Does the Sea See Me?

from Pablo Neruda’s The Book of Questions, El Libro de las Preguntas.

“When I see the sea once more
will the sea have seen or not seen me?

Why do the waves ask me
the same questions I ask them?

And why do they strike the rock
with so much wasted passion?

Don’t they get tired of repeating
their declaration to the sand?”

Pablo Neruda, The Book of Questions

My daughter and her husband went to Tahiti a few weeks ago. They were celebrating their wedding anniversary. I was anxious about their trip as the Covid-19 Virus was at its peak there. They were both fully vaccinated, but even vaccinated people are contracting the virus. Thankfully, they are fine.

This was their first time in Tahiti. My daughter was good about keeping me in the loop by sending a daily photo or two of the tropical waters, so clear and warm. They stayed in a little hut at the end of a short pier. They walked down a few steps and they were in the water. One day, my daughter, Annette, sat on a chair with her feet in the water. For two hours, she watched two fish build their nest. They swam below, scooped up sand and gravel and swam upwards to deposit it in the nest. Two hours, it took them and my daughter sat there, mesmerized, watching them.

She said, “Afterwards, I didn’t want to wade in the water. I didn’t want to tread on anyone’s nest.”

She did go snorkeling with her husband, once. There are sharks in these waters and although there have been no recent attacks, Annette was a bit nervous. What might swim out from behind a reef? Regardless, she got into the spirit of what it was to be on this island. After her return to the States, we talked on the phone. In describing the impact of her trip…

“Mom,
I was the island
I was the water
I was the fish
I was the sky
I was the earth”

She said that she felt sensory overwhelm…that there were fish the colors of which she had no name. The whole energy of the island touched her in a way that she hadn’t expected and couldn’t explain. She cried a lot, she felt elated, she was in awe.
She said “There is a whole civilization under the sea. We have no idea.”

****
I told her “Now, you are an advocate for the ocean, one of its protectors.”

I sent her a copy of Rachel Carson’s book, The Sea Around Us. Here’s a quote from Carson’s book:

“Eventually man, too, found his way back to the sea. Standing on its shores, he must have looked out upon it with wonder and curiosity, compounded with an unconscious recognition of his lineage. He could not physically re-enter the ocean as the seals and whales had done. But over the centuries, with all the skill and ingenuity and reasoning powers of his mind, he has sought to explore and investigate even its most remote parts, so that he might re-enter it mentally and imaginatively.”

― Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us

****
We do have a romance with the ocean. As Neruda queries whether or not the sea sees him, generally, humans seem to be ignorant as to what the ocean provides besides fish. We have neither fully realized nor protected the ocean’s necessary ecology for our planet earth. Humans continue to use the ocean as a dumpsite for our waste. And as we know, plastics and other non-biodegradable wastes are harming life under the sea. We are a very egocentric breed who considers that everything is here for our use or misuse. We lack gratitude and a sense of reciprocity. Perhaps, there is more environmental awareness being taught in our education system, but we’re slow to evolve our ways of using the earth.

“…The ocean produces over half of the world’s oxygen and absorbs 50 times more carbon dioxide than our atmosphere. Climate regulation: Covering 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, the ocean transports heat from the equator to the poles, regulating our climate and weather patterns…”

from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Pablo Neruda had his questions, you probably have yours and I certainly have my own. Why is it so difficult for humans to connect the dots of our existence on earth. This interdependency?

Seal is too a Power Animal!

The seal as a power animal is both a land animal and a sea animal, symbolizing adaptability to the water and earth elements. Seal Energy taps into the intuitive while helping you to stay grounded. Some of the other qualities that it represents are playfulness, protection, imagination, strength, good luck, dreams and movement.

****
My brother said that this seal looks “somber.” He added “…but who wouldn’t be with one’s habitat being destroyed and population dwindling.”

I told him that if he could see her in person he might think that she embodies power.

“The canvas is 24-inchesx24-inches,” I replied

He texted back, “Yes, I might have misspoken by using the word somber–maybe defiant (which could imply power) would be a better adjective.”

