LOCAL WALKS: Low Tide

1. Driftwood. Bowman Bay, Deception Pass State Park.

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Tides are like the earth breathing in and out, in and out. On the in-breath, a myriad of living and once-living things are sucked away from the shore with the water. On the out-breath, everything is pulled back toward the shore and rearranged. In, out, over and over. Endless cycles reveal innumerable scenes for the visually curious, like new paintings created and framed, minute by minute.

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2. A Great blue heron (Ardea herodias) working the tideline at Bowman Bay in spring. Wrinkled and furrowed by the outgoing tide, the sand holds just enough water to reflect the sky.

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Gentle currents of water draw lines and patterns in the sand. Waves scoop and carve hollows around stranded objects. Pieces of seaweed detach, swish around, and come to rest, leaving calligraphic messages behind. Tangles of plant life, artfully arranged chunks of driftwood, rivulets, ripples – the tides yield a never-ending parade of forms on the beach. Delighting the eyes of toddlers and photographers, piquing the interest of gulls and herons, the shoreline is “ever-present, never twice the same.”*

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3. Stones at Rosario Beach are smooth and round enough for strong waves to toss them into the grooves of driftwood logs during high tides.

4.

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Tides wash shorelines the world over but each place where salt water meets land is different. The weather is different, the ecology is different, the geology is different, and the tide cycles are different. Not only do some locations have stronger tides than others, but each high or low tide is different from the last. Many variables are responsible for uneven tides, like bulges in the earth, continents in the ocean, an uneven ocean floor, and an imperfect alignment of the sun, moon, and earth. The seasons and lunar cycles also affect tides.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, a wide strait (the Strait of Juan de Fuca) cuts 96 miles (155km) back into Washington, connecting Puget Sound to the Pacific ocean. That means people living 90 miles from the ocean, like I do, still experience daily tidal cycles. Most places have two low and two high tides per day. In the Pacific Northwest, the lows and highs are mixed, which means that each day’s high tides are at different heights. Each day’s low tides are different, too. Today (at Bowman Bay), shortly after midnight there was a high tide of about 7.9 feet (2.4m). Just before 8am there was a low tide at 1 foot (.3m). The next high tide, at 3:17pm, is almost 3 feet lower than the first one – just 5.1 feet (1.5m). The last low tide of the day is at 6:03pm. At 4.7 feet (1.4m), it will be much higher than the morning low tide. As you can see, sometimes a low tide is almost as high as the previous high tide.

Keeping an eye on tide charts is essential for boaters and I’ve learned it’s worthwhile for me to check tide charts, too. That’s how I know to be at a place like North Beach (below) during a very low tide. Normally only the dark rocks in the photo are visible but during very low tides you can see rocks that have been smoothed and shaped by numberless tides.

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6. Low tide reveals smooth rocks at North Beach. Deception Pass State Park.
7.
8. Ripple pattern in the sand. Bowman Bay.

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Tide heights can vary a lot, depending on many factors. North America’s Bay of Fundy has the world’s highest tides – as high as 53 feet (16m) – but far to the south, the Caribbean has almost no tides. The reasons for this disparity are too complex to go into here. Though we may not grasp the science, many of us have seen the damage a very high tide combined with strong onshore winds and low pressure does. Whether in person or on media, we’ve seen houses destroyed and shorelines changed by complex interactions between the tides and the weather.

You probably know that around the new and full moon the difference between low and high tide levels increases because the alignment of the sun, earth, and moon magnifies gravitational pull. There are seasonal variations in tide cycles, too – something I didn’t know until I moved to an island. In the Pacific Northwest, summer brings unusually low tides during the daytime and the winter’s lowest tides occur after dark. During the full moon this month, Puget Sound had an extremely low tide, the lowest in over a decade. Foragers and families converged on shorelines throughout the region to experience the extra-low tide, a phenomenon that’s becoming less common due to rising sea levels.

