For a long time I ignored the snails at my local tide pool. Snails. Meh.
Then one day I happened past a snail that had just completed what might have been eternity symbol. After that I was discovering a fabulous new design every few paces.
Since that revelatory day, I’ve made a point of seeking out the artworks that snails have etched in the sand. Like Buddhist sand mandalas, these will be gone with the next high tide. Recently I found this lacy meanderer:
and this delicate brushwork on rock:
Sometimes I spot an artist at work. More often I find them gathered, perhaps at a cafe:
Of all the snail trails I’ve found to date, this one has most captivated me:
Most of this extensive design came from a single snail during one low tide. I’m pretty sure the artist is the dark blob in the lower right. It lacks a snail silhouette because it has seaplants on its shell.
(This is a common tidepool occurrence. Hold still for long and somebody will grow on you:
But I digress.)
I have spent weeks with the extensive snail trail. I have contemplated it, colored it, admired it. Over the next several posts I’ll share some of what I’ve learned by traveling this snail trail.
First, I cropped the trail a bit. (Not sure this made it any less complicated. Perhaps as I advance with my trail work, I will return to the full trail.) Next, I became familiar with the biggest twists and turns:
After that… well, more soon… er… Lots more soon.
As it turns out, fascination, preoccupation, obsession are all parts of the same coin.
It’s that time of year in southern California. Extra high tides (the so-called king tides) alternate with spectacularly low tides (anarchist tides?), revealing tide pools teeming with fabulous occupants. I’ve never seen starfish out in the world, before!
The colors. The patterns. Everywhere.
A person can stare a long time waiting to see one of these gals move. Here’s evidence that movement recently occurred!:
These mussels have worked around a band of white plastic:
Amazing to see anemones with soft sticky outsides that are sludge-free. (Perhaps these critters live in deeper water than the sludged ones?) (I’m making that up.):
Anybody know what these translucent donut creatures are called?
I was not alone enjoying the tide pools:
Look, a tar bat!
These craters formed when water dropped from the rock above:
For me, this is a time of imminent loss. One of my longest-standing, dearest friends is fighting for his life. Now, he is the proverbial tough old bird and if anyone can beat these particular odds it will be this guy. But for the foreseeable future, the next text or phone call could bring terrible news.
As I scrap this or that “important” plan in order to spend a few minutes clunking around his hospital room or assisting his family in some small way, I’m re-reminded of the few things that matter to me.
1) My loved ones.
3) Getting my head into the present tense so I can appreciate what is happening while it is happening. Such as walking on the bluffs by the ocean and… catching paragliders taking their turns at launch… or witnessing brilliantly graceful pelicans come in for their awkward landings, right next to harbor seals who lounge unperturbed:
And, oh yeah,
4) My health.
When I was younger, I knew these things, too. But when I was younger, I more often lost touch with truth.
I’m so grateful I got to get old and I look forward to figuring more stuff out. While remembering the stuff I already figured out.
That’s how my first geology teacher explained the surface of our world. He was talking narrowly, as scientists do, about seeing the history of the earth in its current landforms.
Landforms like this shoreline cliff and creek bed:
The phrase stuck with me. It covers so much. All the stuff I used to try to understand, that no one really can. Why why why I took the jobs I did, moved the places I went, lost these loved ones, saw those illnesses recur, effortlessly vaulted to success here, bashed my head against failure’s wall there. How it came to be so important for me to try to understand.
When I look at my life geologically, I see that things fall apart, and they form again in new ways, and what it looks like, well, it just depends – like erosion – on the weather.
What’s that the Buddhists say? You are the sky. Everything else, it’s just weather. (- Pema Chodron, maybe quoting somebody else).
Recently I moved, to be closer to the ocean. The move surprised people, including me. (More about that at some point.) My new neighborhood has spectacular views of the beauty of erosion. I especially love the trees, in varying stages of change.
This one I call Nessie:
Jurassic predator tree:
The alien and the protector of the cliff (you get to decide which is which):
(The WordPress weekly photo challenge was Waiting.)
There is so much beauty in modern infrastructure. No wonder I take so many pictures of that stuff.
Admittedly, I’m obsessed with subways. I could fill a whole other blog with subway photos and videos. (<– Hmm. Am I the only one who thinks that’s a good idea?) Meanwhile, here’s a recent moody image from NYC:
This power line runs through my neighborhood (although not precisely at this angle):
Can you guess what this is?:
It’s the crumbling (sideways) letters of a storm drain warning. NO DUMPING DRAINS TO OCEAN.
And how about this?:
Well, if you’ve been a reader of this blog for long, that’s an easy one to answer. It’s part of a pair of decaying sea walls that fascinate me. (Fascination is a kinder word than obsession.) Here’s a wider shot of the same wall (earlier that same sunrise):
If you ever want to visit this wall, it is just east of East Beach in Santa Barbara, CA.
I know I’m not alone with this dilemma: the more photographs I take, the harder it is to enjoy the moment. That camera-phone stuck to my face – that oh! good shot! scrutiny – blocks my senses.
But if I’ve got photographs, I can re-live (a weak yet satisfying imitation of) that moment. Without photographs, all I’d remember would be the beach with the pier is nice at sunset:
By the time I uploaded my photos, I’d forgotten how the surf distorted the pier’s reflection:
Nowadays, I’m really trying to live in the moment, so as I continued my walk, I pocketed my phone. Then unpocketed it. Many times.
Capturing a pelican on camera marks a different kind of living in the moment:
One of the great things about the beach is how quickly everything changes. Every moment really does last a moment. Here’s what happened to the sunset when the fog got just a bit thicker:
One solution to photographing my moments away might be to keep going back to the beach. I don’t need photo memories of stuff I do and see all the time – do I? Hmm. My photo library draws a different conclusion:
My cats and my granddaughter. I’m lucky enough to see both all the time. Yet the photo library keeps growing in both categories… Thank goodness for the digital photo era.
Don’t tell my daughter about these photos. Every time I go to my favorite beach in Santa Barbara, I take pictures. She thinks I should stop. She’s right, I do have uncountably vast numbers of photos of the same half mile stretch. But nothing is static there, not even the eroding sea wall I’ve shot a bizillion times. On this trip, I discovered a piece of kelp tangled on the wall:
Things got interesting when I moved to the other side of the wall. Sunlight shining through and around the sea vegetable converted it to a fairy tale:
Now I saw a cascade of jewels, or maybe a despondent princess, silhouetted in the window of a castle tower.
I know a scientist who makes music on the side. He has a single CD that he keeps reissuing with new and revised songs. I’ve teased him about this but I’m doing a version of the same thing, aren’t I? A single beach, reissues of new and revised views.
My daughter is wise, but I will continue to defy her. Sure I’ve got lots of images with this sea wall – but with every visit it’s a new wall. Certainly, there’s never been a princess there before!
Anyway, it’s not like I’m wasting film. Which makes me uncomfortable, realizing that younger readers may not know what film is.