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Does recovery ever happen this way for you? Something quietly takes you out of yourself?
My room at the inn on the Olympic Peninsula coast looked out broadly on the foggy beach, an early morning panorama grayed out by the ground-level cloud. I tried to discern outlines through that broken mass rolling in from the Pacific. I was struggling to reach through a confused depression to find any clear thing to connect with, something out there, on the shore, apart from me yet a link to the surviving stirrings of life that could bring me out of this dark mood.
I stared at the gray drizzling morning, light wind gently gusting – the water white, waves breaking a hundred yards out, their shallow ripples foaming toward the exposed flats. I had heard there was a record low tide, opening the huge, wet sand-apron of the beach. The mists kept roiling in and out, dissolving the scene for a time, then revealing the great muddy flat again. All at once, I saw dark figures moving about, first just a few, then in the sudden clearing, many small clusters of people. Who or what were they? Barely emerging from the grays of mist, the glistening shore, gray rain, these people weren’t just strolling about – they had purpose. Then I realized they must be out there for the great razor clams buried in the sand, available now because of the low tide.
Those shadowy-thin figures on the gray beach search with focus on their task. Each turn and nod brings them to life. I see from my room the purpose to their strolling, the intent bowing of heads, the turnings to one another for advice on where to go, bending against the cold spray and rain, wrapping of coats and arms tightly in the wind, then the discovery of the prizes, digging, probing into the wet shore, a slick mirror under their feet. Across it, long shadows gleam on the wet surface. There go three in one group – testing the sand with long sticks then walking on. These three slowly change places as one finds, then loses what he seeks – now they’re a triangle – now a straight line – they gradually circle each other – asking – helping.
More mist descends, and they’re gone, but another figure appears – as if out of the clay – alone – a heavy cloddish body, wrapped in thick clothing – at the very edge of the water – trying to follow a receding sliver of wave to the bed of razor clams. I turn away for a moment. Suddenly he is a hundred yards farther along the shore – standing still at the waterline – or in the water, I can’t tell – so far off I can’t see which direction he’s facing – just a huddled figure, indistinct – but then pulling something – a rope in his hand – he turns to look behind – walks toward the land, then back, as if measuring – pacing the ground for his position – his strides lengthen, his shadow is faint. Farther down the beach the first three I had seen reappear. They and the measuring man look as if they’re disappearing into the sea – so tiny are they. The gulls and pelicans are swinging by in long arcs. The wind picks up, its dull roar audible now, distant surf crashing can also heard, as if the sounds too have emerged from the mist. The sun begins to open up a few stretches of sky, and the exposed beach – seen at this tide once in a decade – bears the current markings of the waves – and the diggers searching calmly as if walking on shallow water – mindless of the force in those channeling lines cutting into the clay and sand.
Others walk out – I can see the prematurely bold stride of a young boy – still in silhouette as his thin legs march him toward the thicker slower figures – his torso arched slightly as he stands to his full height – the shore birds scuttering near him along the waterline. He turns in an arc – then runs toward his family emerging on the beach a hundred yards away – he tilts into the wind – his shadowed legs evenly pushing him – his charging plows the sand – pushing it behind him steadily, an even, fast rhythm – how the weight shifts from one leg to the other – both smoothly in his young form. He joins an older figure who distinctly favors one leg in his less certain path.
It’s getting later now, the sun has burned off the grayness, and I can see dozens – maybe fifty figures – a crowd – stooping and looking, bending down to find their prey – probing with sticks – some with long ax-like tools, punching lightly at the sand – a swarm of workers, each instinctively doing his appointed task – first in one place, then another. People with a simple purpose, a few tools, concentration on the goal, the weekend harvesters of razor clams. A little girl is hunched, as if ready to spring in the air.
Mist and misery lift from my mind – I don’t know why – and I pull on a jacket to hike out and join them on the shore.
Does it ever happen that way for you?