In praise of the strandline

The tide flows and ebbs and leaves for us a snaking line of sea debris, variously called the strandline, the high water mark, the high tide mark, the wrack line.

On Saturday, in the drizzle of the afternoon, I was wandering along the beach at Dalmeny on the south coast of New South Wales, wondering what this bulky material was that had been left behind and not washed back into the sea.

Strand line, Dalmeny NSW
Dalmeny NSW

The debris was here to stay, and even to be appreciated, for it became a source of enjoyment for me as I studied the shapes and found small surprises, natural and unnatural, hiding among these dead sea things. This strandline seems to be composed of thousands of sea squirts, cunjevoi, all the same in ugly tone and form. But a few moments of close observation revealed beauty where at first there seemed to be none. There was this foot form with purple shell toes:

And a ropey sea plant hanging behind rich russet red weed:

There were a few hints of human marine life, like this green cord caught in the roots along the bank washed away by the fierce stormy sea:

Something spongey, something weedy and something blue made a still life arrangement that broke up the monotone line of sea squirts:

There was even man-made beauty in this forest of dead branches stuck in the sand. There’s something appealing about the two art forms as neighbours…

Before I left the beach that afternoon, a shipwrecked manifestation of The Scream called to me as I passed.

Australia has 10,685 beaches. Give or take… When I’m tempted to think I’ve seen everything a beach can offer, I remind myself of the thousands I’ve yet to explore. Of course, the paradox is that I love the sea as long as I’m not in it. The line of debris caught my eye simply because my back was turned to the water. But if I were a swimmer or surfer I might have ignored the beauty in the detail of this strandline.

In Australia the term for this debris seems to be strandline. But thanks to an excellent blog about shorelines in Oregon, USA, theoutershores.wordpress.com, I learnt that it can also be called a wrack line. Wrack is a great word for this stuff, having two meanings: wrack is a type of seaweed cast ashore, and wrack is also what is left behind after devastation.

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Ailsa's travel photo challenge: Beaches

Ailsa had trouble finding a free spot to park her towel on a Seattle beach this week since everyone had gone there to catch some rays. Sometimes on the beaches of south-east New South Wales we, too, have to look carefully for a nice piece of sand to plop onto without flattening the pointillist art of tiny crabs, the fine wet sand balls surrounding their homes.

Crab hole construction, south-east coast, NSW, Australia
Crab hole construction, south-east coast, NSW, Australia

This past week I found a couple of beaches here in France that were empty of people and crabs, despite lovely warm weather. I’d like to see the crabs that could roll this gravel into balls:

Small beach near Port-Vendres lighthouse, France
Small beach near Port-Vendres lighthouse, France

I was disappointed that I had to keep my shoes on, something I never do back home; it wasn’t only the gravel that bothered me (which might in fact be good for smoothing the feet), but the litter also put me off.  I’ve been told the authorities clean the beaches every day in summer, but it is yet spring…  On the other hand, it was something special to sit looking across the top of the flat Mediterranean Sea instead of down over the huge rolling waves of the Pacific Ocean.  I’ve often thought of those waves as an analogy for life, comforted by their continual rolling and crashing that no human disaster can prevent, but if I’d grown up here beside this waveless body of water, I would’ve looked at life differently.

France is beautiful, almost everywhere, but her beaches have not stolen my heart; it still belongs to the long, white, squeaky sand beaches, often deserted (except for crabs), around the Australian coastline.

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