Thursday, June 21, 2018

our self in the mirror

the glories of the coast

the Pacific Coast of California calls us:

we get up way before dawn,
endure the rigamarole of a long plane flight,
the renting of a car,
and two hours driving south,
an In andOut Burger, with fries, our fuel on the way,

around a curve Monterey Bay hints it’s out there,
and then we come upon the coast
where Monterey Peninsula advances into the ocean,
an ocean we have flown over so we have touched its vastness,
yet never can we be prepared to hold it,
the metamorphosed sedimentary rocks on the peninsula
stubborn enough to hold,
for they have endured crustal plates grinding together,
the ocean relentless enough to shake their solidity,

back East, the land feels the sun and gives in to its power
so the days reach into the nineties and the humidity oppresses,

here, the ocean holds the past,
a conservative who only changes
when she cannot hold as well any longer,
her thermal mass holds the highs to the sixties,
the wind drawn into the land 
where temperature changes like fashion,

the birds seem to own this world

lines of 20 to 60 fly mostly up the coast, just above the water,
seagulls appear from out of the sky where it has blended into the water:
angular and sharp in their lines,
as if sculpted in a wind tunnel for how to be one with the air,
the land birds, such as the crows, 
seem compact and clumsy in comparison, though powerful,
their needs sculpted by the drive for short quick journeys,

after rock and water and birds, the plant kingdom draws me
to the magnificence of wind-sculpted Monterey Pines

who hold the land with their will, despite the gales that can beat at them,
they create a forest within the shelter of the art of their beauty,
many are the bush and plant who also hold
and jewel the landscape with their flowers,

at low tide this morning, we searched out the nearby tidal pools,
expecting a feast for the eyes of open sea anemone,
sea stars, scuttling crabs,
the animal kingdom microcosmed for us,
instead the tide was too low: no open anemone,
no sea stars, the anemone and mollusks all closed-up,

choosing sleep until the water returns,
some shellfish are lost to opportunistic birds,

yet what I needed to do, and finally made the effort to do,
was to open myself to wonder 
at the underwater plant kingdom revealed,
“kelp” the only name I know,
and how pitiful such ignorance feels
compared to the magnificence of leaf, of shape, of color,
that decorates the once and future seabed,
“seaweed” another term that comes to my mind,
a grab-all coarseness that doesn’t see the garden
that lives just below the breakers
and is as rich a celebration of life as any on the planet,
at the Monterey Aquarium today we marvel at the kelp forest
which is presented in living glory, 

as gorgeous plants undulate in the shifting currents,
while schools of fish, and individuals, 
promenade their selves within the breathtaking magnificence 
that is the garden, just below the ocean’s surface,

bits of the garden break off, and some gather on the beach,
“wrack” they call it: tendrils, stalks, leaves, round bladders for air
that help the plant hold itself high enough in the turbulent sea 
to maximize how much of the sun it can use,
photosynthesis here not just from the green, but often from the yellow,

our kind are mostly of the land,
and, even there, these days we can be willfully ignorant,

a species is thought to be aware of self
if it can recognize itself in a mirror,
I feel today that an even higher sense of self
is if we can see the plants, the animals, the rocks, the water, 
as us,

if we are to survive as a species,
we must quit ignoring, and denying,
the rest of the world which is us, too,

let us be the mirror that sees and knows the other,
and realizes that the other is necessary to who we are
at our most natural self.

Jellyfish, Monterey Bay Aquarium

Jellyfish, Monterey Bay Aquarium

by Henry H. Walker
June 18, ‘18

1 comment:

Myra Morris said...

Hi Henry and Joan, I loved this poem and think it's one of your finest. Your awe and respect, feeling and understanding come through so clearly, and fit so well with the beautiful photos. I've always loved to be near the sea, to feel its power, its vastness. I feel that there is where I can empty myself, and fill again and be whole. I know that I have been blessed in so many ways, including being near the sea and the hills and being able to visit John's family in the High Sierra. All this is balm for the soul.

We are all so happy that you visited us yesterday. You both look so well and fit, happy and peaceful. I'm glad that you enjoyed your exploration of our little corner of loveliness and hope you'll return. May you enjoy the rest of the summer. Be well.