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Archive for the ‘Seashore’ Category

Come down to the sea and take your imagination with you.  Never mind the rain and don’t distract yourself with the usual finds of beachcombers:  broken lobster traps, lone sandals, bottles, cans and driftwood.  Sometimes the stormy seas bring something far more wondrous to our shores.

Of course, it’s not every day you get to see a mermaid.  Such enchanting encounters occur so rarely that it’s difficult to know what to do when you do at last catch sight of one on the shore.

You wouldn’t want to get too close.  Only half human, the wild part of their nature would likely make them quite skittish and easy to scare back into the water.  It’s best to keep a safe distance for both your sakes.  After all, mermaids have been known to lure humans unwittingly into the depths of the sea, never to return again.  Even Blackbeard the pirate feared their charms and kept his ship away from waters where they had been sighted.

Mermaids likely visited Nova Scotia’s shores long before Europeans settled here.  Thrown off course by strong currents during storms, there’s little record of their short stays on our beaches.

They linger only long enough to re-arrange their hair, untangle the seaweed from their tails and sing a haunting song or two before returning to their homes in the deep.

Though this one’s fingers weren’t webbed and she wasn’t sitting on ‘the mermaid stone’ (perhaps the algae made it too slippery this time of year), she was genuinely enchanting.

When will she return?  Mermaid visits are as unpredictable as the weather here in Nova Scotia.  One can only hope it will be soon.

Text and photographs copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2012

For more on mermaids, see Where Mermaids Arrange their Hair and Calling All Mermaids.

 

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When you walk in the woods, do you see the forest or the trees?  Do your eyes come to rest on the bark of the closest  trunk or is your vision focused on the woods behind it?

Similarly, when you’re walking on the beach, are your eyes scanning the shore for a special shell,  a heart shaped stone or a bottle with a message in it, or are you gazing at the horizon line?

It’s easier to focus on the trees nearby if the path ahead is tangled with vegetation.  The possibility of ticks in the grass or mosquitoes lurking in the deeper woods may prompt you to take a closer look at the soft new growth on the branches  within your grasp.

If the path ahead appears clear and bright, you may be more inclined to venture into the forest.

At home or at work, I often find myself caught up in the details in my surroundings.  My eyes dart quickly back and forth looking to re-arrange or make right whatever seems out of place.  However, when daily life sometimes becomes cluttered, as the beach is with seaweed after a storm…

I lift up my eyes to focus on what’s ahead.  (One of these days I’m sure I’m going to see a mermaid sitting on top of that big stone).

Our ability to shift our focus is a gift that allows us to be happy in any circumstance.  All that’s required from us is a willingness to refocus our attention, perhaps for just a moment, before getting back to the task at hand.

Text and photographs copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2012

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The mermaid stone hasn’t seen much action these days.  With surfers riding the waves in recent years and more dogs running along the beaches, it’s no wonder that mermaids are going elsewhere to gather their thoughts at dawn and dusk.

 I, for one, would love to catch a glimpse of a siren arranging her hair while singing a haunting melody.  Even one of the mermaids’ legged cousins, the sea nymphs, would be a delight to find strolling along our shores, gathering shells.

mermaid stone
Sadly, rockweed is all that’s covering the mermaid stone these days.

 Maybe it’s all the garbage that’s dumped near our shores that’s putting them off.  Or perhaps they don’t bother visiting Cow Bay because there are fewer and fewer shells to find here.  The ones that do wash up on our beaches are quickly gathered by tourists and local beachcombers like me.

Sea Nymph by William Symonds

Sea Nymph by William Symonds 1893

 We don’t pause to consider that seashells and sea glass are the only adornments mermaids and sea nymphs have available to them when the seaside flowers aren’t in bloom. 

There are probably uninhabited islands not far from here where mermaids don’t have to compete with anyone for the treasures that wash ashore.  Seals are likely less intimidating than dogs from their point of view as well. 

I’m going to start leaving the seashells where I find them on the shore instead of taking them home.   If I take anything back from the beach, it will be the garbage I find there.  It’s not much, but it’s a first step in attracting these wondrous creatures back to our shores. 

