More than a hundred days after collecting a hundred oceans and I want to reclaim the tide. I’ve been buffeted and hurled about in the surge of the storm. The swell carves new outlines. Clarity of light shows new colour. Shape is moulded and chiselled and everything sharpens.
The tide wipes it’s surface clean every 13 hours, an etch a sketch sweeping aside the marks made ready for new ones. It erases mistakes, lines drawn in error, in the wrong place: a clean slate, a fresh start, a new and perfect surface. And it arrives in a different colour, with a different sound, and a different texture every day. It shows me that I do not have to be the same, I do not have to be strong, or persevere or persistent, I just have to be – to come and go as the sea. What it brings with it, may be debris cast overboard, it could be treasure. Energy fluctuates, ebbs and flows. It is rarely noticed. The tide is in, the tide is out, you have to watch carefully to see it shift, to watch it turn. You have to be very, very still to notice the precise point of change. Time marks the spot, the precision of the clock calls the sea back to shore. Time: a curious beast. Fast and slow it marches, rhythmic and solid, unwavering, it just keeps going. My sense of it is very different. Time comes ashore, tries to ground me in routine, but light and dark, the moon and the sun, shift and swerve and another day is passed. I lose count, one day, two days, seven days. Time creeps up, like the wolf, it is stealthy, silent, hunting. Then it hits me, it’s been more than two years, more than two years of feeling like this, so long I have forgotten what it is like not to feel like this.
The ocean, immense and terrifying, I collect small amounts each day. I think it will make it less immense, less terrifying. This feeling of overwhelming and unremitting fatigue, I think perhaps the sea will help. If I can control the ocean surely I can control my own body. This frail, feeble, pathetic house of a person I am. Not even a shell, a shell is sturdy and protective, a shell is beautifully formed. This house gives way easily, buckles and folds without warning.
The sea: an unpredictable constant.
The body: predictably inconsistent.
The point at which the sea and the sky meet and disappear. This is how the world will end. A cocoon of fog enveloping the land. I walk out to greet it.
A jar of the sea, every day for one hundred days.
I walk out to meet the tide. Crouching down I offer out my small glass jar to the waves. It is as if I am making a prayer to the sea, kneeling at its edge. It beckons to me.
For a while I watch, attempting to judge its speed, waiting while water seeps in to my shoes, soaks up my trousers. Some days I am more patient than others, have more time, am more inclined to linger. Holding the jar to the ground I wait. Some waves scurry in obediently, creeping over the lip and settling carefully into their new home. Some take wide routes around and beyond it, teasing and drawing me closer. Some hurl themselves with such force they rush in and fly straight out again, heading skyward – repelled by the confines of a jam jar. Some bring with them sand and grit and stones that slowly settle on the bottom, leaving a still transparency above.
It has been a ritual continued for more than three months. It has surprised me how much has happened in this small and quiet time, how much the act of collecting – of having a daily ritual – has made me remember things within a timeframe more clearly. Like a diary, but without all the words. The physical process of doing creates a memory and record of itself.
On Friday morning at low tide I collected my hundredth tiny ocean. It was foggy and quiet and the air was filled with heavy mist. The weather kept those usually encountered elsewhere. It meant I had the whole beach to myself. There was a palpable stillness, with only the sound of the sea. With the tide at its furthest and the horizon hard to place, the whole space changes. It was one of those beautiful days when the sky smudges into the ocean and it feels as though this could be the edge of the world. It seemed entirely possible that there might be nothing beyond the retreating visibility and that I could get swallowed up, slipping in to another dimension.
After stooping down to the incoming waves and catching a small amount of water in my jar, I wanted to capture something of this ritual in a photograph. So preoccupied with taking the picture, I didn’t realise I was kneeling in water. As I walked home, salt water climbed up my jeans, rain penetrated from above. One way or another I would be engulfed by water.
Ninety four times I have walked to the beach. Each walk had ninety four different views and ninety four shades of green, blue and grey. There were ninety four different kinds of wave – height, speed, gradations between high tide and low, phases of the moon, temperature and wind direction. Each wave carried ninety four different thoughts and moods. Each thought had ninety four new possibilities.
It is 61 days since I started to collect these Tiny Oceans, 61 days and 61 jars. Over time their contents have settled. What started as cloudy water that looked a murky green brown has become clear, crystal clear. Sediment settles to the bottom, the process of gravity filtering the larger particles out from the water. I’ve woken at 6am, not with these thoughts, but with thoughts of plans and ideas I have had during these 61 days – of things I have thought I should do, could do, might do. These have been things influenced by others opinions, others expectations, their assumptions. And it occurs to me that in time this has settled also. I am left with a clarity of thought I did not have before the cloudiness was stirred up. The fog brought with fatigue makes this a slower process sometimes, filtering out the noise of the outside world – to listen, to see, with clarity. The grit of sand and small stones are clearer too, now that they have settled – the water is clearer and I can see them, I could count the grains if I chose. This is only possible in time, with the passing of time and the settling of sediment.
Twenty three days and I have collected twenty three tiny oceans. A small scoop of a wave each morning as I walk the coastline. It has been still and stormy, I’ve been at high tide and low. Every day is different and each view is the same.
I bend down trying not to get my feet wet, sometimes the jar fills quickly and easily – I find a groove in the stones that the water sits in after a wave. Sometimes I am bent over for ages, left with just foam, the water too quick for me to catch. The contents of the jar always starts cloudy, a bit murky and brown. Sand and stones are stirred up, fragments of what else creates the beach is caught with the salty water. On Wednesday it felt as though the whole world had been stirred as the tide continued to smack at the shore, clambering higher and higher across the prom.
In this short time I have learned that a loved one has cancer. In this short time I have lost my beloved cat. These jars show nothing of that. They are jars of memories. Water washes away and water dilutes. They are, for me, for now, a constant. A repetitive ritual to my day. If I do nothing else I will visit the sea and catch a wave, a fragment at least. I had anticipated working with the residue that is left. Today I am urged to replace their lids and keep them safe.