Meandering the edges, these
between wet and not-wet, these
that inhale and exhale life,
I feel alive, calm.
Being present here is easy –
just a matter of embodying tidal shifts
from one state of being to another,
just being the rhythm of
back and forth.
On the lapping edges
light shimmers, fades
and carries all known and unknown colors forward.
This curving, expanding, effervescing
between – for it is a “between” –
is made for meandering.
Here, I am carried back to the ground of being,
where being comfortable
means being as shifty as
1. The quiet hour before low tide, on a sliver of Salish Sea* beach, strewn with weathered logs and fist-sized rocks.
2. As the tide recedes, shades of deep purple and brick red emerge in the sand around a single blue rock marked with a skitter of celadon green.
3. High tides slowly add stones to a cheerful collection in the hollow of a beached Redcedar log.
4. Lace lichen hangs soft and weightless in the dim recess of wet forest along the shoreline. Lace lichen (Ramalina menziesii) is the state lichen of California, where it grows on the coast and at higher elevations. Here on the Salish Sea I find it hanging from the trees that line the moist rims of the islands.
5. Lace lichen is variable, sometimes forming flattened ribbons alongside the delicate openwork structures that give the lichen its name. Lichens are composite life forms, consisting of a fungus and a cyanobacteria or a green alga, living symbiotically. The structure you see (the thallus) is the fungus, which protects the alga as it photosynthesizes and make nutrients.
6. Lace lichen at dusk, photographed with a vintage Takumar 50mm f1.4 lens. Lichens are a complex sort of borderland life form, which to me feels philosophically appropriate for the marginal space where water meets and mixes with land.
7. The sun setting in the southwest, over the Salish Sea, is reflected on the water of Cranberry Lake, a fresh-water lake separated from a beach by a narrow strip of dunes.
8. Spider webs thread the thorny branches of a wild rose (probably Nootka rose, Rosa nutkana) on the shore of Cranberry Lake (so-called because early settlers grew cranberries here).
9. Sunset over Cranberry Lake is a graceful sonata of dark evergreens, their calm-water reflections, the ragged, torn-paper silhouette of the Olympic Mountains, wispy clouds and softly bending reeds.
10. The sturdy golden stems of Bullwhip kelp (Nereocystis Leutkeana), a thin strand of green seaweed, and a washed-up tree branch (probably a Madrone, or Arbutus menziesii), create a still life on the beach. The Latin names of the Madrone tree and Lace lichen share a species name, menziesii, that honors Archibald Menzies, a Scottish naturalist and surgeon who explored this region in the 1790’s, on the four-year-long Vancouver Expedition. His was the first European record of Madrone trees.
11. The smooth stones of Rosario Beach glisten, inviting a closer look. A fragment of green seaweed and bits of bark landed here, but they may float back into the water with the next wave.
12. A tangle of Bullwhip kelp is buried in the stones at Rosario Beach. Imagine how nourishing the seaweed would be as it slowly decomposes under the rocks. If the kelp lands far up on the beach, maybe it will decompose in place, and perhaps a coastal strand plant like American dune grass (Leymus mollis ssp. mollis) will take root there, holding the land fast against the tides, if only until the next spring tide or big storm.
13. The graceful American dune grass grows in the shelter of a driftwood log, just a few feet from the shoreline.
14. Sometimes it seems there are as many beached logs and pieces of driftwood on these beaches as there are blades of dune grass. This sinewy log washed up onto the fine sand of the beach seen in the first photograph.
15. This sculptural piece of driftwood could be a piece of a Western Redcedar tree (Thuja plicata), or perhaps it’s a from a Madrone. It looks like it could crawl away, given half a chance.
16. Behind heavy clouds, the sun lays golden light down on the waters of Northwest Pass. Two spindly Douglas fir trees stand apart from the forest that blankets Deception Island, one of hundreds of uninhabited islands dotting the Salish Sea.
17. A Great Blue heron (Ardea herodias) is sheltering well back from the water’s edge, in a tangle of wildflowers and driftwood. The wind is blowing hard on this December day, and it’s high tide, so perhaps the heron is waiting for the tide to turn before going back to foraging. The heron startled me as I meandered the beach, studying the rocks. Moving very slowly, I managed to take photographs without disturbing my new-found friend, even though I was only about 15 feet away.
18. Bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum) grows tall and strong here; the dried fronds persist for months. The “world’s most widespread fern”, sturdy bracken can be found in Washington State growing on Salish Sea shorelines, in suburban parks, and on subalpine avalanche tracks.
19. After the rain, lichens sparkle and drip. Because they gather moisture from rain, lichens are very susceptible to pollutants in rainwater. Some are highly sensitive to pollutants like sulphur dioxide, so just finding them growing at a given location is a sign of good air quality. There are at least two species here: the fruticose lichen (the one hanging down) is probably an Usnea, perhaps U. dasopoga. A foliose lichen is stuck to the twig, and may be a Parmelia. Some Usnea lichens have become rare in lowland Britain since industrialization; similarly, U. longissima was once common in the US and is now considered rare due to habitat loss and pollution.
20. A fragment of lichen and a scattering of Shore pine (Pinus contorta) needles rest on a thick bed of moss. All three plants benefit from the moist climate on the edge of the Salish Sea. Identifying mosses and lichens is difficult, and I’m taking a pass at these two!
21. Lovely young Madrone trees emerge from the rich soil next to fallen trees on a bluff high above the water. Reindeer lichen (Cladonia sp.), mosses, and grasses arrange themselves at the feet of the Madrones into a perfect garden composition – no flowers needed!
22. Raindrops clinging to the Red huckleberry twigs (Vaccinium parvifolium) glisten in the forest, just yards from a steep cliff that plunges into the cold waters of Deception Pass. The red berries were used by all the local indigenous people. The birds must like them too, because I never see many berries on Red huckleberry bushes.
23. It grows dark quickly under the thick canopy of Douglas fir and Western Redcedar trees, and a single raindrop hanging from a Red huckleberry branch catches my eye.
24. Two smooth stones and a third that’s partially buried. An entirely temporary arrangement.
25. Shimmering waves throw stones at the logs that line the beach.
26. A Shore pine and a Douglas fir huddle together on the rocks beside Cranberry Lake.
27. This weathered Douglas fir withstands strong gusts of wind up on Rosario Head, as it has for years. Unlike the tree, I’m mobile enough to choose a different location when those December winds blow, and that’s what I did – I quickly descended the grassy path for a more sheltered spot.
The photographs were taken this month at three locations in Deception Pass State Park close to, or at, the water’s edge.
From the Wikipedia entry on liminality:
“Major transformations occur at crossroads and other liminal places, at least partly because liminality—being so unstable—can pave the way for access to esoteric knowledge or understanding of both sides. Liminality is sacred, alluring, and dangerous.”
For more about the beautiful Lace lichen, see this resource.
* The Salish Sea
“Salish Sea” is a relatively new term, approved in 2009 by the Coast Salish people and geographical name Boards in the US and Canada. It refers to an integrated marine ecosystem that comprises the Strait of Juan de Fuca (which separates northwestern Washington State from Vancouver Island, Canada), the Strait of Georgia (which separates Vancouver Island from the Canadian mainland) and Puget Sound, (which extends south past Seattle).
The Coast Salish people are thought to have inhabited this region for the last 11,000 years. The tribes enjoyed abundant resources in this land of temperate rainforests, rich waters and biologically productive tidal edges. Now many of these resources are dwindling or threatened, but people are working hard to conserve what’s left.