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The Seashore

Over the Dunes


Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Fayetteville, Arkansas

The sea is less joy, more melancholy — if one's mind is set in granite, one's sandaled feet tangled in strings of golden sargassum, one's countenance pensive and solitary.

Some resisted.
Others yielded.
The pressures exerted by The Outsiders were continuous.

Look!  He sleeps between the dunes and the waves.  A dog is his sole companion.  Scallop shells hang like pendants from the nape of his worn spirit.

A watcher in the gallery stands and shouts:  We desire a travelogue!  Tell us the names of things, the best places to dine and sleep, how much money we shall need to spend at the special attractions.

— Let's face it,
enjoins the ghostly guardian, Oksob de Opposite, rousing from long slumber in the Opposite Loft.  Our man is ill-equipped to follow a familiar line, unwilling to slay the gliding albatross. The vagaries of style and The Dissolution send him elsewhere, to philosophy and poetics, to intentional obfuscation. He is mired in a perpetual slough of rebellion.

Nonetheless, he rode the free ferry at Aransas Pass, found the National Seashore in the southerly regions of Texas. 

On the beach are the waves, and currents in the gulf, and tides that rise 'n fall.  Each natural event, occurring in its secluded way, is modest and subtle.

And winds, too, blowing stout and steady.  Some of the educated observers tell us that the winds have blown for many thousands of years to build-up the island.  And the dunes, they move!  Sometimes an inch or two between sunsets.  Were you patient enough, and focused like a falcon on the hunt, and willing to believe, you could sit in your solitude and watch the procession creep with the winds — if your bearings were sound and your viewpoint secure. 

The waves are ceaseless, a solace of sound, washing with a soothing sameness through all the night, water and salt on sand, aqua and sodium on quartz, the wind along the seashore.

It was his story.  We'll call him Bosko, an unreal name for a man who becomes a character.  He is the wayfarer who is shouted at by the watcher, the fallen innocent under protection of Oksob, the hermit with a lantern whose beams are not bright enough to allow a reading of the lines of the tale.

It was sorta like this at the Padre Island National Seashore.

Bosko parked the vehicle on a firm spot on the narrow beach.  The sun would be falling behind the dunes within the hour.  He had come to stay awhile, the dog and me.  He couldn't stay grounded in time, couldn't get his nouns and pronouns straight, couldn't find a consistent point of view.  The road was too weary and long behind him.

He slipped the gear into second, turned off the motor, and let out the clutch.  The sounds of sea and the stiff wind began to wash away the world he'd left behind. 

The first illusion appeared. It was the notion that his world could be left behind.  First off, there is not one world, then another and different world, no multiple and parallel universes, nothing to leave behind but the moment passed and the memories, invisible beyond a receding horizon. 

But we can't leave it there, dangling in the negation, the what not it is, without the antithesis, the affirmation.  It is the sea, and the seashore, and the dunes, and the long and narrow barrier island, stretching ahead of him, the maps show, for a hundred and ten thin miles along the Gulf of Mexico.

O, if only I could go there, to the tip end, all the way to the far-away side of the open sea.  There he might see the man called No Name, who lives on a beach with a thousand shells, and he might watch the thirsty turtles crawl from the briny deep, and the ghostly crabs scuttle 'neath the moon.

Everything else was behind him and embedded in the Grand Illusion.

Bosko was bone weary from the hard-driven Texas road, and so many consecutive and mysterious nights of short sleep, and the letting down of facades, the lowering of shields to ward off blows from The Others — so long-gone tired that he wanted to sleep beside the indifferent sea on the lonely seashore, and then sleep, and sleep some more in irreverence to time's sharp arrows.

Parked on level shore about halfway between the breaking waves and the foredune ridge on a beach sixty, maybe seventy yards wide, the vehicle became his hostel.  Bosko stretched out among the blankets and pillows he had taken from the sanctuary, then pulled the sleeping bag over him.  The dog named Buck snuggled at his feet.  Splashing, rolling waves sounded through the open windows of the land rover.  And the cool, moist, salty breeze blew loud enough to squelch the ringing in his damaged ears.

When he awoke it was a Saturday, first rays of sun after a thick gray dawn sky, and a long walk with Buck along the beach with the many birds — long-legged willets dashing to and fro at the edge of the waves, laughing gulls and cormorants in formation above the dry dunes and wet sand, black-headed coots bobbing in the foamy swell.  He watched Buck taste the sea, test the momentum of the waves.  The water splashed soft and cool over his feet.

