Saturday, January 19, 2008

low tide

On Thursday, after volunteering at the bird center where we put two grebes into an old loomix tub filled with softened lukewarm water, we went to campus point at low tide to gather rocks. My friend Kathryn is an artist, and she has been gathering rocks all month for one of her art projects. I've always liked to look for interesting things on the beach, but I've never been to a beach so abundant with rocks and shells. At their thickest, the swath-shaped layers of rocks are 2-3 inches deep. Among the rocks are tiny shells and bright flecks of beach glass. There was so much that I didn't know what to look for.

At first I was drawn to what seemed most luminous -- still wet peach-colored quartz and ruby-tinged granite flecked with black spangles. Next I was drawn to what seemed most unusual or different. This could be anything from a bit of coral anchored in rock or a shimmering sliver of abalone or a strange conglomerate of asphalt and shale and what I thought could be fossilized whale bones. Then it was to shells -- the bigger the better. In South Carolina, where the shells on the beach were mostly oyster or mussel or clam, the great beach find was the sand dollar, but conch shells or any shell that was curved or curled was rare. So I went for those. Last, as my bag became heavier and heavier, I was drawn simply to what I most wanted to touch. I was looking for touching -- for smooth and semi-porous surfaces, for edges. The looking lasted for over two hours -- until the tide started to come in and cover the rocks. And the rocks are only there during the winter. During the summer the point is mostly smooth sand.

At one point-- probably mid-way, when I was looking for the largest and shiniest shells -- I climbed onto the pile of large rocks that jetty into the sea. At the very tip -- yards of moss and jagged black rock and pools beyond where I stood -- pelicans had gathered to rest. Even the air was shiny, so shiny the body (my body) felt invisible. The pelicans shimmered between bird and outline. Later, near the end when my selections were motivated by what I thought would grant the most tactile pleasure, I occasionally heard the scatter of sandy dirt-rocks slipping from the cliffs. The rocks wash up, the cliffs fall down. It isn't erosion exactly, but a sea saw of hardening and softening.

Today I washed and sorted what I'd gathered into three piles -- shell, rock, and glass. Tomorrow I will sort them by size and type and color. I am not sure what will happen next. But it feels like making poems. like gathering letters and sounds and words. The syntax of tangibles untangled and rearranged, if only temporarily.

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is this real?