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.
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.
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.