Sunday, December 2, 2012

My Day at the Beach.

Hello, my friend,

Do you ever get a song stuck in your head? Of course you do, you must, everybody does. But do you ever get just a phrase, a non-musical phrase, stuck? I mind these a good deal more, in no small part because I hardly ever hear of anybody else with the problem. It's a bit like having food stuck in between the teeth, a small irritation, not quite painful, but over time maddening.

Today it was "graphic blandishment," the phrase Charles Schultz uses to refer to his animators in the closing credits of The Charlie Brown Christmas Special, which Chris and I watched last night. Graphic blandishment. I'm not even sure if the phrase means anything, apart from Mr. Schultz's use of it. But there it was, stuck in my head this morning, over and over, appearing early in the morning, right after the images and emotions of my dream faded, and it kept repeating itself, over and over again, for the better part of six hours. Graphic blandishment. Finally there was nothing for it but to tell Chris about it and thereafter to repeat the phrase over and over again, at intervals, throughout our conversation, throughout the day. Finally he started repeating "graphic blandishment" too.

The problem is we weren't alone. Chris has been involved in leading volunteers on Assateague in cleaning up after Hurricane Sandy, and today I decided to join him as a volunteer. So now and then someone else heard a "graphic blandishment" and I had to explain. Eventually, I got other people doing it--that, I admit, was deliberate. I'd stopped in the visitor center while Chris did concluding paperwork or something so I could copy down the list of plants that grow on Assateague (these include no less than three oaks, all of them new to me, and four pines, two of them new--I intend to learn ALL of them), and so as I copied I told the desk personnel about my day, including graphic blandishment. I discovered that the bookstore clerk has recently discovered birds and is in the process of expanding her geekdom from Manga (Japanese comic books) to include animals, so when I was done copying, I launched happily into stories about my friend, the ornithologist (I can almost hear your eyes role, but you are impressive, and she was suitably impressed), and I had gotten as far as explaining that statistics are actually a central part of doing science, when Chris finished up and I had to excuse myself and go, since he had somewhere he needed to be. My new friends cordially wished Chris a happy graphic blandishment, and he wished the same to them. 

Really, I had a good time out and about and cleaning today. Mostly we were up on the north end of the Island, an area I always find mildly frightening, because it is so exposed. Assateague is very narrow there, too narrow for anything besides grasses and the occasional low shrubs to withstand the constant, killing, salty wind. There is no way to shelter from the weather, apart from maybe crouching behind the occasional low, grass-topped sand dunes, and there is no drinkable water. I feel a similar low-grade anxiety sometimes in the desert, though I like both the desert and Assateague generally. It's just that I am aware that if one thing goes wrong in a place like that, everything could go very wrong very fast. But today the weather was forgiving, and nothing went wrong anyway.

We--maybe half a dozen of us, in my group--were engaged in picking up tiny bits of plastic from what Chris had described as a "gyre" of trash. Evidently, a swirl of stormwater had concentrated a stew of plastic and broken vegetation in an area not much bigger than that classroom in the west wing--you remember the one? before the water drained away and left the trash and the vegetation behind. We couldn't pick the trash out of the vegetation because the pieces were so small, so mostly we just shoveled up the mess entire. I was mildly disapointed that the "gyre" did not look all whirlpool-shaped, but I suppose Chris was right that a whirlpool caused the pile. Graphic blandishment.

Later, I went with Chris to inspect other, wider, parts of the island, climbing back into the brush and forests, ducking under greenbriar, investigating pine cones, and walking on the ever-present litter of storm-tossed vegetable bits. In places, clumps of storm-wrack hung three or four feet up in the trees and brush, and this is hundreds of feet inland from the normal high-tide line. Chris showed me a boardwalk that had been raised at leased two vertical feet from its former position. The storm picked it up and filled in the post-holes underneath, leaving the walkway stable enough but higher, the posts striped algae green and soil brown to show where the former intersection with the surface had been. Another walkway--and I think I mentioned this to you--had simply floated away. I'd heard of these things, but today I saw it.

Hurricane Sandy was scary and tragic in a lot of places, but Assateague is not one of them. As far as we can tell, the animals fared well, and only a few trees have been lost. There is now plenty of wide, flat sand for the plovers to nest on. I was just having a good graphic blandishment of a time climbing through the shrubbery and daydreaming about botanizing and tracking there on another day. As it was, I saw fox tracks, dog, tracks, and the small crescent moons of both deer and the tiny sika elk. There was also some tiny creature with sharp little nails whose feet made no more impression on the sand than that. The sand, by the way, cut here and there by storm waves, is layered vertically and variegated horizontally, magnetite, quartzite, and other minerals lapping together, a dry, quiet record of wind and wave. Speaking of animals--you'll like this--hordes of tree swallows visited the island today, too, rolling over our heads as we worked, the leading edges of the migrating flock strafing the bayberry bushes, according to Chris, for the ripe berries, before the birds surged and flew and returned for another pass to feed again. And there was a dog, too, a puppy. You'll like this also; two of the volunteers found an adolescent Labrador mix on the street on their way in to the cleanup. They asked if any of us knew who he was, and then one of them took him home to hold until they could track down his people using his tags. Graphic blandishment.

Well, I usually try to have these letters loop around to make some sort of point, subtle and unstated though that point may be, but I'll be graphically blandished if I can figure out what the point is here. Maybe it's just words, friendly, mildly informative, but disorganized words about my day. Or maybe you can identify a point.

Either way, believe me ever to be your (graphic blandishment) friend,

-Caroline (graphic blandishment).

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