I went to Bowman Bay, my favorite place to walk the beach anytime. I’d hoped to find pretty patterns in the sand but nature had other ideas. What I did find were ribbons of kelp shining in the sunlight (#4 & #5), a bare-bottomed toddler having a blast in the sand, the fresh hoof prints of a running deer, and the same family of Canada geese that I photographed last month. For at least a month these goose parents have kept all six of their goslings safe. I always expect to see one or two fewer, but so far they are all OK.

A few days later the afternoon low tide was still unusually low, so I went to Washington Park. A rocky pocket beach there can be good for tide pooling (searching for creatures in basins of water left by the outgoing tide). The only seastar I found was dead but there were beautiful anemones waving translucent tentacles. Another anemone was the color of an overripe peach.

Something interesting always appears as a result of the tides. These photos are just one person’s observations from walking along Salish Sea shorelines. You’ll find something different.

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9. Tide lines on the rocks. Kukutali Preserve.

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11. Acorn barnacles (Balanus glandula) on a mussel shell (Mytilus trossulus) make a small sculpture gifted by the outgoing tide at Bowman Bay.
12. Anemone tentacles underwater. This might be a Brooding anemone (Epiactis prolifera).

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14. A tiny pyramid-shaped rock created its own moat when the tide went out. Bowman Bay.
15. This arrangement was pure happenstance. The triangular piece of driftwood is also in the first photo, which was made two weeks earlier. Bowman Bay.
16. Eelgrass (Zostera marina) wrapped around a log and tangled with broken reeds last winter at Kukutali Preserve.
17. Eelgrass is important as a habitat for small creatures like worms and crabs and as a stabilizer for the shoreline. Eelgrass is an important food for birds like Brant. Other birds, like herons, eat small fish and crustaceans that live there.

18. The tide’s coming in at Washington Park and the sun is setting. It’s time to go home. Next time, it will be different.

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*The words, “Ever present, never twice the same” are inscribed on a granite marker that was part of an installation done in 1987 by the artist Robert Irwin at Wave Hill, a New York City public garden where I worked then. That phrase, along with “Ever changing, never less than whole” is also inscribed on stones in the Central Garden, designed by Irwin for the Getty Center in Los Angeles.

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65 comments

    • It’s good to hear from you, Ken, and thank you very much. So often, bright sunshine is difficult to work with (and so often who cares because we don’t get a lot of it!) but the strands of kelp cooperated. I guess it’s the dark color and a bit of processing magic. 🙂

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  1. Just like you, I have always felt the tides as the breath of Mother Earth.  And how I would like to stand barefoot in the mud and let my gaze wander through the quiet evening, which I imagine as in the second picture.  A picture of peace as if there were nothing else in the world, sheer happiness.
    I find the three photos of the winged kelp extremely beautiful, rich in contrast and yet not hard, fantastic how they reflect the sky and light and almost lose themselves in the process.  You push the process to the extreme with the enlargement and photo editing, great job!  In picture 7 and 8, nature immediately writes you a letter of thanks.
    The sea anemone is like a fairy tale… you weren’t in the salt water with your camera, were you!? I also find the seaweeds impressive.  You’ll always find new subjects or new ways of photographing familiar subjects.  This also applies to your pictures: “… never twice the same…”

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    • How I would like to have you here, Ule. It’s not always so quiet right now at Bowman Bay but most of the year, you can count on a peaceful time there. And being by the water brings exactly that kind of feeling you describe – as if there were nothing else in the world. It’s good. The kelp really surprised me that day. I was delighted to work with it – something new. I see a different kind of kelp all the time but this one, lying flat and still wet like that, was new to me. They actually didn’t require much processing.
      Your poetic “nature immediately writes you a letter of thanks” comment makes me smile. Thank YOU.
      The anemone was in very shallow water surrounded by rocks. I just had to kneel on the rocks (ouch!) and point the macro lens at it. Next time I’ll consider adding a polarizing filter but without one, I think the softness is retained. I do always find new things, thanks to nature. Thank you for being here.

