In a couple of days we will be leaving the darkest six weeks of the year behind us.
A northwest blow is going to remind us that even though the darkest days are behind us, we still have a cold couple of months staring at us.
Words shrink as the sunlight grows. Imbolc is still weeks away.
A few years ago in late January I watched a crow at the ferry jetty caw caw caw at a gull sharing a light post. The gull did not respond.
The crow swooped down to the pavement, picked up a piece of paper, then returned to its perch near the gull.
The crow carefully ripped up the paper, piece by piece, dropping each piece, one by one, watching each piece until it hit the ground, looking at the gull between pieces as if to say Hey!
When done, the crow cawed once more, and this time the gull squawked back. The crow, now seemingly satisfied, nodded, and then flew to a trash can and cawed at a few human folk, one of whom cawed back.
Our edge of the Delaware Bay is much like the edge of any bay, littered with life and its leftovers. High tide smells alive, and low tide carries the pungent sweet smell of decay.
The tide rises, the tide falls, twice a day, every day, as it has for millenia.
And for millenia, horseshoe crabs have ambled up to the edge of the bay in late spring to mate and lay eggs, thousands on our beaches laying millions upon millions upon millions of tiny green eggs.
The youngest are already nine years old, surviving against incredible odd; the eldest have been coming here for 30 years.
Many do not survive the orgy, and a whiff of their stinking carcasses in the afternoon light remind us, should we care to be reminded, of what awaits all of us.
But here, now, the beach seemingly emanating light as the sun settles below the bay’s edge, an early evening high tide coinciding with a rising plump moon, you smell the life churning in the waves as these ancient creatures rise up again, as they have long before the first humans walked along this bay, and likely will long after we have passed on.
Went clamming this morning–chilly dawn, quarter moon, and tame tide meant I may have burned as many calories as I raked up for dinner. But that’s not why I clam. After a week under fluorescent lights hearing folks reveal what they know to be true, I need to feel the back bay wash my over my feet to remind me what’s real, to feel my fingers become clumsy as a toddler’s as they grope into the mud to pull out another clam, to feel the human world of words dissolve in the chatter of geese and gulls. If you do not know what’s real, if your feet never (literally) touch the earth, then you will believe anything. And most of us do.
If you grew up in the States anywhere but a farm, chances are pretty good you learned of natural cycles through your church. While our dominant culture thrives on linear growth, most religions honor the cycles of life and death.
Science is the closest thing we have to true religion in public school these days, technology the furthest. Science seeks the mystery, technology exploits it. Very little science happens in schools.
We’re in the dark days now, and will be for some time. The dying sunlight reminds us, if we care to see, that all things fall apart. The sun has shifted, the shadows have lengthened, the cold darkness creeps in.
Delaware Bay in winter, North Cape May
If your child spends most of her waking hours either in school or in front of a screen, she will learn to live in a world without tides, without death, without the slow grace of our sun. She (like so many others) will fail to discern the natural world, the one we’re all tied to, from any of the multiple artificial universes available to her. Of all the Commandments, the wisest may be the first:
You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them.
What we see and smell gets down to molecules, which get down to mass/energy, which gets down to the unknowable. Science requires a basic faith in logic, in math, in entropy, in our senses, and ultimately a humbling recognition of our place in the universe. Science promises death.
School and the economy it now serves requires a disconnect from the natural world and ultimately a basic faith in what somebody else tells you. Our culture promises immortality.
Horseshoe crab spine, North Cape May
I’m going with death.
There are no standards or Commandments on a mudflat.