Flight in a Storm
This post is part of a series contributed by Coastal Rivers Trustee Barnaby Porter. Read the previous post here.
At the height of an ocean storm, I stood on a point of land that reached far out into the wintry sea. Broad, heaving mountains of beryl green thundered down on the naked ledges with a power that promised to one day devour the bedrock itself. Even in retreat, their seething foam hissed in the violent wash. The tremendous pounding and the trembling ground under my feet riveted me in place as I tried to comprehend the force and energy of the tempest that wielded this power as far as the horizon and beyond.
I tried to imagine, too, the nightmare of waving kelp and rolling boulders down below in the boil of bubbles and sand, as urchins and mussels were ripped from their ground, to be crushed to bits by drift logs in this tireless assault on the shore.
The witness, drawn to this spectacle, can only wonder what it might mean to flounder in those waves and to ride their surge to what end. Even as he ponders such intimacy, he is beckoned forward by the sting of salt spray borne on the wind, and his eye is transported to the colossus of them all, a black giant that grows into a yawning, foam-spewing mountain.
I saw this wave and watched it grow, far offshore. It was moving fast, and before it, a deep valley spread along its white-streaked flanks until it attained near holy proportions. Its vast, glassy slope mounted to a monstrous, curling height, and the raging gale tore at its top ridge, flinging spume far out ahead in long streamers.
And then this terrifying beauty gathered itself ever higher into an awesome wall of pale green, and as it hung poised over my point of land, the moment lingered, and downwind from the north and east came a long brown and white line of eiders, weaving to the powerful thrum beat of their wings. Twenty or thirty of them, headed somewhere important in the storm, had set on their course down the coast, and, unmindful of the heaving seas only inches below their throbbing breasts, they threaded valleys and skimmed the watery peaks to arrive precisely at the moment the yawning chasm was opened before me.
Down into it they flew, and the glistening dark secrets of the bottom of the sea churned briefly in view as the waters leaped high into the curling wave. With determined wingbeats, the eiders hurtled through, and the gigantic wall of green ocean roared and fell over them in a long, silvery curtain that tore down its length in a thundering flash.
And the eiders beat on. Out the far end they emerged, unimpeded. Like the knotted tail of a kite, they veered gracefully over the boiling turmoil under their wingtips, and in another moment, they were gone, disappeared in the trough of yet another sea farther on.
The giant wave spent itself on the granite faces in booming explosions of drenching spray that blew off into the spruces behind me, and all that remained slid back into the sea in rivers and torrents and was swallowed by the storm.
Artist and author Barnaby Porter has had a varied career in marine research, aquaculture, and woodworking, among others. Most recently he partnered with his wife Susan as co-owners of the Maine Coast Book Shop & Cafe in downtown Damariscotta. Barnaby currently serves on Coastal Rivers’ Board of Trustees. For more about Barnaby, click here.
Eider Drake courtesy of Steve Garvie via flickr. Storm photos by Barnaby Porter.