I must be a mermaid… I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living.
― Anaïs Nin (1903-1977)

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Waves can pull you in without getting you wet. One moment you’re looking at them from your vantage point on the shore and the next you’re tangled in their frothy curls.

With mist on your face and the roar of the sea numbing your ear drums, you’re soon set adrift.  As each wave rolls forward, you’re taken under into the mysterious deep.  Long forgotten memories are churned up and float on the surface like sea foam.  

Let your heart look on white sea spray
And be lonely…
~ Carl Sandburg


It’s a wonder how some of Nature’s most sensory experiences can take you so far away from the present moment.  You might recall long forgotten days at the beach, swimming or surfing.  Or your thoughts might drift farther away from the shore, re-examining what was and what might have been at any point along life’s journey. You might even surprise yourself by applying new solutions to old problems.

…  a mind forever voyaging through strange seas of thought… alone.
~ William Wordsworth

You needn’t go far or stay away long.  And herein lies the greatest gift the sea can offer.  Wherever you go when you look at the sea, as with all the best voyages, you’re always more in tune with yourself upon your return.  

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A light dusting of snow sparkles on the boardwalk leading to the seashore. There are no tracks yet. It’s still early.

But despite clear blue skies, it’s no day to be at the beach. A cold December wind has blown in. Is winter finally here?  Christmas is just around the corner.  Perhaps the beach walkers are shopping in the malls these days instead of strolling along the shoreline.

Spray is blowing from the crests of waves at sea.  These spindrifts are considered by mariners to be  indicators of gale force winds.  Just looking at them is enough to make you shiver.

Later in the season, spindrifts of sand and snow will blow from the crests of dunes on the beach.  We’ll slowly drift into winter one snowflake at a time until our snowshovels runneth over. 

If only we could approach the holidays as we approach the seasons: slowly, one sparkle at a time… with no rushing and no deadlines, enjoying each moment and peacefully trusting that everything will come together eventually.

I sometimes think we expect too much of Christmas Day. We try to crowd into it the long arrears of kindliness and humanity of the whole year. As for me, I like to take my Christmas a little at a time, all through the year. And thus I drift along into the holidays–let them overtake me unexpectedly–waking up some fine morning and suddenly saying to myself: ‘Why this is Christmas Day!’

~  Ray Stannard Baker

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As much as we enjoy wildlife, it’s seldom that we have an opportunity to hold live specimens in our hands.  Most wild creatures want to put as much distance between us and them as possible, and that’s how it should be.   However, opportunities to get up close and personal with wildlife are possible along Nova Scotia’s seashore in the intertidal zone.  Marine animals such as crabs and starfish are easily caught and respond well to gentle handling.

The starfish at left was found in the salt marsh.  Its underside reveals gel-like feelers that glisten in the sunlight as they move.  Live, juicy starfish are enjoyed by seagulls who can spot them underwater clinging to rocks.

Though a bit more difficult to catch, live crabs are very animated and deeper in color than the dried ones found higher up the beach.  Up close they look like little aliens.  They too are eaten by seagulls.

To those who are willing to get really up close, offshore waters offer even more wonders.

Live sand dollars are nothing like the bone dry tests we may sometimes find on the beach.  Their five point star design is just barely discernible beneath their deep purple fur-like covering of cilia.  Beds of these can be found by scuba divers in the subtidal zone, a wonder hidden from the view of beachcombers.  Sand dollars are preyed upon by starfish, snails and skates.

After handling these delicate marine creatures, it’s best to quickly place them back where they were found as they are unable to survive out of the water for long.  Such close encounters should be kept as brief as possible, unless of course you’re a seagull looking for a meal.

I’m hungry Dolores. Should we get fast food or see what’s slow in the marsh?

Photo credits:  Julie Perry

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Take a few minutes from your summer and make a mandala from natural materials.   Mandalas are an excellent exercise to help you focus on the moment at hand.  You may create something beautiful in the process but don’t worry about perfection.  

Depending on your intention while creating your mandala, you may construct  a sacred space in which to bring your thoughts and prayers.

Summer offers a variety of materials:  leaves, flowers, twigs and grasses.  Your palette of living colors will depend on what’s in bloom in your corner of the world right now.  Found feathers, seashells and stones may also be used.  The possibilities are endless.