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  2. Many delightful surprises in this set, Lynn. I immediately imagined the rocks in the log in print on a wall. Your eye for color, patterns and textures is so refined. I lingered over each one- the anemone! And your narrative about the tides and “seeing” is an enjoyable read. Great quotes, too. Thanks!

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  3. What a beautiful set, Lynn! I’m dying to get over there – for living in a coastal state, I don’t see enough tidepools. The winged kelp closeups and the dry seaweed on the rock are especially magical!

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    • Well, for living in a mountainous state I don’t see enough mountains. It’s great to hear from you and I do hope you’ll get over here before too long. Thanks very much for the comment!

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  4. “the visually curious” – I like that…

    Another very beautiful collection, Lynn, with the usual though-provoking commentary.

    The play of light on that kelp is simply gorgeous and you have captured it wonderfully.

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  5. Lovely words in the inscriptions. Thanks for citing their origins. The kelp reflecting the sky images are fascinating. I absolutely love the rock ‘collection’ caught in the driftwood. That’s always one of my favorite things to come across on the shore, is the random collections of things caught in rock or wood indentations. Sometimes root balls from fallen trees along the river have similar collections that catch my eye. 14. made me wonder if you picked up the ‘tiny’ stone to confirm it was small? Something about the erosion pattern makes me think it might be larger and heavily anchored. Would it have tumbled away before making such a wide and deep pattern if it were tiny? If you didn’t pick it up, then I guess we’ll never know for certain. 😉

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    • I’m not surprised that you’ve fixated on the things that get tossed into crevasses, too. Another nice thing about root balls is when they grow their own gardens in the woods. #14 was very small but the photo makes it look bigger. I didn’t touch it – it was too precious there. And now the photo acts as an optical illusion for my eyes with the stone looking tall, then deep. Hope that makes sense. Typing fast before going to PT. But yes, it was tiny and I think those “moats” can happen on very gradually sloping beaches where the water takes its time receding. Just a theory. Enjoy the weekend! Hope it’s not too hot for you!

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  6. I’m always impressed by the textures and colors you extract from what would seem mundane to the average Joe or Jane wandering down the coast. I think it especially helps to get up close and personal.

    Our dive club will be up there in a couple of weeks. It’s been too long…

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    • Wow, great to hear you’ll be up here for a dive or two. Let me know if it’s Deception Pass and maybe I can stop by and watch you all go in. That would be cool. Too bad you’ll miss our local star elephant seal. She was last seen lounging on the beach at Bowman Bay yesterday evening and can’t be found this morning. She finished her molt and may have gone back out to the Pacific to gorge on delicacies 1000′ under the surface for the next six months or so.
      Getting close is a big part of it, and also being endlessly curious. Thanks, Dave, have a good weekend!

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      • We will be staying at Deception Pass park, but we don’t actually dive there. One of our members has a boat, and we typically motor to and dive off of James Island, just east of Decatur Island. I don’t know if I’ve seen a wild elephant seal up close. I’ll mention it to the guys as Bowman is only a little out of the way to James.

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        • Yes, James Island, that sounds great. I’ve heard about the marine park. It’s highly unlikely that she’ll be around here for more than a few more days. Once they leave the land they head far out to sea, diving very deep, staying under a long time, and coming up only for a few minutes at a time. On Race Rocks off Vancouver Is. (across from Port Angeles), there is a small, active colony of them and at any point in time, they may have one or more on land. But that’s kind of out of your way!

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    • I wish it could be in person, Petra, I’m sure that would be a lot of fun. But it’s wonderful that we have this virtual world where we can share our lives. Thanks for stopping by and commenting – and enjoy your weekend!

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    • Yes, I mean, Oui! 🙂 I’m glad you’ll be traveling east to the coast. I always wanted to see Nova Scotia when I lived in NYC but I didn’t get there. Enjoy it! And thank you very much.

