In my childhood – all my life, really – the shore was about sand. Where land met sea, you would find the white of powdery quartz or the orange of crushed shells. Some were good for dribbled towers on the featureless shore, and others occasionally offered up sand-dollars or interesting bits of flotsam.
My recent trip to Maine showed me a coastline in rawer form.
In July I spent a few days on the Schoodic (SKU-dik) Peninsula, where the crashing of the waves sounded like the sighing of wind through my open window at night. I spent one late afternoon alone on the rocks, watching and listening. Behind me, stunted trees and herbs clung tenaciously to a mantle of dirt only a few inches thick. Before me, waves crashed against the cracked, ancient granite. It made me think of troops advancing in human waves, charging up the slope before faltering and falling back, only to regroup and charge forth again.
Closer to the huddled vegetation, I saw sharp demarcation in the stone, as a dike of basalt cut through the granite. A young geologist could have a fine time following the lines of dark stone slashing the open ground of Schoodic, to be fractured and worn down, leaving wide trenches in the harder granite.
The crashing waves were soothing, but some animal part of me also watched with dread. This wasn’t the domesticated water of a swimming pool; if given a chance, those powerful, frigid waves would mindlessly sweep you away, break you against stone, rob you of air, or drain your body of all warmth. But that’s the way of Nature, isn’t it? Tornados, volcanoes, cliffside vistas, grizzly bears – we can appreciate the majesty of Nature, but Nature isn’t obliged to return the favor.
I wonder how my thoughts would have turned had there been a horizon for the sun to sink into, and distant islands and coastline to observe. But the world was confined to a grey dome encompassing spruces, stone, and sea.
On a different day (but no less grey), my guides drove me far up the coast to a cove south of Machiasport to visit Jasper Beach. Again, this shoreline was all stone, but stone that had been broken down and placed in a natural rock tumbler for a geological moment. The beach drops down in a series of tiers to the water’s edge, where stones –from hand-sized cobbles to pebbles smaller than your pinky-nail – are rounded and polished against each other by wave action. The waves gently rolled in, blunting their power by filling the spaces between billions of stones. When the water withdraws, the air fills with a sizzling hiss, like a giant rain stick. It was like a half-mile ASMR trap. I could have spent hours poring over the limitless variety of stones. Chris Mackowski does more justice to the beach than I can.
The final stop of the tour was a beach that combined the previous two and added some extra elements. Quoddy Head State Park is as far up the coast as you can get and still be in the US, and the easternmost point in the US. The fog broke briefly, and I could just see a bit of Canada. From the parking area, I took stairs down the cliff face to the beach. It sported some cobbles, some bedrock, and some sand – with lots of seaweed mixed in. There were small columns of rocks here and there, cairns left by visitors. I didn’t add to them, but understand the impulse. I stood on a stone surrounded by the lapping low tide, so I could tell friends I was the furthest I could go in the US without swimming.
These beaches were new experiences for me. I’m back in the late summer roast that is south Georgia. But as I write this, the recording I made of the incoming tide making war on Schoodic Point is playing in the background.