Sixteen days after my mother died—almost two years ago—I drove to her favorite beach on the Olympic Peninsula. At the mouth of Kalaloch Creek, where it flows into the Pacific below the cabins where she and my father often stayed, the sand was covered with dozens of creatures in rows, the likes of which I had never seen. They looked like opened razor clams with translucent sails, as if the membrane inside the shell had peeled away, and the electric blue pigment drained into the sand, like so much blue blood.
I searched the internet when I got home, and asked for information via Facebook and my blog. Nothing.
At the suggestion of a friend, I’m reading Holdfast: At Home in the Natural World, by Kathleen Dean Moore. It’s a lovely book, the kind that makes you glad there are people in the world who can write so beautifully. My mother would have loved it and I’m sorry I didn’t know about it to read it to her. On page eight:
“I walked to the beach to see what the storm tide had left behind.
Windrows of by-the-wind sailors.”
I knew immediately that was what I had seen that day on the beach. I Googled it and confirmed. They were jellyfish! Or at least relatives. Velella velella. Blown onto the beach by a storm that steered them off-course to their doom. They were dried up, giving their formerly gelatinous bodies an appearance that looked more shell-like to me, or at least not jellyfish-like.
I have not seen them again since that day, despite many trips to the beach. That they appeared at one of my mother’s favorite places, two weeks after her death, her blood poured out into the sand, her sail unfurled, is wonder and mystery. (Watch a lovely video here.)
My hummingbird feeder has needed fresh syrup for weeks, and I keep forgetting to make it. The hummers stopped coming to check on it long ago. How is it that when I finally refill it, they know to come back within hours?
And isn’t it a wonder that birds can stay alive when it takes so much work to get dinner, and create precision art at the same time?
I finally hired someone to prune my two apple trees. It hasn’t been done for years, and they were not done correctly then—perhaps they have never been cared for professionally—and they were a mess. Bob didn’t just cut the sprouts and horns, he cut the center out of the tree and determined which branches and shoots to leave to give the strongest chance of healthy growth and production as well as form the nicest shape. They probably won’t produce much this year—and the transparent perhaps never will, shaded as it is by a large cedar—but they will look so much better. When they do produce, the apples will mostly be within reach of the deer. “You need a fence,” Bob said. Uh, no.
Speaking of fences, I need the straightest water sprouts, as well as long viney twigs, to rebuild my garden fence in the meadow. Back when Dan pruned the trees in 2013, I built my fence from the trimmings. Now they are dry and breaking, and last summer the deer figured that out and got into the enclosure. So I offered to do the clean-up; which, it turns out, Bob doesn’t do anyway.
When I went down the slope to the trees after the pruning was done last week, I was shocked. So. Much. Debris. I wanted to sit down and cry. Can it just be January still, when it rains and I can sit by the fire? But I have learned from living on this property to take the big jobs one bit at a time and not to look too far ahead. I limited myself to 90 minute sessions of sawing, lopping, and piling. Then 30 minutes or so to carry armloads up the bank to my dad’s heavy old wheelbarrow (I probably should have fixed the wheel on the light weight one that fell off—again—when the bolt fell out last fall), pushing the barrow up the hill to the driveway, then up the driveway to the pile for pick up some month in the future.
(I will need to remember the lessons of yard work when I get back to my memoir. The manuscript was returned from the editor last week. Don’t look too far ahead; take it bit by bit.)
Being out in the sun and the air, reminds me that I do look forward to spring in spite of the work it brings. (I’ve scheduled a massage.)
Wednesday morning dawn broke to grey clouds—again—after rain during the night. The sky barely brightened when the sun came up. It was January gloomy. Then something astounding happened. Fog rolled in from nowhere and obliterated sky and valley in the time it took to take a breath. When it cleared moments later the sun was brighter, the clouds were whiter and layered over patches of blue. It was like the universe said, “Wait a minute. I want a do over.”
There is so much despair in the world right now, in this country. I feel a little guilty when, for a short while, I forget to be horrified, fearful, angered by the latest outrage from the president’s mouth, while COVID-19 races around the world. And then this on a blog I follow:
Is it possible to hold an awareness that much of our world is under siege while, at the same time, cultivating, nurturing, and expressing delight in its riches?…Perhaps our real challenge is to find a way to address everything that’s wrong while, at the same time, refusing to bow to either hatred or hopelessness. Katrina Kenison
“Despite everything, life is full of beauty and meaning.”
Etty Hillesum, concentration camp victim, An Interrupted Life
I’m contemplating another trip to Kalaloch; perhaps I will find by-the-wind sailors and call them by name, and be delighted by their beauty even in death.