Five-Acre Almanac: Oil to the Engine

Week 14:

Late Friday afternoon on my lunch break I took a walk on the beach. I only had twenty minutes so I set the timer on my phone for ten minutes and walked one direction until the alarm sounded, then turned back. The tide was just a foot or so below its highest point of the day and I followed the line of driftwood and seaweed that the sea had recently deposited. I’ve walked on the beach several times over the past few weeks, but most days it’s been overcast. On this particular day the sky was blue and the sun was bright and reflecting off the water. When sunlight hits your retinas it sends a signal to your brain to produce serotonin, but even without the technical explanation all that light felt like medicine.

After reading To Speak for the Trees last week I was eager to learn more from the author Diana Beresford-Kroeger and I searched online to see what was available. I found a podcast called “For the Wild” produced by Ayana Young that has Diana Beresford-Kroeger as a featured guest. The two women cover a lot of ground in the interview, but one of the asides that Ms. Beresford-Kroeger offers has to do with kelp. Those of the Fucus species she said, when rubbed against the skin, give the body a boost. This was an old Celtic traditional health practice that can now be explained in scientific terms. Bladderwrack is the common name for our local Fucus species and it has inflated bladders that are filled with a water soluble mucilaginous substance that’s loaded with all kinds of lipids, amino acids, vitamins and minerals, one of which is iodine that helps regulate the thyroid. According to Beresford-Kroeger, rubbing the substance into the skin is like “adding oil to an engine” and makes everything run more smoothly.

Strolling along the tide line with all the washed up kelp at my feet I scanned for Bladderwrack even though it’s not the right time of year for harvesting it. Most of what I saw was bull kelp (nereocystic luetkeana) that had rolled onto shore with recent storms, along with plenty of other species I’m not familiar with yet. While I’ve spent a lot of time learning about the wild plants that grow on land around here, the plants of the sea are new territory. For once my focus at the beach was not just on rocks.

Almost every time I leave the beach I’ve got one or two rocks in my pocket. I collect them for reasons that are beyond reason. Sometimes I imagine using them to border a garden bed but most often there is just a compulsion to pick them up, feel their smooth contours, admire their individuality. The concept of infinity is difficult to fathom, but the rocks on the beach in all their various shapes, colors, sizes, and compositions inch me closer to understanding. To give my attention to one rock out of the millions, billions, trillions that are available, is a study in singularity. Occasionally I try to imagine the geological and geographical journeys a rock has been on and even though I can’t really, just the trying puts time in a whole different perspective. A twenty minute walk, a work day, a week, a month, a year, a decade, a century, a millennium. For those of us that are fleshy and prone to decomposition, time is not the same thing as it is for a rock. Maybe this is why my windowsills are lined with them.

After my twenty minute walk on the beach I went back to the library to finish out my work day. When six o’clock rolled around and it was time to leave I discovered that my phone was missing. The last place I’d used it was at the beach when my ten minute alarm went off. It wasn’t quite dark yet, so I decided to head back to the beach to retrace my steps, but as I was pulling out of the library parking lot and saw the police station directly across the street I figured it wouldn’t hurt to stop in to see if anyone had turned it in.

I told the attendant at the front desk that I’d lost my phone at the beach and she asked my name. Within minutes of noticing they were gone my phone and the case I keep it in that contains various cards and my driver’s license were back in my hands.

It was a small thing in the big scheme of things, to be lucky that way. Lucky that the tide had been high when my phone fell out of my pocket, lucky that the person who found it was kind enough to turn it in, lucky that my hunch to check the police station saved me from a fruitless search at the beach.

If I’d lost my phone forever, along with my driver’s license and cards, it would have been disrupting and a hassle, but I’d still consider myself lucky. I think about this in terms of the times we’re living in. Every time I read the news or spend much time on social media I am reminded of all the ways I could spend my time fretting. But I am alive. There is always more to learn, more to consider. There are an infinite number of relationships to cultivate—with people, with plants, with the ocean, with the seasons, with the elements. The possibilities for expansion and wonder are limitless and learning to look at life this way is a kind of medicine. It’s like adding oil to the engine.

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Photos: Sunday afternoon, unexpected brush cutting/burning/rejuvenating.

Lunch Break Pilgrimage

To outsiders 39 degrees doesn’t sound very warm, but in Homer, in the middle of March, when there is no wind and the sun is shining, it feels downright toasty, especially if you’re wearing your favorite wool sweater.  Yesterday, St. Patrick’s Day, was one of those days.  Unfortunately I had to work, but I did manage to get outside over my lunch break.

First, I left the library and waded through several inches of slush in the parking lot to find my way to the walking trail that leads through the woods.  The trail hasn’t been cleared since last week’s storm, but a narrow path of packed down snow made it passable.  I could have followed the road, but I would have been sprayed and subsequently soaked if a car had driven past.  On the trail I met a young guy whose mother is a friend of mine.  When he stepped aside to let me pass he sunk about two feet into the soft, melting snow.  It was very chivalrous of him considering the fact that he was wearing sneakers and I had my snow boots.

At the end of the trail I turned south on Poopdeck Street.  At this point I had to shade my eyes with my hands.  The sun, the snow, the water; well it was all a little overwhelming for my pupils.  The sidewalk was also icy which made for some interesting maneuvering.  I walked and slid my way downhill to the highway, without crashing I might add, with one hand above my eyes and the other out in front of me for balance.

I crossed the highway at the crosswalk and cut through the Islands and Ocean Visitors Center parking lot to meet the next trail.  It cuts down through the spruce and alder forest and leads to one of my favorite destinations in Homer; Two Sisters Bakery.  But yesterday it was too nice outside, and I needed the sun more than I needed a chocolate bread roll, so I walked past the bakery and headed toward Bishop’s Beach.

The parking area was crowded.  Dogs and children were milling about.  A black lab and a German shepherd, free from their owners, ran up to greet me.  It turns out that I knew both of the dogs and when I called out their names, Osa and Caspian, they were beside themselves. They proceeded to swarm around me in a flurry of leaping and hopping and wagging tails.  When the boys who belonged to the dogs caught up they seemed equally as excited as the dogs at having found someone they know at the beach. Sometimes there’s nothing like a good greeting.

After a short chat in the parking lot I walked through the soft sand at the top of the beach and over the rocky stretch about half way down before I reached the final stretch of my journey.  Still wet from the receding tide and littered with clumps of seaweed, driftwood and clam shells, the expanse of dark sand just before the water is one of my favorite places.  Sometimes I walk long distances along the water’s edge, taking advantage of the firm surface, but yesterday my time was limited so instead of walking parallel to the water I went straight toward it.

I  knew I didn’t have long, that I’d have to turn back in order to get back to work on time, but I stood for a while with the water inching in and out around the soles of my boots.  I listened to the waves. I turned my head toward the sun and soaked in its heat for a few moments.  Then I did something that I hadn’t planned on doing; I took off my gloves and plunged my hands in the ocean.   For some reason it just seemed like the right thing to do.