What season is this? The gray season. The brown season. The dry season. A lost season.

Strands of my sea-wet hair blow across my face as I peer through the camera lens; I see the gray strands against the brown, just as I see the gray grasses across the tawny sand. The water is so warm it feels tropical. T.S. Eliot drifts through my mind, thoughts of a dry brain in a dry season.

I went down to the beach for at least the tenth time since Hurricane Irene. And everything looked different, again. The beach has been ravaged. It is frightening to see how quickly all our efforts at "dune restoration" come undone. Poignant. Laughable. We tell ourselves, this is where high tide reaches. As if there were an agreement, a contract; here and no further. We are like the ants. The sea crushes our nests. We build them back. We believe we belong here. We believe we can tame nature. We believe we can help out. We are sweet, that way, and kind, from time to time.

Do you remember that game we used to play as children, Pick-up Sticks? Are we still playing such games?

And of course, everywhere at this beach, I see my children--small, young, their voices pitched high. Alex at the beach for the first time in his life, standing at the edge of the tide, screaming at the waves: "Again! Again! Again!" Such mastery. They obeyed. Did he tame his fear at such unrelenting noise and movement? I hear the echo of my sons' laughter down the years.

I find them in the clumps of tall grass where they used to hide from me when it was time to pack up shovel and pail and go home. No one can hide anything in these grasses now. The sea has gathered sheaves of phragmites.

I didn't see the beauty of what had happened at the beach until today, a week later, when my nerves were quieted enough to take in the mysterious allure of grasses plastered with salt and sand, flattened by fierce tides, laid down like mats at the edge of the marsh. Beautiful encrustations. Branches barnacled with sand.

The bittersweet has burst its buds to release its seeds early, in distress. Nothing stops that invasive vine, but this year I admire its tenacity. Drops of yellow sapphire gleam against the silvered branches.

And the rose hips. This fall I had intended to gather them to try my hand at jam-making. They were at their peak when the storm hit. Now they are crystallized; they look like the slices of sugared ginger that go into cocktails. One more year, I waited too long.

Those roses are tough. Already, a week later, new sprouts unfurl, that sharp spring green is a surprise at this time of the year. Nothing tentative about this burst of life.

It is sand, but gives the sense of ash everywhere... Do you remember those hauntingly beautiful, horrible photographs, after 9/11, of people's homes covered in ash, their belongings buried in ash, a dish, a bowl, a pair of shoes, coated with ash? Fitting to think of that now, to be reminded to honor the dead.

Somehow the roses do not give up. They're bred to such trouble. They retreat, just for a while, sulk, then burst forth with yet another blaze of bloom.

The roses are remarkable. Perhaps I'll collect the hips anyway; perhaps they'll make a tangy marmalade.

I'll return to the beach to try to sort it out. Because I'm the same as everyone else. I believe the roses are there for me, that the beach is there for me, that I belong there, that I can return when all is quiet. I want to believe that peace and calm and order will be restored for at least a hundred years. That terrible things don't happen over and over again.

Is it the strange, humid heat?--the lack of shade?--the dusting of sand that looks like hoarfrost, so that I feel a chill just glancing at the silvered grasses? the bare branches of the trees that trick the season?

Is it all of that, that unhinges me--and all the hot, mean, angry rhetoric about scientists and how they don't know a thing about the climate, about the way the world was born, about the way humans evolved, about the reasons the rose hip is able to tolerate the hot salt spray and desiccating winds?

I can't shake the Eliot lines...."This is the way the world ends/This is the way the world ends/This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but with a whimper."

Tomorrow's rains will rinse away this ashy scene. This is the way the world begins.

Sometimes I think we know too much. And we don't understand a thing.


Anonymous said...

"Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it." It's attributed to Mark Twain, but may have been written by his colleague Charles Dudley Warner. It's funny -- until it isn't. We know -- despite the naysayers -- that carbon emissions have more impact on global warming than any divine plan has.

But this IS Mark Twain--the Pudd'nhead Wilson quotation that opens Ch. IX of Twain's "Following the Equator": "It is your human environment that makes the climate" says the
If humans make climate, humans can contribute to climate change. And they need to.

Ellen said...

I haven't been to your blog in a while and was so happy I clicked on the link today. Thanks for the beautiful and thoughtful writing, Dominique. Insightful and inspiring. Just read your last post too...the photos are haunting and the advice is sound. The only thing that is sure in this world is that things do change, moment to moment. This inescapable transience encompasses every aspect of our lives, including melancholia and joy.

Sherry said...

I am entranced by your description of the roses. I am here in central Texas where we didn't get the hurricane but the local weather station says we've had 84 days when the temperature peaked over 100F. I've been out with the garden hose every evening pouring a little water on my two bushes. The very day we didn't make 100 degrees they started blooming again. Not the lush 4" blooms of spring, but dainty and pale 1" treasures. Yes, we've come through it and we're better for it. Thanks for your words, and pictures, and insights. You make my day, every day.

Anonymous said...

"And after the earthquake … a still small voice."

