intertidal years

I ease one end of my kayak, a squat, pokey thing, into the pond, pushing through a gap in the cattails that are so tall they hide me. Good thing, too, because the sight of me getting into the boat is comical, if not embarrassing. The water is so low I have to take a step into the muck to get the boat out far enough to float it. I’ve done this maneuver a hundred times, but I’m surprised by my awkwardness, the stiff feel of my knees. They actually creak. I have to move slowly, which means my boot is deep in the sucking mud before I can wrench it out, give the boat a wobbly push, and crouch into the seat in the bottom. I’m fine once I’m settled. Feeling thankful again for their cover, I back out of the cattails.

I know exactly where I’m headed—that “strange and beautiful place,” as Rachel Carson called it in one of my favorite books, a “marginal world.” The edge of the sea is a place I have returned to again and again, over the years, to walk the beaches at all tides, all times, to examine the boulders and eddies and coves along the way, to stir and poke and chase the tiny creatures that populate that continually changing place that is no place, really, more a condition. You cannot say, exactly, where the edge of the sea begins and ends. The tides are sculpted by moons, winds, and storms; they are by turns violent and subtle, yet utterly reliable in the rhythm of their leaving, and returning.

I go to the edge of the sea and marvel at the constant change, wonder at what has turned up in the swells, think things over. More than ever before, this tidal zone draws me with its mystery and movement and magic. I can never sit by the sea; I am always moving alongside it, breathing deeply the fragrant air, rich with ozone and drying seaweed. Strange to think of being grounded by water, but that is exactly what happens to me when I am near the ocean.
The edge of the sea has many voices, as I think of them—some booming, some frantic, some crashing. But the voice I respond most deeply to, listen most closely to, is one that whispers: a susurration of water riffling across clacking stone, mingled with breezes catching in the high grass of the dunes. Years of first finding, and then finally hearing, understanding, what that voice can teach me—and I have just begun to accept the relentless flux that is the condition of my life, of all our lives. Not young, not old; not betrothed, not alone; thinking back, looking forward; not broken, and not quite whole, anymore, either. But present. Here. Now.

These are my intertidal years.
(I've adapted this entry from my new book, Slow Love)


Marguerita said...

Dear Dominique
I always loved reading your words,your train of thought.
Keep going.I am in this kind of mood for years and everyday forgetting which day it is.
Just live and enjoy life,as much as I am in a state of being evicted again and destitute.
And yes,my two sons are out of the house too,but I cannot stop thinking about them as when they were little boys running around the house My birds keep me company and my ginger plant,which has grown up from a little tinsy branch I brought from a trip to Jamaica ten years ago.I have loads of book projects and looking forward that someday all my dreams come through.Marguerita

dominique said...

Thank you for writing Marguerita. Your spirit is anything but destitute. Good luck. I'm going to plant a ginger in your honor.

Mrs. G said...

2nd Beach looking towards Sachuest Point?

Anonymous said...

Hi Dominique ,, It looks beautiful and inspirational , I think you should start a "Slow Love" Introduction Service ! Seems like it might be a nice way for people to meet ! Congratulations and best , Alison Spear

Anonymous said...

Currently working but (perhaps) soon to be laid off, I read your article in the New York Times with interest as a way to prepare mentally for what might come. Thanks! Nice blog, too.

Craig C. said...

Welcome dear woman, to the ranks of those who have - eventually - made a successful transition to a very different life and often past age 50. This is not the idle, leasurly grace of formal retirement, but perhaps close. Hundreds of thousands could tell this story, but with far less grace and humor.
About age 55 and under far different circumstances, I to was forced to change. Early on, the rat-race became a full schedule of the rural hobby living that I'd enjoyed through ocassional weekends for years. Whoops! Now this is full time. FOr a year or so, I too ate and drank too much, while mkaing the best of my Country Gentleman's style.
One day it hit me: This may be fun at times, but like anything else, success requires some work. When I reduced by diet and alcohol intake, I realized that I really ENJOYED the work. Today, at nearly 59, I do more physical work than since I was well under 30 and I truly love what I do. I live in graceful comfort, more than 50 miles fo any town with a police force, want for nothing and can usually spend under $10k for a year's very comfortable upkeep. I too run my fingers over the 88 keys of a piano, a private enjoyment that is physical excercise for the hands, not public performance. Morning and breakfast is an opportunity to consider the day's possible graces and nearly every chore has become fun.
I'm glad that you survived your life-changing experience. I'd guess that you write and publish simply becasue the East Coast lifef style is so expensive. I'd rather watch my trees grow! As noted, I can manage with no real income, expenses of under $10K per year, only becasue I live in a rural part of Oregon. I can easily afford any food that I want; my kitchen is not a budget line item, ever.
Best wishes for your continued happiness, if such a thing is possible in the East .

Craig C.
Deadwood, Oregon 97430

My Dog-Eared Pages said...

Dear Dominique,
I too, am in my "Intertidal Years" just north off the Massachusetts coast. And, I am finding the same magical pulse in the tidal zone post dotcom years, and more. I cannot express how truly honored I am that you read my blog. I've always been a big fan and I look forward to reading your new book. I love the title and think a lot about this very thing daily. A favorite "Slow Love" of mine is walking on the beach at low tide with my dachshund, Billy. He stops to appreciate every lovely thing. Thank you and welcome to blogging! Best wishes, Barbara

Anonymous said...

