Peter Hitchens, in a recent interview about why he is still a “traditional Anglican” Christian, on the Prayer Book:
“The Prayer Book is written in a language which repeatedly acknowledges the existence of the eternal, as not just a rival to the temporal, but as a superior and more important thing. I’d go further. Music, as we know, expresses what is inexpressible through words alone. Poetry, which much of the Prayer Book aims at, allows words to say more than prose does. By poetry here I don’t mean rhyming and scanning verse, but language consciously crafted to be as beautiful an expression of its meaning as possible.
“Our forebears were simply better at this than we are, because of the age they lived in. This has much to do with the fact that it was written to be spoken aloud and I do not doubt that its authors did speak it aloud many times as they perfected it. This is something few writers of modern prose do, which is why the result so often looks and sounds as if it has been created by using the blunt end of a bread pudding.”
Above: Book of Common Prayer open to the selection for “The Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”
My beach visits are challenging my writing skills, no doubt about that! The seashore and its constant change, my being on The Edge of such a vast expanse of water and sky, caressed or buffeted by forces of wind and waves… it’s thrilling. I could write that sentence every time I go, but it would convey sameness, when there is nothing the same, ever.
I was excited yesterday to be going when it was a minus tide, a term I hadn’t even heard until a month ago. These events seem to happen mostly at night; I hope to learn more about why that is, when I get the books I ordered online and from the library, about waves, tides, beaches and seashores.
Yesterday’s minus tide was at about 3:00 p.m. I was surprised at all of the puddles and pools in various places on the beach, not just at the north end where the rocks hide creatures. The receded tide revealed a wide expanse of flat beach that shone like glass.
Great heaps of every kind of sea plant, vegetable, and kelp had been left in swaths on the shore. I wished I had someone with me who knew the names of everything! And if I had thought of it, I could have taken home enough to make a giant kettle of seaweed soup.
One specimen of Flustrellidra was floating in a tidepool. I found that name while searching last night for the name of a seaweed that I did eat when I got home.
In those rocky pools I didn’t see any hermit crabs or sea stars; only a few mussels clinging under rocks. My foot slipped a bit when I was looking down into the water — I think that was when I was still wearing my sandals, because I thought I would be steadier with them on — and when I shifted my gaze to the surface of the rocks on which I stood, I realized that they were all green, that is, where they weren’t covered with black seaweed hanging down like greasy hair. So everything I might grasp with hand or foot was slimy. I soon left that area.
One thing always fun is the way the texture of the sand underfoot changes every few yards. Where it was gravelly I sank down mid-calf; a short distance beyond, the surface was firm. My feet standing on that hard and flat “patio” were red and seemingly shrunken from their chilly bath.
It was when I was walking back from the rocks that the happiness peaked. I thought of my late husband and wished we could be walking in the waves together. Maybe I thought of him because I had been listening to The Aviator on the drive out, thinking with Innokenty about his finally having lost the only one who had shared the era and experiences of his previous life, who also remembered the important things. And there was this:
“Now, as life is settling into a routine little by little, happiness shows through everything, through the most common everydayness, no matter what I do. Everydayness is essentially happiness… finally, to simply live.”
As I was splashing through the shallow water it occurred to me that my husband does actually share this happiness with me. There is one happiness that is a gift from God. It is the same reality that “shows through” whenever and wherever it happens, and reveals itself as being unbounded by time. A gift of spiritual sunshine that warms the soul in such a way that it’s obvious nothing is lacking. Mere existence is huge and blessed, the moment fills everything, and all the happinesses that have ever been are in that fullness.
I found several things on the beach. First, two big sand dollars. The first one was almost perfect. It had only a little chip on the edge, and I put it carefully in my bag. Later, just after passing a very young family with a preschooler, who were playing in the sand, I found another dollar, truly pristine, and I offered it to them. From the looks on their faces, they had never seen one before.
A beautiful, snack sized piece of seaweed fell out of a wave on to the sand, and I put it in my bag, too. You can see it further down.
And then — I found this dolly.
“She actually likes being tossed in the waves,” I thought, when I saw the expression on her face. She is some surfer girl! I dropped her in my bag, too, without the slightest doubt that it was the right thing to do. I would take her home and clean the sand out of her hair….
I haven’t managed to clean her hair thoroughly; I don’t know if the plants are attached to her or just tangled in her tresses. After seeing how integrated with marine life she has become, I began to wonder if she belongs to the sea now. Is the missing half of her hair currently in suspension with the other microparticles of plastic that live there?
She seems a kindred spirit, and for the time being she sits on my computer table reminding me of our common love for the ocean waves. I need to give her a name. Any ideas?
The piece of “lettuce” I collected, I washed very well at home, and thought I had identified it. I ate it raw in the evening — it was rubbery and fairly tasteless — and then searched in vain online for a name for it. I think it’s probably a red or brown algae. One article I found last week said that all the seaweeds are edible, and last night I read some people saying that you should be careful not to eat too much of any kind. Not too much danger of that in my case!