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  7. I love the way you describe the tides “Tides are like the earth breathing in and out…” and your photos and descriptions of mood and place do the same for us as we view the scenes you describe. The simple things that lie upon a beach are enhanced when being able to see what the low tide uncovers, and you introduce us to this magical world of the PNW. Wishing you a wonderful summer ahead.

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    • I wish you a wonderful summer, too. It is indeed a magical place, as you know firsthand. Lately, I’ve been involved with a seal-sitting group of volunteers here. We have a Northern elephant seal that uses Fidalgo Island as her preferred molting place. It takes well over a month for her to lose all her skin & fur, then regains her energy to go back out to sea to eat for six months. They’re amazing creatures – most are off the California coast but a handful of them call Puget Sound home when they come to land. It’s been interesting to interact with all the curious people who come to see her or just happen upon her. I hope you’re busy too, but not TOO busy!

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      • What a fascinating group to be involved with ~ I love seeing the seals down in California and nice to know I can catch our very own up here 🙂 You’ve got such an incredible connection to this area, it is very inspiring and it shows in your work 🙂

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  8. A rich and wonderful post Lynn! I also love the way you’ve described the shorelines, I really felt the breath in your writing. I love the idea of the waves rolling out and creating new pictures from all they carry…nature’s etch-a-sketch 😊 ”Ever present, never twice the same” – love that too – a really intriguing quality of some things that I feel now compelled to mull over!

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    • Comments from you are highly appreciated Cath. The Etch-a-sketch idea is a good one! 🙂
      I always loved the quoted phrase from Robert Irwin. It was carved into a flat stone which was set into the ground near a woodland path at the public garden where I worked in the 1980s. He was having a show there. It was mostly an ethereal installation investigating perception, inside an old house on the property. He’s a fascinating artist. His work isn’t juicy, it’s rather abstract. If you can go with that, his ideas and explorations are really worth looking into.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Irwin_(artist)
      (I noticed this Wiki article misquotes the “ever present” phrase but hopefully most of the information is correct.)
      Thank you!

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  9. You have such a great eye for noticing things, Lynn. So much of interest in these images. I’d love to live in such a place with endless interest possibilities. Maybe it’s just that the “grass is greener” on the other side of the country. 🙂 I loved the acorn barnacles on the mussel shell among others.

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    • The thing about tides is that they can be counted on to bring changes. And living here, it’s a treat to have a choice each day between going to the forest or shore. That little mussel shell with the barnacles is one of my favorites – I’m glad you like it. A woman I know does tide pool education on summer weekends at one of the parks here. She has a big case full of samples she’s collected over the years that she sets out on a picnic table. Among them is a mussel shell with the same kind of barnacle on it. 🙂 I guess those barnacles like attaching themselves to mussel shells. 🙂

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  10. Nature is making art all the time, but combined with your eye for art, it gets even more beautiful. Many of your photos could hang on a wall in a gallery. I wanted to write the numbers down, but there are too many 🙂 The Kelp is crazy. It looks like cloth, wow. These colors and forms. I looked for it and the “leaves” are really interesting. Your views are wonderful! The water together with the leaves look like oil, like oil in a puddle one can see in the streets sometimes. I am sure you know what I mean. The first picture is wonderful, the shell, the stones in the log and the Eelgrass too. And the seaweeds. One of my favourite is this translucent Anemone! So beautiful this kind of shining. And how nice that you could see the goose again.
    It is interesting to read that about the tides. Such differences, that is amazing. I once lived on an island for a while, but I never knew something about the tides I have to admit, naughty me 😉 It is exciting how all works together. And it offers you so many more possibilities. I feel that you have been very resting in yourself while making these pictures. It is all very mindful. I love it!!!