You can create one by yourself, with a friend or with a child. 

Create a circular shape with your materials.  You can plan to have a set number of sections in your design or just see what happens. 

You can make your mandalas outdoors or inside.  It doesn’t matter if you keep your arrangement forever, for a day, or just a few minutes.  Mandalas are about here and now.

For more information about mandalas, see my previous post on Autumn Mandalas.

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It’s a busy morning in the marsh.  A sandpiper rushes across a stretch of sea-smoothed stones.  If only we could make such sweet piping sounds as we take off in flight to meet our deadlines, Mondays wouldn’t be so bad.

Crabs are sparring with one another just beneath the water’s surface.  The disagreement is over almost as quickly as it’s started, and they respectfully move to their territorial rocks.  Look at all those little fish.  Surely there’s enough for everyone to share.

Mergansers have already had breakfast and are determined to stay close and tight as they move quickly to their next destination.  There are only three young ones left in a brood that might have had eight or more to start with.  Things don’t always work out as planned, but it’s important to move forward and make the most of the day ahead.

A great blue heron wrestles with a long fish.  The bird twists its snake-like neck and turns its head upside down in order to get a better grip.  It could certainly teach us a thing or two on the value of being results-oriented.  Sensing that I am getting much too close for comfort, it takes off with its meal in flight.

The heron below also takes off as I draw near.  The sandpiper wading nearby doesn’t mind its ominous silhouette.  It knows that things usually aren’t as scary and threatening as they might appear at first.

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

~ Wendell Berry

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According to the Canadian Ice Service, an enormous chunk of ice, 260 sq.km. in size, separated from a glacier in Greenland last week, becoming the most spectacular event to take place in the Arctic in 50 years. The broken piece will eventually fragment and inevitably melt in warmer waters, contributing to rising sea levels worldwide.

The first 6 months of 2010 were the hottest globally on record.  [See Ice Island Breaks Off Glacier at the Weather Network].

It’s dawn and the sandpipers are gathering at low tide along the shoreline in the marsh.  They’re so intent on eating that they take no notice of humans next to them on the trail.  Their gentle piping calls to one another are a fitting accompaniment to the rising sun.

Sandpipers have always seemed to me to be among the most delicate of the shore birds.  Like the endangered plovers, their fleeting movements, whether in flight or along the edge of the water,  never give me a chance to appreciate them for long.  I wonder if they’ll be affected by the oil spill down south when they migrate this fall.  [See BP oil spill could affect Maritime plovers at CBC].

Further along the shore, growing near the strandlines, statice is beginning to bloom.  It seems odd that such a delicate flower chooses to grow here along such a rugged shoreline.   Yet it manages to survive, despite winter’s stormy waters and winds.

When I think of rising sea levels, I wonder how wildlife such as sandpipers and statice will be affected in the years to come.  Will they simply disappear?  Or will they find a way to cling to life beyond the present shoreline?

This is a beautiful planet and not at all fragile.  Earth can withstand significant volcanic eruptions, tectonic cataclysms, and ice ages.  But this canny, intelligent, prolific, and extremely self-centered human creature has proven himself capable of more destruction of life than Mother Nature herself…. We’ve got to be stopped.

~ Michael L. Fischer

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Starfish are common finds at Rainbow Haven beach this summer.  They can also be found clinging to rocks under the bridges along the Salt Marsh Trail.  Starfish rely on a constant intake of moisture for all their life systems, including mobility, and can’t survive out of water for more than a couple of hours.  

Many collectors dry starfish, pinning them while still wet in order to preserve their symmetry.  I shudder to think that the dried starfish I purchased years ago in Florida met with such a grisly end.  These days, I choose to fling the starfish I find on the beach back into the water.  Recently, I found a dried starfish flattened on a cement barricade near the parking lot.  It looked like it had been pounded flat while wet.  I know it’s just a starfish, but it seemed like such a waste of life. 

Over the years, I’ve seen children take buckets full of starfish and living molluscs away from the beach.  Unless they had a salt water tank at home ready to receive these wild creatures, why would parents allow this?   When and where do we acquire or lose our reverence for living things? 

