…. the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
Sea Fever – John Masefield (1878-1967)
Storms, shipwrecks and sea monsters are strewn throughout our cultural heritage, a tidal wrack of sagas, sea shanties and symphonies. Selkies, serpents, swans and sea birds feature as allegoric devices to convey moral tales or act as elegiac metaphors for death and the voyage from this world to the next. The sea has a rich mythology and retains its power to inspire and enthral.
Stormbound, watching the surf break over the reef and the squalls race over the horizon, the wind rising as a cannonade of rain batters the house and the skies turn from grey to deepest indigo; snatches of long forgotten poems weave their way through my day dreams. Romantic and tragic stanzas from Tennyson, Coleridge and Browning mixed with Homeric epics and Celtic myths fuel my sea fever. An intoxication which leaves me mesmerised by the sound of the wind and the sea, content to sit and watch the equinoctial gales, waiting for the tide and wind to retreat.
In the aftermath of a storm, the beach is often strewn with a rich harvest from the kelp forests, long tangles of amber dabberlocks and furbelows, dark ochre and olive fronds of wrack, strands of sea spaghetti, velvet green sea-fingers and translucent sea lettuce. Food for the land, the islanders and the shorebirds.
Too often there is an ugly tide line of plastic and assorted human debris, a wretched symbol of our contempt for our environment. This poisonous and ugly flotsam and jetsam disfigures even the most remote shores of our planet and leaves me with an aching despair. Too often a walk along the beach becomes a garbage gathering exercise only relieved by the delight of watching the sanderling scurry along the tide edge.
If the wind is in the north, the beach will be scoured, leaving a complex sculpture of sand ripples and beach cobbles. A novel landscape to explore for mysteries as the power of the storm can bring exotic visitors or reveal messages from the past.
Finding the wooden ribs of the vessel exposed on the beach presented an intriguing mixture of possibilities, tinged with an aura of romance and perhaps tragedy. It may have been the relatively recent wreck of a fishing boat or perhaps an echo of a more distant time when the islanders travelled by sea and traded with Ireland, Scandinavia, the Baltic and beyond. A reminder that from early prehistory the Isles were well-populated by complex and sophisticated communities and in the time of the Lords of the Isles were the seat of a maritime dynasty considered to be a second royal house in medieval Scotland. Traders, raiders, missionaries, messengers, diplomats, fishermen or adventurers, their story will never be told, but it is ours to imagine.
The magic of 21st century technology recorded its location for those who might one day seek to uncover its secrets, but with the turn of the tide it disappeared from view and was once more covered by the sea and the sand. Perhaps another maritime metaphor.