Tide Pools

We crawled out of bed just after 6 am to catch the 7 am low tide.   The day before I had heard the ranger say to a group of people that the morning low tide was the better one. We got coffee on the way, in those disposable paper cups lined with wax that I recently learned take 20-30 years to decompose.  Cups that almost certainly comprise part of the "great Pacific garbage patch," a known oceanic trash vortex three times the size of France. 

All those cups and empty plastic water bottles and nets and old Barton binders and tsunami debris tangled together forever in a never-ending trash ballet.  It’s really hard to do no harm you guys.  At least it is in my experience.

Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area has an array of attractions, but chief among them are the tide pools.   Tide is an interesting word to study.  It comes to us from the Old English tid, which according to Etymonline originally had the sense, “point or portion of time, due time, period, season, feast day, canonical hour.”  Y’all I had no idea what “canonical hour” meant until this moment.  It means “the times of daily Christian prayer as appointed in the breviary.”    

I’m afraid you are on your own for breviary.  Time and tide wait for no man.

My teacher said this morning, in class, that a way to understand English as a stress-timed language (rather than a syllable-timed language) is to consider the points of stress as pulses.  Since the ocean is still in my ears I started thinking about how the waves pulse as the tides ebb and flow, and how stress pulses in individual lexemes contained within the greater ocean of our grammar.  My teacher observed that in English the pulsations of stress might even signal the grammar, like proJECT and PROject.  One stress pattern might signal a verb, the other a noun.

Spending time near tide pools will teach you that the waves in relation to the shore signals the tide.  Don’t go too far out when it’s high tide cause you might get swept away.   The intersections between land and sea are often not real friendly environments.  The intersections between knowledge and action, truth and lies, movement and paralysis often aren’t either.  

We traversed the loose rock and slick, seaweed covered boulders to deep saltwater pools.  Nearly every tide pool held hermit crabs in chipped turban snail shells, gorgeous soft green anemones, and spiny deep purple urchins, some as large as a clenched fist.  There were orange and purple sea stars, countless navy blue mussels, many tiny brown fish and gorgeous purple crabs, the latter seemingly cautiously optimistic that these humans were not the same threat level as the circling gulls.

We also saw chitons, creatures who bear a name that was first recorded in English in 1816, from the Greek khiton “unisex frock, tunic, chainmail coat.”

Gazing into the tide pools made me think about the risks and rewards of ongoing scholarship, the feeling of sinking yourself into such deep intellectual water that you are at moments certain that you’ll never dry out, that you’ll surely drown before the light of understanding shines and the tides recede.  

So many of us in service work feel overwhelmed by the constantly churning ocean of need before us, an ocean which requires a skill set that can never be static.  You can’t teach out of a binder and encounter the kind of depth of life that one finds in a tide pool.  Kids should not be made to wait until Level 6 before having an opportunity to understand the potential, single, final, nonsyllabic <e>.  That’s like taking a kid to a tide pool and telling them they’re not ready to know and understand what they can plainly see.  That’s an urchin, that’s a sea star, and that over there is a chiton.  Names have tremendous power.  Use them yourself and teach them to children.

It’s two weeks before the school year starts here.  The first day for most of my students is on a Monday, the day named in honor of the force that governs our tides. 

May you constantly seek the richness of understanding that lurks in deep tidal pools. 

May you know when to retreat for your own safety, and may you also know when to bravely stay the course of the tide.