The Pull of the Tides

The tide –

a grand uncanny:

water pulling back

and pushing forward,

water in transit as we transit,


the moon transits and

nothing is


still, is it?

2. The tide sucks water through the sand forming fine-branched crevasses: a genealogy of rock particles.


4. Different colored grains of sand come to rest at different places according to their weight and shape: a periodic table of sand.

6. Waves throw rocks into driftwood depressions; if they fit snugly, maybe they’ll be there for a fortnight or two.

7. The swish and crash of water carves driftwood into smoother and smoother forms; the wood is like tough muscles awaiting the next task.


11. A bed of Bull-whip kelp reveals the ebb and flow of the water: an EKG of tidal heartbeats.

12. A seaweed Mobius strip turns in and around itself, like the swirling eddies of water that left it here on the beach.

13. A sheen of moisture is left behind as a wave recedes. As soon as it appears, it evaporates. It can’t be grasped. Where is it?



Getting a little more concrete about the “Grand Uncanny”

Several times each day water is pulled back and forth by the mingling of lunar and solar gravitational forces with the earth’s rotation. Wind, weather and even the shape of the land can play a part in these complex liquid movements that we call tides.

The most common type of tidal cycles are semi-diurnal tides. These consist of two high tides of about the same height and two low tides, also about the same height, each day. Semi-diurnal tides occur on Europe’s Atlantic coast and on America’s Atlantic coast, where I first experienced the ocean as a young girl. Our family vacationed at my maternal grandparents’ home on a coastal barrier island every spring. There, I watched migrating birds, ghost crabs and coquina clams on wide, sandy beaches with the Atlantic as a backdrop. I took the regularity of the tides for granted. We planned activities around them, like walking way out to a spit of land only accessible at low tide, or going to the dock to catch Blue crabs with baited traps at high tide. If I was at the ocean it was the Atlantic, and understanding the tides was straightforward. I just needed to visualize the smooth oscillations of high and low tides on a tide chart and remember that the peaks and troughs would hit around 45 minutes later each day.

Then I moved to the West coast. Actually, I was far from the actual coast, which was a place to visit from time to time for a change of scenery. The pounding surf, beautiful blue-green water and mammoth logs littering the shores of Washington, Oregon and California took my breath away. Amid all that drama I paid no attention to the tides. Then we moved again, this time to a small island far from the Pacific ocean but surrounded by salt water thanks to its location near the end of a long strait that is so big it’s called the Salish Sea. Living here has prompted me to get to know the tides again, but I didn’t know how complex tidal cycles can be.

The tidal cycles here are called mixed semi-diurnal tides: there are two unequal low tides and two unequal high tides each day. There are higher high tides and lower high tides, and lower low tides and higher low tides. Did you get that? Apparently mixed tides are a West coast thing, occurring from Mexico to Alaska, along the Chilean coast and in some other locations. My (east coast native) partner likes to theorize about the congruence between left coast attitudes and left coast tides. I thought all tides were as regular as the semi-diurnal ones back on the east coast, but when I look at a local tide table I see irregular waves, with peaks and troughs that vary from deep to average to almost non-existent. Here’s an example: the tide chart for December 25th, 2019.

In addition to daily tidal cycles there are spring and neap tides, which occur everywhere but which, to my mind, might make predicting tides here even more challenging. Spring and neap tides are tidal changes (also called differentials) that are bigger or smaller, depending on the moon phase. At the new and full moon the earth, moon and sun line up and their gravitational pull increases, making high tides higher and low tides lower. At the quarter moons the gravitational pull is lessened, resulting in lower high tides and higher low tides. The upshot is that tide charts are essential around here, whether you’re going fishing, want an easier time getting your kayak in the water, or are looking for Geoducks.

If you read this far you know that much more can be said about that Grand Uncanny we call the tides. Maybe I’ll write again as I learn more. For now just remember: ebb and flow, ebb and flow, ebb and flow….

15. Mew gulls pick through tidal leavings along a Fidalgo Island beach on a quiet winter evening.


Local Walks: North Beach

Endless gray-green silk, swirling, swerving, circling waters.

