What You Discover on the Backshore Beach

Aug 14, 2018

Credit L. Lerner

The Backshore beach is a veritable graveyard.  Littered all about, from the tide line up into the dunes, are bodies and body parts.  Some are fresh, the tide’s latest delivery; others lie, bleached and scoured, as if they had been there for all time. 

  

 

There are exoskeletons and carapaces and claws, fish vertebrae, and lots and lots of bird parts: skulls, lower mandibles, humeri, fused radius and ulna sets, tarsi, feet, and – due to a Peregrine Falcon, I think – pairs of wings. 

 

The point of all this is that death presents itself neatly, unapologetically, and with a certain aesthetic.  And death exists right alongside life: the loafing gulls, the breeding plovers, the beach-walking people.  Life is not subdued by death; it goes on, heartily. 

 

Looking into the vacant stately stare of a Northern Gannet carcass, holding the smooth polished skull of a Herring Gull, the thought emerges:  it’s not that bad.  Death is acceptable. 

 

The injured Great Black-Backed Gull drags its broken wing like a toddler half out of a snowsuit, or a drunk trying to maneuver a wayward sleeve.  It is a goner; it’s just a matter of time.  It may be pitiful, but it is pitiless.  It deals with itself with a dispassion exactly as it would a crab struggling on its back, pulling off legs one by one, or as it would a dying seal pup, pecking it to death incrementally as the little head cranes and turns, wide eyes astonished but itself not beseeching.  Pity is a human construct, like justice. 

 

Fog is like death, too:  irresistible, all encompassing, the essence of a shroud, enveloping everything in its opaque and gauzy web, deadening sound, making the near disappear, and yet, within its ephemeral clutch, everything is still there.   

 

The waves repeat themselves; the boats go by- the same boats, on the same errands: draggers, ferries, whalewatches, pleasure boats of motor and sail- under the same blue sky.   

 

Can you hear the grains of sand grinding against one another?  Shoulder to tiny shoulder, they muster on.  The gulls stand by the water as if waiting for a bus.  They do quite a bit of nothing and they do it for hours.  All wildlife has the ability to just be. 

 

I am watching one pair of plovers and its brood.  I am watching intently.  The world shrinks to what is seen in my binoculars, save for the sound of the surf lapping, the lazy drone of an overhead plane, the call of a Laughing Gull, the faraway cries of people on the nearby beach.  I (mentally) step into this reduced world: sand and more sand, beach grass, a log, a windrow of dried and blackened eelgrass, a clump of daisy miller, a plover chick in its shade.  A single adult, the male, is feeding at the water’s edge: stop and run, stop and run; each wave offers a new serving.  Another chick stops and runs, stops and runs, up in the enclosed area, and stares into the grass.  I check the time: I have been here for forty five minutes.   

 

The beach is a kind of hell in the middle of the day: the air is hot and sometimes humid and everything shimmers; there is a sort of stupefaction:  all is languid, slo-mo.  But the peace of the morning when the light is soft, or in the evening when there is a purple cast and the surf is listless and the Least Terns call like tinkling bells and the fishing boats just offshore hum:  the soul, the self, rejoices.