I texted back: “Interesting. I posted the photo on my artist page on Facebook. A friend wrote back: “He is so cute. He looks like he came out of a child’s story book. Beautifully done.”

I guess it is in how one sees it.

I didn’t plan to paint a seal. I didn’t plan to paint an animal. I mostly paint intuitively. I painted what emerged from the canvas and today, it is this seal.

I grew up by the ocean in San Francisco, CA. There was a big rock that we called Seal Rock because that’s where the seals loitered. There was a coin-operated tower viewer through which we could watch the seals as they clambered over the rock, as the waves dashed the rock, as the fog drifted in over the rock and hid it all from our sight.

According to Wikipedia

Seal Rock (or Seal Rocks) is a group of small rock formation islands in the Lands End area of the Outer Richmond District in western San Francisco, California. They are located just offshore in the Pacific Ocean, at the north end of the Ocean Beach, near the Cliff House and Sutro Baths ruins.”

As I type these words from Wikipedia, a nostalgia washes over me like a soft salty ocean wave. And then drifts across the sand into ocean’s memory. I knew these places and like the seals we grew up beside, we took them for granted. It’s often in memory that things take on a lovely patina and sometimes we linger there over the words and the images that they conjure. Lands End, Sutro Baths, Cliff House, Ocean Beach, Seal Rock–all in my backyard as we lived four blocks from Ocean Beach and The Great Highway that ran the length of the beach from the Sunset through the Richmond District. We rarely could see sunsets in the Sunset District. The fog was so thick! The foghorns played our nightly and daily lullaby.

We weren’t allowed to go to the beach on our own. As I got older, I got permission to take my younger siblings there. We walked from Moraga Street, crossed Lawton, Kirkham, then Judah where the streetcars ran. We turned down the street from 44th Avenue to 48th Avenue. At Judah and 48th, there was a tunnel which ran under the Great Highway. We ran through the tunnel, screaming, our voices echoing. The tunnel smelled of urine and the ocean. We probably ran and screamed to chase off any unsavory characters who might be lurking nearby. And then, like a light at the end of life’s tunnel, there was the ocean big, bold and vast. We were so small beside her.

When I was a young mom, I used to take my daughters to Ocean Beach and we’d sit on a cement wall gazing out to sea having our hot chocolate in thermoses with doughnuts. We would sit beside the mesmerizing ocean. The constancy of the waves, the intrusion of the foghorns, the taste of salt on our lips mixing with the bittersweet chocolate. People of all ages and sizes bundled against the cold, running, walking their dogs, walking with a companion or alone. I never really felt alone when I walked solo beside the ocean. I considered the ocean like a mother to me. Familiar and all-embracing.

Memories…a friend is writing her memoir. Mine would be wrapped in sea salt, waves, barking seals, my siblings, fog, and yearning.

This painting of a seal has taken me back in time and conjured up these memories.

She’s on her own

You pay more for a room with a view. This is a commonly known fact. As if the view would not exist without the room faceted just so. This enables the proprietor of the Crest Motel to charge $50.00 more per night than for a view-less room facing the parking lot and highway. I begrudgingly admit that it is special. A tanker or barge or a large vessel, not know by name to a landlubber like myself, passes through the channel. Three black crows preceded by their barking caws swoop down, fanning their wings with a sudden shudder and then pulling them in tight to their shiny black bodies.

I like vistas such as this; they make me want to cry. The view is accompanied by the soothing sound effects of the constant ocean. I know the ocean mostly from the shore. I called her mother when I was in the womb. I grew up five blocks above the Great Highway in San Francisco, beyond which the ocean stretched as far you could see.

An impatience lays upon me as I sit in the chair in this room with a view, writing. I must go down and sit outside in a chair overlooking the sea–the chair the three crows occupy. My coming chases the raggedy crows away as their calls remain overhead. A bridge stretches across a broad expanse of bay. From this distance the glint of a car crosses from one side of the bridge to the other. The manmade landmarks are foreign to me, but not the sea.

