The Post – Under the Pier, The Emotions of Narragansett Bay

What does standing next to Narragansett Bay feel like, and what do I feel inside?

Okay, first no wisecracks like “Narragansett Bay feels wet.” I’m serious here. I love the ocean. I LOVE Narragansett Bay. I could stand there all day long….just stand there, watching it. Every day. Hour after hour. No swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, windsurfing, fishing. Just stand there watching each wave come up, flex its fury, fling its body full force against shale and granite, slide down off the rocks defeated and broken, then drift out to sea. Yes, I could watch it all day long.

I figure at this point, you’re either ready to throw a net over me, or declare me the most boring person on earth. Who LIVES, to stand there and watch water move around. I do.

There is something primal, spiritual, vulnerable, deeply human, that I feel. First, we spend our first nine months of life in utero, sloshing around in a primal liquid. The sea is the womb of all life, from the microscopic to whales. Life started there, and in a spiritual way, it still does. We left God and entered the current world through the portal of water. It’s where God meets Earth.

I go to the ocean to find God. I know He is everywhere, He is within us. But as I stand there watching the raw power of something beyond me, I feel small, vulnerable, simply human, dwarfed by a majesty I could never create, control, or be part of. I go to the ocean to be awed. And I am.

I know I am not alone in this. Henry David Thoreau knew what this meant. He captured it beautifully in this excerpt from his book, Walden:

“We need the tonic of wildness, to wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and the meadow-hen lurk, and hear the booming of the snipe; to smell the whispering sedge where only some wilder and more solitary fowl builds her nest, and the mink crawls with its belly close to the ground. At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land & sea be infinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature. We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor, vast and titanic features, the sea-coast with its wrecks, the wilderness with its living and its decaying trees, the thundercloud, and the rain which lasts three weeks and produces freshets. We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander.”

So…he understood we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, and need to see our own limits transgressed and life going on where we never see it. I think deep down, we WANT nature to win. We’re like a two-year-old having a tantrum, and actually being relieved when the all-powerful parent comes in and says, “That’s enough,” and takes over. I think what Thoreau described is God, and I think it is those moments standing at the shore watching waves do things beyond all our control or power, that we “see” God.

I think any place at the shore, no matter the location, carries this sense for me. The thing my soul finds special about Narragansett Bay is that it also has my other loves in life….rocks, and sea creatures. Unlike the serenity of open sandy beaches, rocks get in your face. They are confrontational, they raise the stakes. A wave rolling up onto sand is relaxing. But even on a sunny peaceful day, a wave crashing defiantly against granite boulders is raw battle. Each shoves back against the other, flexing their own power in a match to see who will win. The rocks blunt, dissipate, and obliterate the power of the waves in the short-term, but the waves wear down and obliterate the rocks over the long-term.

Rocks feel solid, safe…a taste of the eternal, and so again, they feel like God. Many cultures over the millenia have considered rocks part of their spiritual rituals and altars. They are another unfathomable power where our limits are transgressed. Just try and lift a boulder. It is like trying to lift the earth itself. It represents safety, strength, permanence, as noted in the following comment for the book, The Art of Spiritual Rock Gardening:


“Simon Dorrell is one of England’s premier garden painters.” —The Blue Guide to Museums and Galleries of New York

“To find sanctuary in the permanence of stone may give us needed respite from a seemingly chaotic, ever-changing world.

The rocks that form Narragansett Bay did not all originate there. They were deposited there, by the raw slow-moving power that were glaciers. Large bodies of ice gouged, carved and dredged out these “pockets” that later filled with sea water. Just to see the size of the boulders strewn around the bay is to again witness limits transgressed, God.

And then the creatures – the infinite variety of everything from algae to crabs, to clams to sand fleas to whales.

The combination of all three humbles me. Takes me out of my comfort zone. Awes me. To walk across the rocks near the shore’s edge, is to feel “precarious.” Your feet though on solid rock, are by no means taking “stable” steps. The rocks are coated in a slippery slimy film of black algae that renders sneaker treads useless even when you’re not being soaked by the spray of waves hitting the shore. The rocks jut and abut each other at odd angles with crevices and open pits between them that make traversing a pile of boulders in search of tidepools, a business requiring total concentration. You can’t look “cool” picking your way across a rocky point. It’s all you can do to stay upright as you leap from rock to rock and not break your neck if you miss.

And the periwinkle, barnacle, and blue mussel coated boulders ring pools of sea water left behind from high tide, pools that house and nourish an abundance of varied life beneath their surfaces.

So, I could stand there forever and watch ocean wave fury, feel the solidity of immovable rocks, and have great joy and gratitude for nature’s abundance. And all of it is thrown right there at my feet at the shores of Narragansett Bay. I feel small, dwarfed, insignificant. For once in my life, someone else is in control, and I like that.

For your viewing pleasure some shots of the “tide pool” level in Narragansett Bay:

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