The groundswell from and offshore hurricane is subsiding today and – of course – that spell of massive surf had to coincide with the arrival of false albacore in my area. I know full-well what the ocean looks like after an event like this, but that doesn’t mean I’m smart enough to believe what I know to be true. At lunch today, I hopped in the truck and drove to the water to see just how bad things looked.
I could tell from 2 miles away, still driving on the road, that it wasn’t pretty, but I decided to see it through and drive all the way down to the beach. I arrived in the parking lot and glassed the water with my binoculars: pure filth. My experience over many years of dealing with these situations in the fall has taught me that there is value in looking at the water for more than just a minute or two, so I decided to walk down the short beach with the hope of seeing some reason to salvage my optimism.
On the 10-minute walk down to the end, I knew all hope was lost. On the walk back, I shifted my focus to the ground, after a big swell event like this, many interesting things often find their way onto the beach. It didn’t take long to find the first interesting item, the central ‘globe style’ compass from a boat, still mounted in its wooden tower washed ashore in the waves. A small ‘jelly bean’ of dark green sea glass emerged next.
Suddenly, I felt like I was being drawn to the long stretch of dry cobble at the top of the beach, it was clear from the tidelines, that the massive swells had lapped all the way up to the dune grass and so I meandered up there. As I walked along the 400-foot stretch of fist-to-melon-sized stones, I felt like my eyes were laser-focused; they darted in and out of shadowy crevices like beach spiders and scrutinized the surface of every rock, looking for any reason to bend down and pick one up.
Finally, I saw what I was hoping to see. “There’s one” I said out loud as I crouched over a ‘sandwich-sized’ flat rock. The thing that made it stand out from the others was the groove it wore around its waistline and the deep notches pecked into the narrow ends. These special rocks are actually ancient Native American artifacts, they were tied into the bottom of hand-woven fishing nets, the ropes twisted from dogbane bark. A full-groove net weight like this one dates back to the middle archaic time period, between 6,000 and 7,000 years ago. I’ve found several of these over the years and whenever I do, I feel like there is some kinship connection between the maker and myself, thanks to the obvious central theme of fishing.
When I hold a net weight in my hand, if I let my eyes fall out of focus, I feel as though I can look backwards through time and see the exact place where I’m standing through the eyes of the maker. A wild place, an untouched place, a place without towering homes or plastic clutter in the wrack lines. Seeing through to a time when all of the mysteries of the ocean were still locked away and awaiting discovery. In that same moment I think of an old friend, Nate, the man who taught me about these artifacts; he passed away in 2021, but I can still hear his voice and see the boyish excitement that would explode into his eyes when he told the stories of his thousands of finds. It is through these connections, whether interrupted 2 years or 6,000 years ago, that I’m reminded that we are here for such a short time, just passing through, making the most of each day we are given and trying to make sense of the one life we get to live.