It is both sad and strange to travel alone. And, I have to admit, I feel slightly depressed. Most of my life, I held someone’s hand–a sibling’s, rarely a parent’s; infrequently, a spouse’s hand, often, my daughters’; sometimes a boyfriend’s, now my own. Keeping my own company. The bird chatter sounding like a slightly squeaking brake, the wind rustling the coastal trees, the silent bay and the noisy highway together create an oddly restful ambience.

I could explore. I could go to the office and get directions to a path which would take me onto the beach or out to the breakwater wall, perhaps. Movement, physical movement, often helps to shift sadness. I’m curious. It looks like one could walk down there and be right beside the water. I have a plan.

The desk clerk in the office tells me that there is no trail down to the beach. She directs me to the river trail. I can catch it behind the Safeway parking lot. “It’s really nice,” she says, “it’s all paved.” She doesn’t know that I prefer the feel of the cushy earth to unyielding pavement. I thank her.

The fog begins to roll inland with a certainty, hiding the small mountain range on the opposite shore and the longest bridge. I must go before I disappear as well.

Later: Everything is an adventure or at least something to write about. Like the discovery that this is not the ocean that I’ve been looking at and writing about. This is the Columbia River! And it’s huge, like an ocean! The fountain in the center of the courtyard below has colored lights in the bottom of a scant pool which splashes colors up though the now-dribbling water. The river trail was paved as foretold, a small trolley ran beside it for those who didn’t want to walk, jog or bike ride. It’s 7:35 in the evening now. The sun is making a slow descent in the west. It hasn’t reached the fog bank yet which is going to surely douse the sun and send me inside.

Sitting on the upper balcony outside of my room, I’m aware of how much I live inside myself. There are five neighboring sliding glass doors opening onto this balcony. The deck streams from one end to the other without dividers. It’s a narrow deck; no one else is out here and I’m glad. I’m not in a sharing mood. I’d nod and go inside if someone emerged.

I distract myself. The Astoria Pier runs ramps down to the vessels below. Small dinghies, moderate-sized fishing boats and a hulking steel fishing boat, orange and rusting–these line the pier.

And the seals, there are signs on every ramp–“Danger, Seals on Pier!” Their mossy green-brown bodies have taken the sun into their hides and claimed it. They have an air of “don’t mess with me.” Their barking. Unlike the crows, they won’t be scared off–if someone gets too close, their echoing barks intensify. Are they complaining? Staking territory? Merely chatting?

I wonder if I’ll always be alone. When do I stop feeling like a stranger to myself? Omigod! A huge tanker like a floating gray whale passes in this very wide river. Spontaneously, I wave, shouting “I’m here, over here!” A small, less significant boat scuttles past the tanker, lost beside its bulk. The fog interferes with the sun’s warmth but not it’s light. The tanker moves slowly but steadily. Watching it is better than watching television; the mind is not assaulted. I learned today that each blast of a ship’s horn has a meaning. One blast means passing on starboard, two means passing on the left. Five short blasts is an alert “If we don’t change course, we’re going to crash!”

This woman, myself with wild golden brown hair sits in the setting sun on a green plastic chair clutching a fat blue Dr. Grip pen as if my life depended on it. The hot tub invites but two young women are filling it up with their high esteem
–no room for me. Now the sun is flirting with the fog and the air has a sudden nip. I’m going inside.

Frolicking

Frolicking in my fool’s paradise

How long can this go on?

The air quality had been so pure

Now the wildfires have begun north of here

I plug in the air purifier

and pray it cleans the air

fools paradise

head in the sand

feet in the air

or head in the clouds

feet on the ground

which is preferable?

****
Another summer of smoke.  The wildfires began in June in the forests and mountains of northern California, USA.  And in the flatlands south of here.  Then, there are new ones cropping up to the north, east and west.
Yesterday was a pure air pristine day.  We are dependent upon the direction of the wind.

Earth, air, fire, water.  What is your relationship to them?

****
Living in the mountains for twenty-two years now, my connection to the earth has been amplified.  Although, before this, I grew up and lived by the ocean.  I would never say that I understood the sea.  I had an intimate relationship with her nonetheless.  I sought her out for comfort…and found it.  Her dynamic qualities captivated me…they do today too when I visit.