Hello Dominique,
It is a pleasure to find you, read your words
and the the images in our blog.
I am an egg photographer and while I photograph many different subjects, eggs are one of my most calming themes. We raise chickens brown eggs, chickens with white eggs, and chickens with blue and green eggs.
My husband and I sell free-range happy chicken eggs. I love them, sometimes the round bowl in the kitchen can have 25 eggs in an exciting mound..
Time for "Tea with Mussolini."
Annie at skybluemaine

Anonymous said...

Dear Dominique,
I found you by accident having gone to the NY Times magazine website at 4:30 this morning since I couldn't sleep. I, too, have just left my lifetime career, and not by choice. I know I'm lucky to be starting a new job in a few weeks but I am scared and overwhelmed and afraid to slow down. Instead I am sleepless, and obsessiong over all my mistakes. Thank you so much for making me stop and realize that it does not have to be that way. I look forward to your future postings. Eileen

Anonymous said...

Dear Daminique, I read your article in the N.E. Times magazine, sorry you had to experience that but now you know what its like for every freelance writer,photographer,designer etc.and what they go through every day of there life.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dominique...as I slowly move within my paralyzed world, the excerpt from your book (NYT online) stirred some energy into my frozen world. I had thought that the last 3 yrs of forced hermit-tude were the result of caring for my Alzheimer's stricken mother...then realized the paralysis had been only in remission for much of my life. I don't know yet if this is a catalyst that will spring me toward a cure, but it certainly opened a window of possibility towards annihilating the inertia that has enveloped me. "Blessed are those who have the courage and skill to share their experiences and stand naked in the world...for they become the saviors of mankind"...by me

Anonymous said...

Dear Ms. Browning: I just finished your piece in the Times. Please accept my congratulations on your beautiful writing. You are much too profound to be spending time with something like House & Garden. I have a daughter who is a senior editor at a still-functioning magazine in NYC and cannot help thinking that she might be better off losing her job despite the regular paycheck and benefits, both of which take her away from writing prose or poetry. Best wishes. A reader.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dominique, this is so beautiful, well written (no surprise there) and elegant. Congratulations.

Anonymous said...

What a gift to find your blog. Your graceful and insightful writing is a reflection of my own life. I, too, lost my job a year ago and with it the connection to my coworkers and the leadership role I loved for two decades. But what began as an emotional cataclysm eventually transformed into great joy. I look forward to reading your book, and meanwhile raise a glass to you, to me, and to all the others who are busy learning that there is life after layoff!

marte said...

Dominique, I've been looking forward for almost TWENTY-ONE hours to the chance to join your blog conversation after reading yesterday morning's NYT Magazine excerpt from your book. So now I'm all newly logged in and I just finished writing you an absolutely flawless gem of a comment only on seeing the "Preview" button I pushed it, saw a typo, tried to fix the typo; lost the whole ?gem?.

Oh well. I hope I can do better some subsequent time. The NYT piece was (for multiple reasons) one of the most enriching and encouraging "reads" I've had in a long long time.

Thank you so much!

Mackenzie Carpenter said...

This blog is lovely. I wish you were happier... but no matter, you have exquisite taste and I am wallowing in it! :)

william of san antonio said...

dominique browning -- from my own experiences i am able to dive right into your intertidal zone. well, wade right in, then.

how i got here: three newspapers, four firings, four decades of climbing the editor's ladder as 1) a young lion, 2) an up-and-comer, and 3) a fast burner.

fortunately, in my venture to be the youngest, longest-lasting managing editor of a now-closed houston newspaper, i invested in a side-bar career, oceanography. and it was there that i found sea critters called holdfasts who withstand the power of the same tides that deliver their sustenance. this knowledge would resurface later and become my hole card.

each crossroad that dealt me too much evil or effervescence was balanced by injecting the holdfast defense -- meaning, i was going to survive this tidal mess by holding fast. and, so i did and, so i did.

treading water skills help, too. that is, not knowing what to do just now, but keep something physical of mine in motion until an answer surfaces. no, it is not always the right answer, so, it's back to the first sandbar.

marte said...

Dominique (and previous posters) forgive me posting twice in something less than fifteen hours. In all the Internet speed/noise this is certainly the most hearteningly quiet (and quietening) blog I've so far had the privilege (and good fortune) to find. Even the layout is so personal and aesthetic.

I don't want to leave a note in any way discordant to all of that but I do have quite a few computer-usage questions. How would you best suggest I get them to you without excess aggravation either to you, your site, or other posters? So much, here, has struck so many common tones with me but the last thing I would want to do would be to start using comment options to contribute to the exact excess speed (&etc.) you are so eloquently disclaiming. I will look the coming days to see whether you have replied to this (if I can enough tear myself away during my online-with-you-time from spending it catching up on all the previous posts!) before I post again. Every single post-er here seems to me, so far, exemplar of what this site is trying to do ... and I am grateful "beyond words" (if only I had the technical skills [yet, any way] to send just visuals!