When I have published this post, I plan to add it to my new Page tabbed at the top of my site, titled Sea Log. I’m glad for the virtual companionship of any of you who would like to share in my seashore explorations. May they long continue, Please God.
“Anyone who writes is beset by all kinds of dangers. The list is extensive, it’s not difficult to guess what traps it holds. The intellectual dangers are particularly unpleasant, though. Very briefly speaking, the writer cannot think, he can’t help but participate in the intellectual life of his age to some degree. He cannot, he must not, take refuge in absolute, childish innocence, since with time this becomes stupidity.
“But what’s to be done, since an abundance of theories, beliefs, and even, in relatively recent times, ideologies proliferates on all fronts? Absolutely accepting any single theory means losing all freedom of thought. The greatest misfortune is — was — embracing some fashionable or dominant ideology. But we can’t escape at least partial asphyxiation, the era poisons us all. Poisons and redeems, since we can’t live outside time.”
I have been so busy with many things inward and outward, and I’ve wanted to write about all of it! Experiences of hiking or reading, or discovering connections between the people I meet on the street and those in my books; learning how the wrong ideas of a thousand years ago have brought us to the society we have today, and about how the small and strong actions of good people likewise have a long trajectory…. When I can’t gather my thoughts about even one part of it, and put them into a tidy or untidy blog post, I remain unsettled and confused at some level. The experience lacks a certain completeness.
Lots of bloggers I know seem to be writing fewer posts lately; I wonder if they feel the way I do. I think that after a period of upheaval or change or busyness, after reading and participating in family or church feast days, or traveling — one needs a time of quiet and retreat when not much is going on, in order to process what happened. But during most of this year, there are new loose ends — discoveries or disasters or directives — every day or even more often. When I start to organize a few thoughts, suddenly another one pops up and throws my mind into disorder again.
But today — maybe I could write about today, its beautiful and specific concrete things especially, with my apologies for those two whole paragraphs above which I devoted to vague intangibles. I shucked beans this afternoon, at the invitation of Cathy, who wanted some company to shell the harvest of what she and her husband had raised this year. He is Mr. Greenjeans whom I’ve mentioned several times, but I don’t think Mrs. Greenjeans is the right name for her.
Anyway, this is exactly the kind of activity, or one of the kinds, that I have been wanting to do more of. It was the perfect opportunity to get some work done and chat at the same time. In order to get us away from the category of current events that cause our heart rates to rise, I told her about two of the books that I have been enjoying lately that are in a category together. Here I want to mention only one of them, Greek to Me, by Mary Norris.
The first coincidence having to do with that book was this morning when I returned from errands and saw a strange couple walking their dog on the sidewalk opposite my driveway. We got to talking and introduced ourselves from that distance, and they told me the dog’s name was Athena. The man noted that often they remember dog names better than human names, and I said that I would probably remember “Athena,” having just been listening to stories about Greek gods two minutes before.
Mary Norris’s book is not only about Greek gods. It’s about her love affair with everything Greek, and her study of modern and ancient Greek language. She narrates her own book on Audible, and I do love her voice, both her writer’s voice and her physical voice. I first encountered it listening to her first book, Between You and Me, which she also narrated. She tells very personal and often amusing stories all through, about her Catholic childhood and emancipation and her various adventures in language learning over the decades.
Psychotherapy helped her to deal with childhood trauma, but so did immersing herself in stories of Mount Olympus. One of several pilgrimages culminated in her skinny dipping on Cyprus, off Aphrodite’s Beach, as she believed it to be, in hopes that seemed not entirely self-mocking, that she might become more beautiful in those mythical waters.
As Cathy and I shelled black, cranberry, tan and white beans into bowls, I played a little bit of Mary for her from my phone. Cathy told me fascinating stories of her own months-long stay in Greece way back when, about the time that I also was a wandering baby boomer. But my travels were not so deep or wide. And not in Greece.
Cathy tried to describe the sunlight in that land, in words very similar to those Mary Norris had used in trying to express its unique softness. Mary wrote that she wasn’t sure that she herself was changed by Aphrodite’s waters, but she saw everything from then on as though more clear and sparkling. Both of those women renewed my own desire to travel in Greece; some of you might remember that my late husband and I had booked travel to Crete when he became ill, and we weren’t able to go.
I might not be any more likely to get to Tennessee, but if I do, I want to visit the replica of the Parthenon that is there, which Mary Norris tells about in her book. The story of its statue of Athena, the long process of collecting funds for it, then figuring out what it should look like, details about the sculptor and model and why certain design decisions were made — all of that was fascinating to me. I didn’t know this replica existed, and I haven’t researched anything about it since this morning when it came up near the end of the book. Have any of you seen it? Please tell me what you thought.
There. I’ve managed to tell you about one book, one part of a day, and one fun activity I engaged in, with a few women companions. Yes, there was at least one more at that table with Cathy, Mary and me. She’s part of the story I hope to tell another day.