And the mountain has its own trance.  As I continue to write this post, it’s now mid-August and we’ve had two months of smoke.  Waking to smoke daily, a pall over the new day.  The spirit descends as I pull back the curtains to yet another day of smoke…

But today, the sky is blue and a smile wraps my face…we are so dependent upon our elements.  Across the planet, weather–the elements–is the media star these days.  Floods, droughts, fires, earthquakes–we are bombarded.  The earth certainly is demanding our attention.  Is she giving us feedback for the ways in which we’ve disrespected her?  Can we see this as feedback, learn from it and do some things differently, more respectfully, reverentially?

Global warming, media fact or fiction?  Where I live, I have no doubt of climate change.  I don’t need to read the news to know that.  Why is there an argument…what sort of lens are people looking through that they don’t see this?

Ocean in Abstract

abstractocean1

This abstract was done in a class with artist, Laly Mille.  I divided the 9″x12″ 140# watercolor paper into four triangles.  They can be cut into individual paintings if I so choose.  When I look at this abstract painting today, I think I would leave it as an ocean study.  In my thinking, abstract equals the artist’s impressions of a subject.

There are the colors that I’ve associated with the ocean.  There is, perhaps, a horizon line.  There could be rock formations not far from the shoreline.  And there is definitely sky.  With clouds.  A mood is created.

When I present an abstract painting, I don’t like to discuss it very much.  I like it to stand alone, to represent what it represents and to allow the viewer to be drawn into it and have their own interpretation.  To encourage the viewer to fabricate a story around my impressions of the ocean.

 

Who Are You?

A journal page is meant for exploration.  Yes, you can explore the existential questions in your journal.  It is a place to explore techniques as well as for self-discovery.
I wonder, at times, about the influence of place on person.
Having grown up a few blocks from the ocean in San Francisco,
how did that form me?  I lived there, beside the sea, for forty-nine years before moving to the mountains.  Who was I then “living beside the ocean?”

besidetheocean1

Moving to the
mountains, what in me has been influenced and changed by this place?

This journal page was inspired by a class taught by Ivy Newport, Sacred Landscapes.

The consideration of the placement of a horizon line is an interesting aspect of a painting.  A decision is made where to place the figure in relation to that line.  Dividing the page into three sections, the horizon line is in the top third on this page.

The figure is placed in the forefront of the study…she could have been standing, reclining.  I chose sitting.

Figure drawing is a whole other form of artistic expression.  I took one other class in sketching figures.  We also practiced drawing figures in relation to one another and intimated body language between the two figures.  In drawing and painting, there are lifetimes of worlds to be explored.

***
Perhaps a larger and more expanded question is “Who am I during this pivotal time in history?”  or “Who am I in the light of a global pandemic?”  It is astonishing, really, to have such a cataclysmic, unifying event across the planet.  It’s hard to put the proverbial head in the sand at such a time.  It feels to me like we are being called to take a stand on behalf of our earth and the unsustainable ways that we’ve been living up to now.  What are your thoughts?

 

Mermaids II

If I were a mermaid living in the ocean, I’d be angry with humans.  The ocean is, afterall, my home.  I want my environment to be pristine.  For myself and all the variety of wondrous sea creatures who also live here.  When my environment is polluted by the ignorance and greed of humans, well I can’t just get up and walk away, can I?  The integral relationship of the ocean with the moon and our ecosystem that keeps things “working” is being drastically damaged by destructive human activities.  Witnessing the devastation that humans have wreaked on my home, I’m wondering what I can do to wake them up!

****
As we get more and more distanced from nature, we are going to feel the effects.  Because, as John Muir has said, “Nature includes us!”

As sophisticated as we might think we are, as much as we think we’ve conquered nature and that we are civilized above and beyond the natural world…that’s false thinking.  We are nature, nature is us.  We have a biology and so does the earth and the sea and the whole ecology in which we are included.  I’m likely preaching to the choir here!

This mermaid reminds me of a warrioress.  She is both tender and tough when necessary.  She is ready to go to battle for her home, the ocean.

mermaid.1

****

In 1995, an amazing film was released, The Secret of Roan Inish.  The music was haunting, the scenery enchanting, the acting authentic and the story–magical and mythological.  This is where I first heard of “the Selkie.  And, I feel that the sea is portrayed as a character itself.  Effective personification!

