Edie called and told me that the waves along Crescent Beach were spectacular. She said, “The wind is blowing them back, making long streamers. My father used to call them scallions.” I left right away. I went right down to Scotch Beach and began to take my pictures. As I took them I thought, “I wonder why he called them scallions. That’s such an odd name for waves.”
I knew that they were beautiful waves, and different in certain ways than I had taken before, but I didn’t know what I really had until I had a chance to look at them later. I had taken many hundreds of pictures, and I got them home I went through them quickly. I tried not to think too much, because this is how I usually do it. I just pick the ones in a visceral way that might be better than others. I still picked 150 pictures, and I just went through them again this morning, looking at them more closely. I saw wave after wave, each one with something wonderful about it, and while I did that I thought about Edie who sent me down to see the ocean, and I thought about how it is to live here, how I get to be here day by day and how that’s important because the ocean has so many faces, and my heart started to swell up with each new picture.
And then I thought, “I’ll bet she said ‘stallions’, not scallions. Stallions, of course.”
And then I thought about the waves themselves… We had just had a storm and in places, the water was churned up like waves in a washing machine. The water was spilling in every direction, like children with so much life in their bodies that they didn’t know how to contain it.
Then I remembered that all that energy in the ocean will also organize itself into long, sweeping rollers. I thought about how that’s how you can learn to read the waves. You can say, “Oh, the waves are shaped this way, and they come this many seconds apart. That means they’ve come from this far away. And they’re smooth so that means one thing, or they’re choppy so that means something else. And now look, the wind has turned and it’s blowing in the other direction.” I thought, “Isn’t that a good thing? That energy wants to organize? I mean, give it time, just give it some time, and all this chaos will start to sort itself out, because that’s what energy does.”
And then I told myself to consider the wave itself. I considered the light in the wave, and the wind that drove it, and the internal forces, and the ground coming to meet those forces and causing it to break. I thought, “Water and light and energy. That’s what makes a wave.” But that’s the story of a wave, as in that is how we parse it out, here’s what we can say about it, scientifically speaking. Then I thought, and here is where I stumble to describe it… “It’s not three things, it’s one thing, just a wave, more than water, more than light, more than motion.” And I felt like it is more than its parts, much like we are. We’re more than the mud that made us, more than the air we breathe, more than the energy that runs in our bodies. There’s a little philosophy for you.
There are people living on this island whose lives have been spent on the ocean. They can tell you everything about it. Not me, I can tell you a little, and sometimes I'm more correct than at other times, as in the example of scallions. But I will say, my heart is really in it. Whatever I can say about a wave, whatever my great philosophy, is less than the feeling I had when I looked at my pictures, considered each one, my heart getting bigger, my eyes getting tears, because that's the direct and immediate thing, the thing I know before I can think about it, just the feeling inside of a human being who loves to look at the ocean. And I'm happy about my pictures, because I will say it is also a part of what makes this wonderful, that you are there and human too and I can show them to you.