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):
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 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.
“These seals seem to know you,” said the movie producer who shared the beach with me this morning. I was snapping photos in the rocky cove; his crew was sprawled across the sandy shoreline, filming a promotional piece for Visit California.
It’s true that the seals are comfortable with my presence. They talk to me, and vogue for the camera.
So naturally, I’ve been posting lots of photos & videos lately. Because: seals. Who doesn’t love ’em?
But there’s also backstory to this, my most recent obsession.
You see, my friend in New York loves seals. She’ll drive all the way to Maine, just to watch them play.
“Do you see seals on your morning walks?” she asked me one day.
“No, I don’t think I’ve ever seen them around here.”
She was really disappointed, because: seals. Who doesn’t love ’em?
It didn’t seem all that likely at the time, but I promised her I’d take pictures–if I ever saw them here, that is.
In a poignant twist of fate, I first saw these harbor seals on the morning of my friend’s cancer diagnosis. I’ve been taking seal videos and snapshots for her, ever since.
These harbor seals keep showing up–for my friend and me, and for anyone who finds delightful these gifts from the sea.
So there’s another other thing I haven’t yet mentioned. Trust me: It’s very much related.
My friend and I are working in tandem on some special projects for the Hillary Clinton campaign. It’s a coast-to-coast connection that makes us feel as if we’re doing something good in the world. And despite the miles between us, it’s brought us very close. Illness or no, we are stronger together.
Well… I didn’t know it when I visited the seals this morning, but my friend had sent a handwritten card to our candidate of choice. She tucked a short note inside, and addressed the envelope to Madam Secretary, Hillary Clinton. “Let yourself be great!!!” she said, and then she signed her name.
And so it was that while my friend was at the hospital this morning, hooked up to the IV line that delivered her third chemo treatment–and while I was in Goff Island Cove, circumventing the film crew and capturing these images–my friend from New York heard her cell phone ring.
Guess who was on the other end?
Yes, that’s right. Madam Secretary, Hillary Clinton.
If you know me, you know already that my eyes were swimming when my friend let me know how things went down. Hillary was gracious, she said, and so very encouraging: “Get well soon,” she’d said, with genuine warmth in her voice; and after thanking my friend for the personalized card (and her volunteer efforts), Madam Secretary mentioned the four, smallish words that touched her so deeply.
“Let yourself be great!!”
A softball coach first shared those words of encouragement with my friend from New York. She was just eleven years old. But as so often happens with words that resonate, my friend never forgot that handful of words. And when the just-right moment presented itself, she passed them along.
You never know where a moment’s kindness might eventually travel.
You might be surprised about the reach of a few, carefully selected words of encouragement.
Like these seals, they imbue a special kind of magic. When you least expect it, they find their way back to you, carrying treasures of their own.