 Awe is a big part of reverence.  Though often present in childhood, sometimes, as we grow older, it becomes difficult to keep that sense of awe alive.  Familiarity with a natural environment can also make us take it for granted.   In its practice,  reverence reveals to the world that we humbly acknowledge the presence and needs of other human beings and living creatures besides ourselves.

Litter at the beach is another sign that reverence is lacking.  People come to the beach to be refreshed by nature but don’t realize their role in maintaining this setting for others to enjoy.  Even worse, they don’t care about the living creatures that make their permanent home at the beach.  Homeowners living nearby also get extremely frustrated by the excess of litter.

Despite the presence of park signs advising owners to keep a rein on pets, dogs are frequently seen off leash.  It’s not just people who are intimidated by dogs running wild.  Piping plovers, ground nesting birds, no longer make their home on this beach due to loss of undisturbed habitat. 

As our beaches become more crowded during the summer season, it’s even more important for everyone to practice reverence towards one another and the natural environment.  We’re not alone.  Let’s not act as if we were. 

If a man loses his reverence for any part of life, he will lose his reverence for all of life.
~ Albert Schweitzer

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It’s not easy keeping cool when the heat and humidity conspire to drain you of your energy and motivation.

Snowshoe hares know how to make the most of the dog days of summer by relaxing in the clover. They’re not running and hopping around as much as they did earlier this summer. 

My yard is a haven for them as I don’t have a dog.  Hares know how to stay cool by winding down activities and keeping a low profile.

In ancient times, the dog star Sirius was considered responsible for the sweltering heat.  Back then, its coincidental rising with the sun in July and August was thought to bring on the worst in men and beasts.

But there are many ways to tame the beast within during these ravaging hot days…

Taking a moment to pause and smell the roses is always a good way to refresh yourself through scent and beauty.  The wild rose bush is in bloom in my yard.  With its single layer of petals, it resembles the Dog rose (Rosa canina) often used in heraldry.

Even if you don’t have roses nearby, so many other beautiful flowers are in bloom at this time of year, both in gardens and in the wild.

Certainly one of the best ways to beat the heat is to take a stroll along the seashore.  Morning and evening walks are especially refreshing. 

Collecting seashells along the shore is a quiet activity sure to take the focus off the concerns of the day.  

Over the years I’ve collected a variety of Dogwinkles (Nucella lapilus) both at Rainbow Haven and Silver Sands beaches.  Worn smooth by the waves and bleached pale by the sun, they even feel like summer as you roll them between your fingers.

Of course the best way to be refreshed during the dog days of summer is to take a plunge in the water, be it a stream, lake or the sea.  Nature beckons.

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Jellyfish are not an uncommon sight along Nova Scotia’s seashores in July.  Yet, their translucent colors tend to blend in well with the reddish brown seaweed on the beach and are easy to miss if you’re not watching where you step.

By the time they’re washed ashore, jellyfish have lost most of their magnificent bodily form.  My best guess for the one shone beached above is that it is a Lion’s Mane Jellyfish (Cyanea capillata).  In the drawing at left, I’ve attempted to show what it may have looked like while floating in the ocean.

Jellyfish are not fish at all, but rather marine animals without backbones that reveal a radial symmetry.  They possess tentacles with stinging cells that allow them to capture their prey:  zooplankton and small fish.  Larger jellyfish will also eat smaller ones.

Leatherback sea turtles are attracted to our waters in search of jellyfish during the summer months.  Seabirds and large fish also eat jellyfish.

Lion’s Mane jellyfish enjoy our cooler waters and tend to not venture into warmer Atlantic seas.  They vary greatly in size.  The largest ever, with a diameter of 7-1/2 feet, was washed ashore in Massachussetts towards the southern tip of its range.

Though its sting is not fatal, this type of jellyfish and others, if found ashore or swimming nearby, should not be touched.  Their stings can still cause severe pain with reactions dependent on the size, age and health of the victim.  Sea turtles and their other predators don’t seem to be affected by them.

Below, a seagull dines on crab near the spot where the jellyfish was sighted at Rainbow Haven Beach.

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