August 24, 2013

A break from the tangle and fray

waves

A while back, I read a passage from John Muir's "A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf," and though I was moved by his description of the sea, I didn't really "get it." Muir--the naturalist, botanist, and founder of the Sierra Club--describes reaching the Gulf of Mexico, after traveling largely by foot from Illinois:

"Today I reached the sea. While I was yet many miles back in the palmy woods, I caught the scent of the salt sea breeze which, although I had so many years lived far from sea breezes, suddenly conjured up Dunbar, its rocky coast, winds and waves; and my whole childhood, that seemed to have utterly vanished in the New World, was now restored amid the Florida woods by that one breath from the sea."

Frankly, my reaction to that passage when I first read it was that Muir was tired, worn out, and delirious. And maybe he was. He became very ill with typhoid shortly thereafter. But he was also making commentary on the fact that great bodies of water, and the spots where they meet the land, are very similar the world over.

"Forgotten were the Palms and Magnolias and the thousand flowers that enclosed me," he continues. "I could see only dulse and tangle, long-winged gulls, the Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth, and the old castle, schools, churches, and long country rambles in search of birds' nests. I do not wonder that the weary camels coming from the scorching African deserts should be able to scent the Nile."

To really fully understand what Muir was talking about, you have to visit a beach or fondly remember a visit from earlier in your life. Whether it's a sandy or a rocky beach, if it borders a large body of water (an ocean or a great lake), the experience that overtakes all the senses is like no other. It's a universal experience--largely the same, no matter what continent or hemisphere (with the exception of a beach in winter!).

sorrel

willow

Even the plants are similar--Grasses, Sedges, Willows. While the plants shown here were found along the Lake Michigan shoreline, they'd be similar on the U.S. East Coast, the West Coast, or even a coast on a different continent!

lathyrus

The Sea Pea (Lathyrus japonicus), for example, is a legume native to temperate coastal areas of Asia, Europe, and North and South America. Also commonly called Beach Pea, Circumpolar Pea, and Sea Vetchling, it ranges around the world on marine coasts and inland shores, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

beach

Even gardeners and botanists need a break sometimes from the tangle and fray of abundant plant life. Nothing beats a day at the beach to appeal to our minimalist tendencies ...

drag

The drag of the waves on the elements of the beach.

turtle

A child's creation--labored over for hours, and gone with the flash of a tall wave or the heavy foot of a wandering mammal.

companions

Evidence of man and his companion; his best friend.

feather

A solitary bird feather--sparkling in the sun, filtering the sand, and fluttering in the soft breeze.

elements

Small rocks and shells unappreciated and ignored, unless we stop to take a closer look.

shadows

And the slowly setting sun, making long shadows on the sand and beckoning us back for another day ... as they did when we were small children, begging our parents to "please, please, please" let us stay at the beach just a little longer.

"How imperishable are all the impressions that ever vibrate one's life! We cannot forget anything. Memories may escape the action of will, may sleep a long time, but when stirred by the right influence, though that influence be light as a shadow, they flash into full stature and life with everything in place."

~ John Muir, "A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf"

33 comments:

  1. A lovely post, and beautiful images, even though we are far from sea, sometimes on a summers day I am sure I can smell the ocean on a breeze.

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    1. Thanks, Karen! The Great Lakes and the sea definitely call me at times--especially when it's too hot to play in the garden!

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  2. I love the sea! I always spend my holidays there. Very interesting pictures! Good quality. Greetings from Poland.

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    1. Hi Joanna: Thanks for stopping by! I prefer vacations by the sea (or a big lake), too. It clears the mind and cleanses the soul.

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  3. The call of the sea, yes; maybe we all feel it. Magical, mystical, I love the sea.

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    1. It must be a universal human thing. I agree there's something magical and mystical about it.

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  4. I'm always amazed at how the beach at Lake Michigan is sandy, like an ocean beach. Somehow that seems as if it should be impossible. Of course, I nearly failed geology in college, so what do I know? You are so right about the beach and the ocean, though. There is something irresistible about it.

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    1. Parts of the Lake Michigan shoreline are sandy, parts are pebbly, and parts are rocky. I've traveled around it and seen most sides of it. I've also been fortunate to see various oceans and gulfs--they're all stunning, and they all awaken an instinctive calming effect.

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  5. I grew up on the coast, and I can completely understand his sentiment at seeing the sea again and all the memories attached to it. I love the beach and often wished I lived closer. There's just something about the sand and the salty air that is revitalizing.

