Outside Beach

The trail leads through a dripping temperate rainforest, snow sodden and slippery underfoot.  The low light on this mid-November afternoon, in the deep spruce forest, makes it feel like twilight.  Sunset is over two hours from now, but the night is already on its way.

It is the dark time of the year, and getting darker.  The days will continue to shorten by a few minutes each, counting down to the week around winter solstice.  Then there will only be six hours and three minutes between sunrise and sunset.

The trail reaches the end of the forest and a long boardwalk leads across an open wetland.  The sound of surf begins to build.  One last little hill to climb between the boardwalk and the top of the beach, and suddenly the sky opens up and the air is filled with the roar of the sea.

The snow stops in a vividly sharp line along the beach, marking the height of the last high tide.  Below the line, loose sand and gravel are washed clean by the salt water, and shift with each step.  A drift-line of kelp and other algae fragments stretches along the beach near the surf.  It looks like confetti; so many different textures and shapes.  Battered by storms, the seaweeds are broken and tattered, bruised.  But a few pieces are still in good enough shape to eat.  They are fresh and crunchy, and taste like the sea.

At first glance all appears grey; grey beach, grey sky, grey water.  A cloud of salt mist lingers where the waves crash against the land, adding more grey.  But the seaweed offers a good cue to take a closer look.  The ragged pieces are golden, burgundy, olive, auburn, rose.  The sea water, beyond the white surf, is pale turquoise. The sky is a faint periwinkle, backed by leaden clouds.  Spruce trees, huddled under their coats of snow, are a deep green-black with russet undertones.  Cormorants perched on the rocks are true black.  Harlequin ducks, those agile divers of rough water, flash all the colors at once: white, rust, slate blue, black.

The pebbles of the beach are also slate blue, but some well-worn rock outcrops are a strange sea-foam green color.  They’ve been carved into fantastical shapes by the eternal flow of water.  That’s the thing, here:  it’s always changing, different every time.  Some changes take forever, and some are dramatic and wild.  The sand moves, pushed by a winter storm, and reveals bedrock, friable sedimentary layers, boulders, a band of compressed peat.  Tiny barnacles cling to the newly exposed surfaces, but then another storm tears away a chunk of peat and it gets carried away, barnacles and all.

Walk along this shore and you can’t help but think about the impermanence and fragility of life.  But life is tenacious, too.  It hangs on and refuses to let go.  There is a constancy, a rhythm, to the sun-moon-tide cycle.  Year after year, eon after eon, destruction and renewal plays out over and over again.  It’s a miracle, and we are witnesses.  It’s a miracle, and we are part of it.

Certainly, there is violence in nature.  Volcanoes spew their grit and ash.  Storms rage at sea, with a fury made only more terrifying by its impartiality.  Male animals, whether they are brown bears, mountain goats, or moose, vie for territory and battle for the attention of females.  Wolves and weasels tear their prey with sharp fangs.  Falcons and hawks knock their quarry out of the sky.  It’s bloody.  Death isn’t always quick.  It can be difficult to watch.  But never is there manipulation or deceit, arrogance or treachery.  Never is there a seeking of power simply for power’s sake.

The heavy cloud cover parts for a moment, and a patch of blue sky appears through the wispy clouds.  It is just the barest hint of a promise that some day, maybe months from now, the sun will break through again in earnest.  Heading away from the water, the roar of the surf diminishes.  Kinglets squeak and chitter in the wet trees, audible now in the quiet, as the ocean’s noise falls away in the distance.

This entry was posted in Alaska, Birds, Seldovia, Uncategorized, Wildlife and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Outside Beach

  1. “But never is there manipulation or deceit, arrogance or treachery. Never is there a seeking of power simply for power’s sake.” Thank you for the walkabout, the reminder.

    Liked by 1 person

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