinging tight to one another as they bent over the tide pools, whispering excitedly about sea anemone, hermit crabs and shells. They were Eastern European, I think, from the sounds of their broken English. When they approached the rocks where I stood, I introduced myself. We used gestures and simple sentences to communicate, as new friends do. Quietly, because we shared a reverence for that space. When I said something about the “seals,” their eyes lit up. With huge smiles stretched across their sunburned faces, they pointed in unison to a distant rock formation, surrounded by water.
Here it is, a place they call Treasure Island.
And there they were: Freckles and Friends, sprawled on the rocks in the afternoon sun. Beyond the reach of any human beings, and almost beyond the reach of my little bridge camera. Snoozing, as seals do, after they’ve eaten a large meal and nap time stretches in front of them, unimpeded by predators and ocean surges.
A young seal was nestled into a patch of surf grass, at the base of the rocks.
The baby seal was wandering off by himself, as is his wont.
The oldest male, Freckles, was flanked on all sides by friends, all of whom were camouflaged by the mounded rocks that shielded them from the glaring sun.
Such a relief, to see them there, safe and sound…and, well, present. Such a pleasure, to send photos to my friend! Videos, too, like this one.
I’m reminded once again, of the good that shows itself when we hold out hope in the face of doubt. This is what it means to “get by with a little help from our friends.” This is what it means to keep the faith.
I arrived at the beach at mid-tide, because that’s when the harbor seals typically hoist themselves on the rocks. Sometimes, I bring my friends. Sometimes I point them out to tourists. But today, at the mid-point of my friend’s chemotherapy treatments, I went alone.
I wanted to talk with the seals privately, as we’ve done in the past. I felt sure they’d pose for my camera, same as before. I’d send videos to my friend, because the sounds of the ocean are soothing. I’d send snapshots of the seals, as well, because they’re a healing balm for her.
But as luck would have it, “my” typically quiet cove was crawling with tourists. Locals, too, who probably skipped out on work to enjoy the sunny, hot weather. They scrambled over the rocks where the seals usually lounge. They splashed in the tide pools, took business calls at the water’s edge, and snapped endless selfies with squirming, screeching kids.
I didn’t begrudge them the opportunity to visit this lovely hideaway. Of course not. I don’t expect everyone to approach this outdoor sanctuary with the same reverence that I do. But I confess to a bit of selfishness in wishing I were alone on the beach, for at least a little while. Seemed to me, this was the only way the harbor seals would make their presence known.
“They don’t always hang out here,” said the tide pool docent, whom I’d never seen before, but with whom I’d shared a brief conversation about starfish and, well, seals. “They have the whole ocean at their disposal,” she said, “not just this one beach.”
“Yeah, I get that,” I said, “But I really think they’ll show up. They always seem to know….”
I watched the incoming waves for the next two hours, but they didn’t pop their heads up, much less come ashore.
The tide began to surge again, and my parking meter was set to expire. I gathered my belongings, reluctantly so, and left my rocky perch. I was still clinging to the notion that the seals were out there in the surf, but that I’d somehow overlooked them.
I scrambled across the hot sand, toting my belongings toward the staircase. Stopped. Pivoted. Listened to my intuition, and lifted my camera out of its bag.
I scanned the horizon one more time, index finger on the shutter button. Sure enough: In a peaceful cove, not visible to people scrambling over the rocks…in the water, far removed from the madding crowd…I spied a harbor seal floating past, just as happy as could be.
He showed up for my friend and for me, I truly believe that. Another gift from the sea, carrying a special kind of magic.