The lapping of long, shallow waves, a heavy, dull sky above, sand collapsing underfoot.

Bundled in fleece and a long, soft scarf wrapped twice around my neck, I follow the easy hemline of the shore, delighting in the smooth expanse of khaki-colored sand, tide-scattered stones, and giant logs that look like they’re made for clambering.


1. North Beach, Deception Pass State Park, seen from the Deception Pass bridge.


It’s December. Tourists are just a memory, and right now, no boats fight the channel’s racing currents. A solitary loon fishes in the deeper water while mergansers keep company with golden-eyes and grebes closer in. A seal raises its head just long enough to satisfy curiosity, then sinks back down into the gray-green water.

Aloneness prevails, delicious aloneness….


2. Smooth rocks and colored sand reveal what gravity and water working together can do.

3. Looking down at the rock and log-strewn beach from the woodland trail.

4. The tides toss colorful stones onto worn driftwood logs, only to scatter them all over again.

5. December’s rain and mild temperatures are kind to living things, and tiny seedlings are popping up, even at this dark time of year.

Then March: a long month of rain and overcast skies. The first brilliant blooms of spring appear on the woodland trail that follows the shoreline.


6. Red-flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum) in flower, late March.

7. At the edge of the beach Siberian Spring beauty (Claytonia siberica) opens its delicate, five-petaled flowers.


On this Friday afternoon a few days into Spring, people are eager to get outdoors, even if the air feels cool and damp. I see two hikers ahead scrambling over the rocks. Theirs is the quiet joy of an older couple, people who have seen many seasons pass and still feel them deeply.


8. When the tide is in, a walk along North Beach requires that you climb over the rocky headlands or retreat into the woods.

10. The stories these rocks hold stories probably go back 150 million years.

11. Water, sand, rock, and wood are continuously changing, morphing into new forms and shuffling places.


May first. Under cerulean skies, a loon in bold breeding plumage forages in the channel, and I can tell that someone enjoyed themselves on this beach over the weekend.


12. A carefully constructed Calder-esque driftwood sculpture commands space on the beach today, but it is as temporary as the tides.



June. Clouds fill the sky, quickly give way to intense sunlight, then scoot back again. The sand is littered with footprints: human, canine, deer, crab. I start my walk at the west end of the beach, dodging waves and gratefully inhaling the fresh, clean air. Soon I’m focused on rocks – from shiny pebbles to a looming, dark cliff, their dense forms and subtle colors rivet me. Some are rough and riddled with fracture lines, others are polished smooth as an egg. So many different shapes, such power and strength, and yet the rocks are always changing, as water and weather have their way. The sculptural shapes and flat backgrounds lend themselves to playful processing – infrared, layers of different types of exposures, bold contrasts, delicate tones. The variety I reveled in at the beach has followed me home.



13. Most of the land visible from this beach is protected. Where there are houses, they mostly sit back and blend in, so the open view that our eyes and souls so badly need is preserved.

14. North Beach Rock, 1

15. North Beach Rock, 2

16. North Beach Rock, 3

17. North Beach Rock, 4

18. North Beach Rock, 5

19. North Beach Rock, 6


By the end of the afternoon the clouds have thickened, but the atmospheric unrest lingers in a procession of small clouds suspended over the Salish Sea. The Pacific Ocean lies far to the west, but its vastness is felt even here, in the salty taste of the water and the ceaseless permutations of tides and weather systems.


This is part of a series called “Local Walks” that describes and pictures just that – walks I have taken that aren’t far from home. This time I included photographs from four walks across three seasons in one location. Stay tuned to see where I wander next.


Water’s Edge: Whidbey Island

In my drafts folder there is an unfinished post with photographs taken in 2014, on Whidbey Island, Washington. I first visited Whidbey Island in October, 2011, on a fateful vacation that led to my relocating from New York City to the Pacific northwest. After moving to a suburb of Seattle in 2012, I began driving up to Whidbey and the surrounding area whenever I could, ultimately moving to neighboring Fidalgo island.

