In 1988, I was introduced to a beautiful beach in Ipswich, Massachusetts. I loved the wide, flat sand that seemed to echo the ocean waves in it's sandy ripples. I wrote a poem to the beach that described it from water to dune. The poem was a little bit over 1,300 words. I got this crazy idea that I would write the poem out on a very long narrow piece of paper and lay it down on the beach. The water end would be in the water and the dune end would lay on the dune. I found a package of cheap adding machine paper and set about writing the poem on the paper.
I went to the beach with camera and poem in hand, but the wind proved unmanageable and I gave up the project. A year later, I moved away from the area.
Well, this year I decided to return and try to complete the project 24 years later. The poem didn't need many changes, but I am thankful for the improved technology that computers and printers provide. Here I am with a print out of the poem not yet completely cut into strips.
This summer I set across the country to return to Crane Beach. I brought my daughter, Annie, along to help. We stayed two nights in a beautiful inn that is part of the trust that cares for the beach: The Inn at Castle Hill. The inn was elegant and simple and allowed me to visit the beach by 6 a.m. each morning. I hired a sound engineer to meet me one of the mornings to record beach sounds and me reading the poem. She was super professional and impressively devoted to getting samples of each little sound on the beach.
If you are ever in the need of a sound engineer I highly recommend Amanda Kowalski.
The light was so beautiful at 6 a.m.. I ended up taking many photographs of the beach before I even brought the poem printout to the beach.
A dear friend named Plum that I had known since my years in summer camp (yes, that was her camp name and she never gave it up) joined us later in the morning for a fortifying breakfast at the inn, Then, around 11 a.m. Annie, Plum, and I set out for the beach with several rolls of poems.
I had two complete rolls and 13 sections that I hadn't gotten around to taping together. I liked the idea that it was mid-day and the shadows would be minimal.
We started with the first section which goes in the water. Here is a photo my daughter took of our first dip. (I like the double take of the beachcomber in the picture.)
And here is one I took of Plum and Annie:
Here are two installation shots. The first has my hand...
And the next one is Annie's and some astoundingly purple sand. (Also, the shadow of her hand is seems very Matisse-like):
Here are some results of the three days of photographing:
On the second day of photographing the poem, I relaxed a bit and stopped worrying about matching up the kind of sand the poem described with that same kind of sand underneath. It helped me focus on the quality of the photographs.
and last, "er":
Here is a link to preview and or purchase my Crane Beach Blurb book: Crane Beach
Here is a link to the recording of me reading the poem on the beach: Recording
The poem can be found below:
Clear bottom bending cold, the thick warped not blue of it, blue background for life, unseen and assumed, the clear unconscious sway-thoughts of plankton and torn sand dollars and serrated seaweed, salt same life. Thick with depth and pushes and pulls that shift the patina of sand, suspension pressed gone and pulled back. Life is oblivious to orbit or tide. Until it rubs up against something else, land, that slope-cradles it into self-expression, unknowingly like god's work. The slope up-raises ice cold sea level and drops it flat. Surf depends on the unfathomable mathematics: how forward fights or strokes return. It's chemistry not personality, but unpredictable as all sources. Land pulls resistanceless depth up by the armpits, beckons and rubs it. Water thins and dances. Fights, forgives and stretches in its sleep; lapping lather laced pushes backward onto land. Large waves curl forward into themselves, tip and break. Small waves roll as their pent up stamina dies onto the upward facing unthinking hands of wet unimprintable sand. It’s shaking out the sheets of foam, form. It’s shifting and self-scratching rock roller sands singing in too high voices for almost anything to hear. And leaving lace lines in dry bubbles--always the farthest yet on the beach although all this forward may be receding. Ever unrolling, frog-tongued tide, hiding wax and wane, high and low, while brushing down the sand, sand-sifting sand, over and over, farther and less far. Fields of smallness and water's shallow touch. Here, disorderly, are the birthing grounds of order. As water takes light and folds it evenly, precisely and temporarily, leaving simple complex creases in the sand. Here are the birthing grounds of pattern, origins of all: mackerel skies, feathers on a wing, scales, bark, even waves themselves. The water-soaked sand takes on the wave 's pattern, drinks and becomes its source. Receiving sand stretches for ages, simple except for the occasional interruption of dead or dying or discarded life that ventured too far or high and lies there on the imperceptible slope, white bellied, open nostriled and dead mouthed. Or