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    1. You are fortunate, Holley! I've always lived within a few hours drive of a large body of water--never on it. I guess it maintains its mystique that way. It's accessible, but a special treat!

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  6. I love peopel that notice the little things

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    1. Thank you, Sharon. Wise people know that if you find joy in very small things, you will always be able to find a small piece of happiness.

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  7. Beth you are so right...the beach no matter where it is draws us and is my best place to relax, slow, breath and just be...fabulous post!

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    1. Thank you, Donna. I never feel more relaxed than when I'm at the beach for a day. :)

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  8. A beautifully written post the evoked the scent of the ocean in my memories..

    Jen

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    1. Thank you, Jen. It's hard to capture in words, so I appreciate the compliment.

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  9. I'm not eager to visit the beach, but on those occasions I do go it is uniquely relaxing. You have captured something important with this post.

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    1. Thanks, Jason. Clearing away the clutter at the beach almost seems like a necessity to me at times. For me, it replenishes my mind, body, and soul. Then I'm ready to go back to the garden. ;-)

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  10. I enjoyed your beach trip. I find it very relaxing and was just at a beach in Canada on Sunday which I also documented. What you find at beaches is most interesting, even if it seems a bit ordinary to most. I love what you chose to photograph and also how you explained your findings.

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    1. Thank you, Donna. All I had along was my iPhone, but it seems to do a decent job--especially on a sunny day at the beach, when adequate light isn't a problem. All I had to do was crop a little bit. I enjoyed your Canada post about the birds, too.

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  11. Now, I want to be on some beautiful shore... We didn't go to the ocean front this summer. Maybe, one day in September...
    Love your photographs, especially #5 from the top. Magic...

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    1. I've had many summers when I neglected to get to the beach, but I always regret it later when the cold weather sets in. September is a wonderful time to visit the ocean! Thanks for your kind compliments. A simple view of sky, water and sand soothes my soul. :)

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  12. dear beth, the sea is very important to me too. I can't stop looking at the first photo. I think it is really special - very uplifting, I would love to have it on my wall. Something to do with the lines and the angles that makes it so special, I think.

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    1. Thank you, Sue! It was a nearly cloudless day and it's a very long beach--great for walking and relaxing! I'm practicing my landscape shots, so I appreciate your kind compliment.

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  13. Dear Beth, What a great post! After reading it I feel like I need to slip outside and empty sand from my shoes. Thanks for the trip to the beach and the wonderful memories you evoke with your insightful pictures and words!

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    1. Thank you, Becky. We certainly had a lot of sand between our toes after walking the shore and relaxing on the beach. I'm glad it evoked memories for you, too! John Muir is inspiring, as well. I've been trying to write a post a month about him, and the beach trip, and remembering his phrases, just came together.

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  14. Wonderful post! As a CA native, I really miss the beach. But my husband isn't a beach lover and I rarely go anymore. With school starting back next week, I wish I could click my heels together and slip away to the coast right now. How amazing it would be to have Muir Woods on one side and the beach on the other. Bliss!

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    1. Thanks! Yes, I sometimes go the whole summer without making it to the beach, too. But I'm so glad when I do make it over. We have lakes here near home, but the great lakes and the ocean are even better! It's so hard to describe how the senses pick up on the change as you get closer to the water, as Muir describes.

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  15. Hi Beth, this is very inspiring. I remember the Ipomoea pes-caprae whose leaves almost look like your first plant, and it is found around us here in the country as well as the beaches of Dubai! They all look very healthy growing in the sand. Your beach photos are so inspiring too, and i remember my last weekend escapade to the Underground River (New 7 Wonders of Nature) and island hopping around there. I will post it also next time.

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    1. Thanks! Fascinating how the beach plants are so similar. That's probably why I feel so at home, no matter what beach I visit. I can't wait to see your post about the Underground River!

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  16. What beautiful words and photos! I've only been to an ocean once, but when we went, it was because I wanted to see one. We may not be able to afford to go again, but I feel blessed that we were able to in 2007.

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    1. Thank you, Sue. Muir always inspires me. I find that the great lakes have a similar effect as the ocean. Maybe because of the huge beaches, the wide expanse of water, and the waves. And the plants. I'm glad you were able to visit the ocean...so it's in your memory. :)

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  17. your first image captures everything about a long walk along the breaking waves, into the far distance, nobody but us there.

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