Now, on the heels of another trip to Whidbey last week, I’m going to move those photos out of the draft folder and into the light of day. I’ll include a few recent images, too.

That September day almost four years ago, a spectacular fog bank had settled in at my chosen destination, Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. The park, which preserves natural and historical points of interest, is named after an early settler, Colonel Isaac Neff Ebey, who claimed land here in the mid-nineteenth century and became the first white full-time resident. Of course, well before his arrival local tribes lived here; one of the tribes (the Swinomish) that inhabited the island is now based on a reservation a few minutes from my home on Fidalgo Island.

Almost exactly 161 years ago, Colonel Ebey was killed by people from the north (it is still disputed which tribe was responsible) whose leader, along with other tribe members, had been slayed by the US military. In an 1851 letter to his brother, Ebey had written that this beautiful place seemed,

“….almost a paradise of nature. Good land for cultivation is abundant on this island. I have taken a claim on it and am now living on the same in order to avail myself of the provisions of the Donation Law. If Rebecca, the children, and you all were here, I think I could live and die here content.”










The five photos above were taken on that foggy September day at Perego’s lagoon, a shallow body of water just above the high tide mark on the shore at Ebey’s Landing. In the top photo we’re looking south, with the beach on the right and the lagoon on the left. The windy beach, littered with giant driftwood logs, abuts the Salish Sea; the ocean is about a hundred miles to the west. This lagoon dries out in summer and the edges crack into plates of hard mud. Driftwood is everywhere, as are waving grasses, wildflowers, lichens and the wild edible called pickleweed, or sea beans (Salicornia pacifica), seen at the left edge of the photo below.









The two photos above of driftwood shelters were taken recently at Double Bluff State Park, about 23 miles south of Ebey’s Landing, on the same side of the island.  It was a rare (for summer) overcast day when we walked the beach at Double Bluff, making the trek easier for someone like me, who’s not a fan of full-on sun. After an hour or so a narrow crack appeared in the clouds far to the south, over Seattle. The changing light cast a soft glow on the sheet draped over one driftwood shelter. It seemed the epitome of casual elegance, and in my mind, it wouldn’t have been out of place in an architectural magazine.






Cloudy skies didn’t deter this cozy trio perched high on a huge glacial erratic. The boulder has likely been here for 13,000 years, since the last ice sheet retreated and left it behind, like an afterthought. In the photo above that, driftwood lies in a shallow depression on the beach. The driftwood’s swirling form, the dark shadows of fir trees, the pearly reflection of an overcast sky, and ghostly pieces of submerged wood all came together in a brooding composition that I photographed as I left the beach – sometimes, parting shots are good.

Below, A gull glides through thick fog at Ebey’s Landing.  Watching fog banks coalesce and dissolve is a good way to feel the wisdom in the saying, “The only thing that is constant is change.” (Heraclitus).  Sure enough, the fog cleared, revealing the simple form of a softly rounded bluff as it met the razor-straight horizon.







Note: Some of these photos appeared in an earlier post here.




Deception Pass State Park:

dramatic cliffs fall off into cold blue waters,

tiny cairns of smooth stones balanced on a stick

shine in the sun.

Songs of stone and water are sung here,

formed from universal elements

shaped to a particular place.

Songs of kayakers and anemones,

oystercatchers, kelp,

a single cloud.

Nearby on Whidbey Island,

a slim spit of land offers a mother lode

of driftwood,

and the beach becomes a sculpture garden.

Here songs of water and wood, of

silver grain and green blade,

open windows

to sky.

Standing high over the waters –

the Maiden of Deception Pass:


She kept her people from starving by marrying  a sea man. He had become enamored of her after watching her gathering food in the waters.  She merged with the sea, but walked back out to be with her people every year. (a Samish Indian story)

Carved from a cedar log and set firmly into the soil at Rosario Beach, she has weathered to the same silver white as the driftwood logs tossed by waves and piled on nearby shores.

The rough, wavy grain flows through her body


as the grain traces the twists of

log giants

on Ala Spit.