Thursday, December 29, 2011

A late December walk

'Turn away no more;
Why wilt thou turn away
The starry floor,
The watery shore,
Is given thee till the break of day.'

Today is the last day of the darkest two weeks of the year, the shadows stretched long on the beach like languid lovers unaware of the long darkness just hours away.

Leslie and I, shadows of each other, walked along the edge of the ocean, gathering whirly whelk skeletons tossed up by the tide. They look harmless enough, and are lovely enough to be our state shell. When alive, though, they tore at the insides of clams and oysters, slicing away at living flesh, as utterly cruel as anything, and everything, carnivorous.

I wandered over to the bay side, to see what I could see, and to feel what I could feel. It's late December, and I need light.

The beach is littered with dying comb jellies glinting like diamonds in the long light of the sun. Hundreds lie like lenses, highlighting the grains of sand that mark their morgues.

Crabs stare vacantly at their scattered parts, a few limbs here, a few more there, the sand pocked by the webbed prints of their murderers. Every calorie is precious now.

I see now what I fail to notice in summer--the delicate array of white dots outlining the dead crab's carapace, the ornate ridging of its body, the shadows cast by the undulating shell.

Every crab I saw today was dead. I saw a dead gull, a dead menhaden, a few dead horseshoe crabs, and hundreds of dying comb jellies.

The gulls barely moved to get out of the way. The sun has left us, the cost of useful energy is steep. The sunlight is useful for sight, but not much more now.

The few horseshoe crab shells look like they could walk back into the bay, their compound eyes seem to watch everything happening around them, Lazareths of the Sea.

They, too, are dead, their pointed armor useless now, allowing the weak winter light to penetrate.
The sun holds still in the south now. Soon it will creep northward again, bringing with it the unimaginably alive late spring beach, where the dying are ignored.

The last few moments of my walk I saw a fly on a jetty, a spirited reminder of the springs to come.

Now, though, the beach belongs to the dead, who will own all of us eventually, and despite the ragged edges, the broken bodies, the rank smell of decomposing flesh, the beauty of the beach will not allow me to turn away.

All photos taken today, North Cape May, along my favorite bay.

1 comment:

lucychili said...

it is hot with sometimes a whisper of rain. unusual. but this is a gentle summer. beans twist their fingers around anything they can reach, pumpkins too imagine they might climb. bees harvest the salvia and strawberries ripen, small treasures amongst the green. your sun is busy on vacation, but will have her bags packed in a few weeks. strangely enough here the summer is the season which is most harsh and full of endings and hardship. searing heat and dessication are more fearsome than any damp threat our winter can make. such a fine balance isn't it. such a delicate and intricate dance.