the seaweed, less desperate and only temporarily abandoned, curved and twisted in its fat leathery skin, half-buried in the wet underground. With beauty it bares beauty; the sand around kelp exaggerating with weaving and weeping curves, trails, mica-floored valleys, back to the sea. Shapes heaved and left on the sand. Shells, grace pieces, usually empty, just so buried they belong to Perfect and beg not to be touched except by the unforgiving, never ugly, hand of the sand-master. The sand that sinks so like gravity always toward the center of beauty. These shells are wet, and have a chance of returning. But sand goes up on quiet tilt. Sand raises the color of wet, reaching water's last ability to move things. Just barely able to hold bird footprints, webbed and ivy, in its drying mass. Beyond the last wet white foam lines, nondescript sand except for the long back-arching dark lines that overlap and twist like unbraiding beauty - lines of impermanence that will be ruined by the same thing, later. Slowly wet is becoming dry. The wet consistency gives over to the pale dead sea sand color, not oozing and drooling rivers around the caught crab-leg, garbage, broken shell becoming unnoticeably lighter, and sun-brushed. The water is gone and going. Now plain sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand--little tiny pieces of chipped off color: amber, straw, copper, sorrel, henna, clear gray sand, peach sand, mauve sand, white and, black sand, mica sand, little lasting pieces. Unsaturated, sand sunned, water gone, wind blurred sand. And then the dip. Little ocean. Warmed, caught and clear, salt water. It’s only two inches deep but wind impersonates wave pushes up hard sand-ridges four inches high. Magic more from less. Magic wave-stills from caught water. More pattern. Sterner, stiller, taller and thicker pattern. With little contour lines feigning time and deposition for these afternoon-old forms whose maker water oozes back, pours, in river twists, back to the uncaught ocean wild leaving only its wave shapes up and hard in the empty pool's edge. Now, once again, past water's second brink, dry sand and seaweed crisp, shells dust white and sucking touch dry. The sand is smoother, finer and more forgetful of the ocean's etch. Only the almost-gone shade darker fans show much of water's way; drizzling out dry from the shell piece, seaweed crumb or broken plastic part, pouring and pointing a quiet silvered delta path. Up and over the lip of imperceptible change, past ordinary day's tide to extraordinary storm's reach, is the white on white, real free, blowable, soft and warm, white and dirty, trampled sand. Beauty's back broken with shoe print and horse and dog and jeep. Black with time and use and minerals. Sand and living things beyond death. Beaten and protected; wave forgotten and finger silk. Water nowhere. Unmoving except when squeaky kicked. And then the ledge. The crust hard edge of the Dune. Grey scribed in laminar time’s soft curve. The sand gains mass and height and form, birth-licked proud and stout into existence. Its glue hidden, living, root-like and moisture hungry. The dunes, they stay the same and don't. They've buried their own transits: tall stately grasses with thick rounded stems, spewing delicate v-spined leaves and the yellow tuft of sex on top. These all buried with only the latest growing sharp as a nail grass tips above the shifting horizon. Moving as much as the tide, but fitfully, but slowly. The dunes: accumulative minds of their own. Their momentary shape the outcome of an inextricable tangle of winds. Tiny double-lobed leaves grow out of the white sand just before it buries them. They dream up water and rush a reproductive climax, early, before the wind makes up its mind and lowers the world or raises it. Sand here is no longer sand. Sand is everything. Sand is earth. It is white, silver, soot black, and pink. And the wind separates and smears it with its weighing combing hands, spreading all the fine same weight color across a whale-sided bend in the dune's sleep. The dune is star-studded with grass. Wind-packed dry. Hardened and ripple-carved, a cameo picture of Air & Land's kiss. Ripples even here in this dry airy world! Just out of the water's reach--only the wind to carry the story, the vibration, of salt water. Or perhaps all ripples have some shared genesis - an oscillating spark in the Eden of Time. The sand goes on, shifts and accumulates - because the wind changes its mind. White, gray, silver, and black - fine layers, deposits, of impulse, and the marbled-story tells all. There are no creatures here. No footprints and no smells to attract or speak. Only hardy plants and bug eggs. Hatching elemental being, bone-dry and wind-whipped, the inherent etched clean. Take the circles, the circles that the not-buried grasses write, gradually, as the wind blows them from every direction and they carve a circle line around themselves. A perfect compass in the bend of their anchored leaf. Circles scratched in pale sand with unfeeling fingers. And just more sand. Sand and grass and sand and grass and sand. Till the dune falls. And digs for water. Then, the Salt Marsh is another story.