The sand is a pale, paler brown, the dunes dark sienna with patches of light green and darker clumps of wintering vegetation.  The sky is a misty bluish gray. 

By noon the sunshine had faded away.  Having never fully established its presence, managing only to peek through uneven breaks in the low clouds, the shining sun became a hidden thing.  The dull light seemed to fit the moment, which Bosko perceived as everlasting and beyond the count.  From it he wanted to take away something of value beyond self, and glean a thought he could share. 

That, this, here, there, the fifteenth day of the month, the twenty-second — he bemoaned the futility of time and timeframes, how they rake and howl against the sanctity of the narrative.  He is no more capable of the travelogue than the crow is capable of the songbird's sweet melody.  He could not, tried and true, move from point a to point b in a straight line.  His schedule was short of hours.

Last night's dreams brought to surface many fine fragments of thought, but as typical, he had forgotten them not very long after awakening.  In their stead arose the commonplace, all that had been said and written so oft before — that he enjoyed watching the sea birds hunt at the water's edge and fly in formation above the dunes, that the raw seashore brought forth a familiar meditation on man's place in the natural world, that solitude by the sea is a wondrous thing, and that he finds comfort in the constant song of the waves, comfort in the salty breeze on his lips and brow. 

He wanted to connect his simple experience to the greater realm of US ALL, to make a series of profound and original observations, but not a single one came to mind.  Society was not so far behind him, its leading edge a numbered highway beginning only a few miles north along the beach, but society was not touching him here.  Maybe that is why we citizens have our national seashore, a semi-sacred place kept free of commercial development by the better apparatus of the nation. 

Not too far into the layered memories, not too deep behind the mind's eye, he could see and hear the traffic jams and raging souls in Austin, Waco, Dallas. 

The seashore gave, graciously, a valid point for comparison and contrast.  It's not so emotionally gripping in the wilds, not so poised on the edge of drama.

Little Buck asleep on the sand, one side of his head touching the earth.  A family, man and woman, two boy childs, a dog, walk along the feet of the dunes.  One of the boys is shouting as he dashes ahead, brandishing his gleaming pirate's sword, thrusting it forward like a beacon.  The little hound is on a leash.  Eventually the family disappears into the misty distance.

Bosko decides to stay another night after sleeping away most of the afternoon.  The winds roar strong and steady from the north, cooling the sweet air.  He is tryin' to place his life path into a malleable context.

Late in the afternoon, twilight closeby, Bosko strolled again with Buck a good ways to the south, first along the dunes, then along the edge of the waves.  Buck was lively and curious, venturing, now and then, further out into the surf.  Birds dashed and scurried on foot beside the waves, then lifted off to fly into the breeze. Golden brown sargassum kelp lay in twisty clumps on the wet sand.  The cold brine licked Bosko's pale white legs.  What a primitive scene!  He looked to his right to watch Buck lope toward the undulating and shifting domain of the dunes.  The mounds of mostly sand rise ten, twenty feet above the beach, then dip to form a shallow field before rising again, higher and greater, to create the horizon. 

At sunset Bosko fell asleep again.  After sleeping for some hours, he awoke to see stars.  To Buck he gave a biscuit.  The wind had lessened to a whisper.  He wanted to crawl from the cocoon to step outside onto the cool sand and gaze upon the dome of the countless shiny stars.  Experience on the channel cliffs of England reminded him that the starry night on a beach shorn of artificial light would be special like crystals, like beauty, like old night. 

But he was weary, so weary, and the waves with their whispers and soft incantations invited him to sleep.  So he did.  When he awoke 'round midnight the stars were hidden by cloud, and the wind roared again.  Bosko lifted his head to look toward the sea.  The waves glowed with pale bluish-green threads of bioluminescence.  He was pleased. 

by the sea by the sea by the sea
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The sea
is calm tonight.
The tide is full,
the moon
lies fair
Upon the straits — on the
French coast
the light
and is gone;
the cliffs
of England stand,
and vast,
out in the
tranquil bay.
to the window, sweet is
the night air!
from the long line of spray
the sea meets
moon-blanched land,
You hear
the grating roar
Of pebbles
which the waves
draw back,
and fling,
At their return,
up the high strand,
and cease,
and then
again begin
With tremulous
cadence slow,
and bring
The eternal note
of sadness in.

Matthew Arnold
Dover Beach, 1851

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