I'm in agreement with Anonymous' comment: "It is your human environment that makes the climate." The only time is Now and when we start expressing more calm, more love, more joy, more acceptance of each other, now, each moment, we will experience, "Peace, be still," the quieting of storms. Life is far more a mental phenomenon than most of us are prepared to admit.


sheila said...

Lovely post, quite poetic. We must be of a similar age, mothers who recall how their children's faces looked 20 or more years ago.

Thank you for your lovely photos. I've stuck to words on my blog at tucsonwritereditor.com, but photos really add to your poetic writing!

SweetRetreat said...

This summer of intense, humid heat and news of so many weather-related disasters has definitely left me thinking that perhaps, this is a time of major change. Can this be the beginning of the end? We don't seem able to fight or win against all the Mother Nature is dishing out and in the end, she has the upper hand.

Desiderata. "And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the world is unfolding as it should."

Judith Ross said...

Powerful and potent: words, images, nature....especially nature.

Gin said...

Loved all the pictures, especially the bittersweet and beach roses covered with salt.
Today it is raining, its a soft steady rain without any wind. Its the first rain we have had in a while. I am thrilled, mostly because it will wash everything clean again.
Also because it gives me permission
to take a day of rest. I love the rain like this because its so peaceful...listening to the rain on the roof and skylight. Hopefully its raining on the coast were you are so it will wash all the salt off the beaches and flowers, perhaps renewing its life again.

Ashling said...

Of all your posts, this one has touched me perhaps most deeply. Sad yet beautiful, a different face to destruction than the one just miles away from me in the mountaintop towns of the Catskills, yet telling its own stories. I'm in awe of how you've expressed this.

Violet Cadburry said...

If only we would notice, instead of trying to be noticed. Lovely post, both photos and writing strike a nerve, and it's not the one in my funny bone.

Elizabeth said...

On a recent trip to Yosemite, I was struck by the absurdity of the Biblical refrain that man has "dominion over the earth."

As for Eliot, I prefer Faulkner's lines, said on his acceptance of the Nobel Prize: "I refuse to accept the end of man...when the last ding dong of doom...his tiny inexhaustible voice..."

Cristina said...

"...tomorrow's rain will wash the stains away... on & on the rain will fall like tears from a star, on & on the rain will say how fragile we are"
From now on, whenever I'll hear this song, I'll picture these photos of yours in my mind.

Dominique said...

What profoundly moving comments you all have sent. Thank you. Two days later, it is still raining, and the sand and salt are washed away, leaving things looking more desolate--but I know that once the sun shines, the roses are going to be covered with new green shoots. Fitting for all of us to remember, that rebirth.

My heart goes out to Texans, suffering from extreme heat and drought. Lovely image of the small flowers, doing their best to stay in the pollination stream....and I, too, keep returning to that Biblical idea of dominion, versus the idea of stewardship. Why would two such contradictory views be put forth-or is there something profound about dominion that we are not understanding? d

Anonymous said...

Yours is one of the most beautiful photo-essays of an Irene aftermath, as well as, a reflection on how we look and still live after the great storms that come upon us in this life.
Thank you for your great camera eye and writing heart, Dominique.

Lj Orlin
Oxford, NY

Thea said...

may we be like the Earth, smart enough to retreat from the ravages of its nature, then greening up when the coast is clear.

Anonymous said...

Your photos really capture what happened with the hurricane, but they also capture a haunting abstractness. I was down your way Sunday and was amazed at how everything turned to brown especially the beach plums. It looks like Fall has come early.

Judith Ross said...

What would our landscape look like after a calamity that it couldn't recover from? I have been thinking about the environment much more lately -- in part because of your posts. I agree that it is the single most important issue of our day.

When I had cancer and was being treated, there were days when I wanted more than anything to escape my own body. As Bruce Springsteen sang in his song, "Philadelphia," "I walked a thousand miles/ Just to slip this skin."

But like my own skin, the earth, our home, is inescapable no matter how far we walk.

Dominique said...

So true, Judith...what haunts me is that it is humans who might not recover....the landscape will, one way or another. As E O Wilson put it, I think, we need the ants but the ants don't need us....(we need them, and the worms, and all those meek creatures, for soil, pollination, food....but they get nothing from us but chemical baths from time to time....)

You are so right, we can't escape this home, our earth, and we don't want to, either. If anything, recovering from cancer surgery made me realize how intensely beautiful this life is...

Anonymous said...

That was beautiful. Thank you.

Chris Baskind said...

After Hurricane Ivan -- it doesn't seems so long ago -- we saw the same thing. It wasn't just people's homes and lives which got washed away. The tempest took our very seasons, too.

Whatever leaves were left by the 130 mph winds were taken by the salt spray, baking silently beneath the late August sun. There would be no autumn, just a general wasting away. It was like living in some monochrome Japanese pen and ink drawing.

I see some of that wabi-sabi in your photos. There's actually a beauty to be found.

From the Japanese waka poet, Saigyo:

Even a person free of passion
would be moved
to sadness:
autumn evening
in a marsh where snipes fly up.

(Translated by Burton Watson)

Nothing holds fast, including those crushed and withered reeds. Here's to peaceful winter, and the coming of spring.

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