Tag Archive 'Atlantic Ocean'

Jun 07 2014

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By the Sea

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low tideFecund. That’s the word leaping to mind as I walk the Maine shoreline at low tide. At my feet lies the detritus of the ocean: shells mixed with seaweed, spread along the beach as far as the eye can see. Knotted wrack, barnacles and snails cling to every square inch of nearby rocks exposed by the retreating sea. In shallow tide pools I find more snails, hermit crabs, and so many smaller life forms that it seems the water itself is alive.

My wife Judy takes a wider view – her eyes locked on the distant horizon as the incessant, low roar of crashing waves washes her mind free of mundane thoughts. Impermanence is the word that leaps to her mind, and the shifting sands underfoot confirm it. All human constructs are like the sand castles built along the shore that the incoming tide dissolves.

A few days later, we board a 65-foot boat that takes us twenty miles off shore, to the feeding grounds of finback whales. For an afternoon we are sandwiched between low, gray clouds and sea swells. The edge of land grows fainter in the mist until it disappears altogether, unsettling a landlubber like me. When the captain kills the boat’s engine, all we can hear is water spraying upward from blowholes as those behemoths surface.  Their slick bodies shimmer in the dull light as they break skyward. Then they disappear beneath the waves. When finally we see one sucking in the ocean with its great mouth, we get a sense of what’s going on here.  “Lunchfeeding,” the captain calls it – tons of fish converting into tons of whale.

Back home, hundreds of miles inland, I return to my daily routine and the comfort of a green world that makes more sense to me. But for a few days I was reminded that we live on a water planet along with countless other life forms both great and small. The ocean is humbling, to say the least. I can’t grasp the sheer magnitude of it.

 

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Jun 09 2013

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Out of my Element

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sailingDuring a recent trip to the Maine coast, my wife Judy and I signed up for a ride on a 55-foot schooner. Funny thing about sailing, you can’t come and go as you please. We had to wait two days for fair wind. Even then, there was no telling where we’d end up.

While Judy gravitates to the Atlantic shore with all its beaches, salt marshes and waves crashing against rocks, I’m more at home in the woods. We both get what we want while exploring the many parts of the Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge scattered along the southern Maine coast. That said, it’s good to step out and try something different every once in a while.

Sailing is definitely something different for a landlubber like me. From the moment the boat pulled away from shore, I felt exposed. The ocean is big and dangerous. Nothing but water below and sky above. As we motored out of the harbor, I tried to shelve my apprehension and enjoy the cruise.

Shortly after gaining the open sea, the captain cut the engine and ordered the crew to raise the sails. Then everything changed. Suddenly the wind was carrying us along. The schooner rose and fell rhythmically as it rode the waves. The sun shined brightly through the cloudless sky, a gentle breeze caressed our faces, and the coast rolled past slowly. The sails flapped quietly in the wind as we changed course. And all our hard, land-bound concerns faded away.

Judy was napping in the lifeboat by the time we turned back towards shore. I couldn’t stop smiling. After the sail, we wandered along the coast aimlessly. We could do nothing but eat, drink and be happy. The ocean had massaged us. We were putty in its hands.

 

 

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Sep 21 2012

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Walking the Coast

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To experience the Maine Coast you have to get out of your car. That’s why Judy and I went to Wells Beach right after dinner. There we walked the shoreline, inhaling the fecund ocean air. Waves licked the beach. A band of pink light accented the horizon before us as the sun set somewhere else.

The next day we visited Wells Reserve. Starting at Laudholm Farm, we ambled along a wide path cutting through a field as blue jays and a host of other songbirds serenaded us. Then we followed a boardwalk winding through birches, oaks, maples and white pines until we reached an estuary and the lazy, winding river feeding it. We sat a long while at the edge of two different worlds, right where the forest meets the sea.

Towards evening we walked the Marginal Way in Ogunquit – a mile long, paved footpath along the rocky coast, which is magnificent if you can ignore the crowd of tourists doing the same. I had a hard time with that but Judy remained focused on the waves crashing against rocks just below us. She loves both the sight and the sound of it.

The following day a storm brewed up. We stayed inland for the most part, but after dark Judy wanted to go back down to Wells Beach. The wind blew with enough force to intimidate me as I imagined ships wrecking on the rocks just off shore. Judy was exhilarated by it, drinking in the raw oceanic power as if it was some kind of elixir. I prefer forest wildness. Judy likes it maritime.

We gave ourselves the grand tour the last day, driving up the coast from Wells to Biddeford Pool, stopping by Cape Porpoise for fresh seafood, then walking Goose Rocks Beach barefoot at high tide. We shared the beach with a few locals and hungry shorebirds, leaving footprints in the sand that quickly washed away.

We finished our tour at East Point Sanctuary, where the waves slammed against the rocky shore in great foamy explosions. Funny how long one can sit and watch them, how mesmerizing they can be. Then we left the sanctuary feeling strangely calm, as if all our routine worries had been worn down by churning water. The Maine coast is good for that. Not much stands firm against the power of the sea.

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Jun 01 2009

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The Rhythms of the Sea

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Because it was Judy’s vacation, we went to the Maine coast.  I’m more a creature of deep woods, but it’s not always about me.  Judy has a challenging job.  When she needs to get away from it all, the coast is the best place for her to go.  So we rented a cottage and escaped to it for a few days.

The cottage faces an estuary – one of ten estuaries along a fifty-mile stretch of coast known collectively as the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge.  We couldn’t afford a place overlooking the beach.  That’s okay.  After a couple days of gazing out the window, watching the estuary fill with saltwater then drain again, this cottage seemed like the best place for us.  It is easy to fixate upon the oceanic horizon, ignoring the rising and falling tides just below the line of sight.  But the rhythms of the sea are dramatic and inescapable just a little farther inland, where six hours is all that separates a flooded salt marsh from a muddy one.

A chilling rain fell steadily for three days.  That kept the sun worshipers off the coast, leaving more room for us.  Wherever we went, whether it was the beach, a rocky stretch of coastline, or in town, we were pretty much alone.  Just the two of us.  Steady rain has its advantages.

Judy was happy enough walking the beach or resting in the cottage.  Other than that all she required was a big bowl of fresh steamers chased with cold beer.  I had binoculars in hand most of the time.  I don’t think of myself as a birdwatcher but birdwatching is hard to resist on the coast.  Along with the ever-present gulls, I glassed ducks, eiders, cormorants, and herons just off shore.  A fast-running plover entertained us as we walked the beach.  A gaggle of Canada geese kept to the salt marsh for the most part.  A snowy egret fished alone in the estuary the entire time we were there.  Good company.

Days passed.  The water kept rising and falling in the estuary.  The ocean withdrew from the beach, leaving countless shells behind only to reclaim them a few hours later.  Waves crashed to shore at high tide, washing away the tracks we left in the sand.  When the tide receded, I felt a part of me drawn towards liquid oblivion – as if I too was being swept away.  The sea is like that.  It wants to reclaim all that belongs to her, all things organic.  Even a landlubber like me can feel it: caught in the rhythm, in a primordial magnetism.

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