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    • Your enthusiasm makes me happy. The way those pieces of kelp reflected the light was really unusual. I expected to find nice patterns in the sand that day but there weren’t any – then I saw the kelp and wondered if it would be possible to photograph it. I don’t usually see that kind. Yes, like oil on water in a puddle. But nicer. 😉 The anemone was unusual, too. We’re supposed to have more days of super-low tides during daylight hours this month around the full moon – maybe I will see more then. I remember that you lived on an island but you were busy with other things then, right? What you say about resting in oneself is really lovely. If I can convey that, I have succeeded. 🙂 Thank you! Have a good weekend –

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      • I had a clue that this kelp looked different to the others you showed before, but I wasn’t sure. I like the form of the leaves. I hope you will find more of these anemones or other nice findings. The anemones are so special! I would like to go with you along the coast now 🙂 I wish you a pleasant day. I hope the weather is nice in your place now?!

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  11. I know you didn’t reposition the driftwood in #1, but what a nice composition you made of it. Those pieces look like they’ve been drifting for some time; love their rounded shapes. There’s so much to like about #2. The GBH is an unexpected addition to an already interesting photograph. I like those little puckers of drier sand in the extreme foreground. And the grey, blue and almost-pinks are wonderful. I enjoy the contrast between the warm and warm-color wood and the cold and cold-color stones of #3. The way you have photographed the winged kelp makes it look like part of a gorgeous satin gown. (But I’ll take your kelp to the gown any day.) Love the haze in #9. I don’t know what to say about #12 except ooooooooo. Only you would see this anemone this way. The drying seaweed in #13 could be the living rock’s veins. In #14 your attention to detail is exquisite. Low tides and dry river beds are so much fun for what they show of an otherwise hidden world. Thank you for showing us these.

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    • The driftwood in the first photo looked good from another angle, too – I had to choose which photo to use. That’s a nice problem to have, right? Thanks for noticing all the aspects of #2 – another lucky view at Bowman Bay. It’s so nice to be there at the end of the day. #12 was fun to process – backing off on the clarity, etc. I’m glad you like it. I look at it and want an opportunity to try again with a smaller aperture, maybe get more in focus but keep it all soft. We’ll see. I never thought low tide could be like a dry riverbed, that’s very cool! Yes! Wouldn’t it be interesting to go back and forth between the two, if you could find a place where they were close enough to make that easy? THanks Linda! Enjoy the weekend!

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    • It’s good to see you here, Jann, thank you! There really are wonders around every corner, at our feet, everywhere. (But I miss one special wonder, EM!) I hope you’ll consider posting on WP at some point. Sorry, couldn’t resist nudging you. 😉

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  12. Too perfect: “Delighting the eyes of toddlers and photographers”
    12. took my breath away! So sensual.

    ​Thanks for this visit to your haven. What would life be without beaches! I’ve been remiss. ​

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  13. Hi Lynn. We have been on a holiday in Drenthe; in the North-East of the Netherlands, for three weeks. We had a good time biking, walking and shooting around there. Unfortunately my left knee started to hurt 4 days before the end of our trip. Inflamed tendon probably due to overload.. which is unfair to a postman.. 🙂 Too bad. Still not able to start working. So I am a little behind with my blog habits. But as my appreciation for you and your work goes beyond time and place, that can’t possibly be a problem.. 😀 Great blogpost, walk and shots. I love nr2! See you!

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    • You Europeans and your 3-week vacations! Just kidding. 😉 I’m glad it was mostly good but what a drag that you messed up your knee. Ouch, knees are hard to deal with when they hurt. I hope it’s almost all better now.
      What a good comment about appreciating work…beyond time and place…nice one! 😉
      Glad you enjoyed the post and I might not have imagined the Dutch jury going for that evening beach scene. Thanks!

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    • The small beach where #3 was made seems to have the best “cobbles” around – lots of color. Exploring what the tide left has become a favorite pastime – it’s very relaxing.
      Thanks for your thoughts, Denise!

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