****
The phrase “If I were” is a good way to begin writing.  Especially when you’re feeling stuck…”If I were…”  Those three little words open the door to imagination and possibility.  Go ahead, WRITE!

Mermaids I

Jane Davenport is an artist, teacher, author and inspiring creative woman with a lovely online presence.

Not long after I began painting, I discovered her.  She has a signature drawing style.  Her paintings are imaginative, whimsical and expert.  I took a few workshops with her, one of which was called Vitamin Sea:  Mermaids!  Jane took the participants on an immersive journey into the discovery and painting of mermaids.  The Mermaid Queen below is my mixed media piece.Mermaid Queen1

 

Following is an interesting excerpt about the Selkie.  In many tales, Mermaids and Selkies are interchangeable.  I appreciate this type of mythology.  Typically, mythology is based in some truth.

****

Then, there are the manatees, an endangered species.  Sailors at sea–I’m guessing they were a bit delirious–spotting  a manatee sunning on a rock sometimes mistook it for a mermaid!

What is your belief around mermaids, fictional or factual…magical or mythological?

I wonder if mermaids believe in us.

Under the Sea

This mixed media painting was a collage experience.  It is a fanciful rendition in recognition of the variety of fish and life forms who live in the ocean.  Our earth’s  oceans are a source of health to us, to the environment and home to innumerable creatures.  In 1951, Rachel Carson wrote a poetic book about the sea —
The Sea Around Us.

fish6

Sadly, we have used the ocean as a dumpsite for our discarded, non-biodegradable waste.  Everything from plastic to radioactive waste has been dumped into the sea.  Not to mention the oil spills.  I wonder how advanced a civilization we are that we don’t realize the intricate weaving of the ocean into the dynamic energy of the ecosystem of which we are part.  And if we realize this deeply, are we going to change our ways of disposing of stuff?  We have great minds in this world, surely we can change our habits of use and disposal.  We better get with the program very soon as the earth is reacting to such waste.

 

This three-minute video clip from a lecture given by Maria Popova is too beautiful for words.  She reads a segment from Rachel Carson’s book about the sea.  The sheer beauty of it brought tears to my eyes.  I hope that you take a moment to get present, shut your eyes and listen deeply.

Freedom…

Freedom is a choice.  Is it?  Stand beside the ocean in your birthday suit.  Or walk into that floral painting .  Daffodils?  Delphiniums?  Crocus?  Lupine?  Horizon lines.  Yesterday, someone said that as artists, we are fascinated with painting horizon lines.  The sky meets the sea.  The land touches the water.  I roll in flowers in fields of forever, at least in some dreams.  If I ruled the world…every day might be the first day of spring.  That jubilant season.

Truly, in the mountains I don’t want spring to come too soon.  I want the deep cold that encourages spring flowering and summer fruiting.  I whisper to the cherry tree and the bulbs beneath the earth, if they are listening, don’t blossom too soon.  The deceit of a false spring could halt the blossoming and inhibit the bees when temperatures fall to freezing again.  I wonder if the trees can understand my language–if they know I care.  Do they witness my own wishy-washiness when it comes to not using plastic?

Is this a fantasy that I’m living?  Is this reality a tiny wedge (Kathy would ask “a wedge of cheese”) in an orgasmic universe?  I want to say omniverse although I’m not sure why.  Is that what the big bang means–one giant orgasm that sprung the worlds into being?  Can I say that here?  Freedom to write what I want, to have my own secular thoughts.  The ones that were forbidden by a childhood of too little freedom with an autocratic ruler.

It occurred to me again, that I really only found my voice recently.  No wonder I save volumes of my writing.  I won’t say everything on this blog.  Some things I hold sacred, private.  Having freedom entitles one not to speak when one chooses.

Yesterday, at the lake, I noticed the sky.  The clouds were reflected in the water.  I thought I could dive into the sky.

Freedom, claiming it, takes courage especially if you’ve been oppressed.

Freedom’s close companion is responsibility.

Castle Lake.1a