I measure my breath against the tide – it rises and falls with my chest. Inhaling salty air my lungs fall into step, it slows my stride along the shingle beach. Rising and falling, waves stretch and retreat – the breath of the ocean. My shoulders fall.

Debris coughed up scatters along the tide line, paths of seaweed and mermaid purses – the insides of the beast sprawl at my feet, signs of another world with new life. Undulate and thornback rays populate this stretch of water – small black leathery pockets show their inhabitants have hatched and fled their nest. Two smaller pale brown egg cases with winding tendrils tell me there are cat sharks out there too. What else cannot be seen but leave traces for me to find? Balls of dog whelk egg cases bounce around in the wind, their empty shells evidencing the life then lived, both ends of a life cycle captured on the same patch of beach.

I can only imagine what lies beneath my breath, what activity there may be below the surface of symptoms and absence – restorative and regenerating or simply treading water? When the tide will turn remains unknown, For now I shall continue to breathe.

Body of Water

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 angry sea

Sculptures in the sand. Low tide, and evidence of what was before lies at my feet. I stand on the sea floor, as it was just a few hours ago. The beach is revealed. Regular and irregular bumps and dips, rivulets and drawings are left, messages from the sea I try to decode. Without words or emotion of its own, the sea is imbued with ours. Our thoughts and feelings, evoked by its presence, are attributed to the ocean.

I watch where I walk more closely, alert for patches of sinking sand, preoccupied with my own feelings of rage. Rage that has no where to go, rage that seems to serve only to erode my energy – a precious commodity I cannot afford to waste. The shapes in the sand are a physical trace of earlier activity. Seen in isolation, without presence of the sea or knowledge of the tides, I might marvel at its presence as a magical intervention, an elaborate artists creation. It seems all the more special and intriguing that it is made by the water. Shapes that look like trees, carvings and landscapes twist and form. It distracts me from my internal thoughts, temporarily at least. I return to imagine what shapes and sculptural form may be left on my own body by my feelings of anger, by my depleted energy. Muscles shift in tension and tone, blood pulses faster or slower, an inability to sleep causes crumples in skin, greyness and dryness on my face. Bruising appears from clumsy co-ordination, posture alters with pain and exhaustion. I want to scream at the sea and howl at the moon, but these are more things that will deplete me further. This ongoing navigation of what is possible and what is desired, what I can do that leaves me with enough to still have a voice. I need to hold a voice that will be heard, to unleash all that there is will push others away – a balance of what must be said and what can be tolerated.

Collecting the sea

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.

Photograph by Nicole Zaaroura.


98, 99, 100

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

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.

Day 82

Tiny Ocean number 82. It has become a diary. A post it note logging date, time and number along with notes, about the weather, idle thoughts, preoccupations, is wedged under each jar. The sea is different every single day. The weather, the tide, it all changes. Yet it is always there, constant. An unpredictable constant.