A small boat floats lost on an immensity of ocean while the moon’s mass looming large is tugging at the sea. This is the dance of the sea with her partners the earth, the moon and the sun giving us the tides. Powerful forces are at work here.
“I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by….
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.”
From ‘Sea Fever’ by John Masefield
The Call of the running tide
A former merchant sailor, Masefield was never happier than dreaming of being at sea again in full sail with ‘the wind’s song‘ in the creaking rigging and a tossing sea as the boat cuts through the surf, always with ‘the sea-gulls crying ‘.
Britain’s sea coasts are one of our national treasures. With thousands of miles of glorious coastline to enjoy the call of the sea is irresistible. A Cornish cove like this (above) will never lack visitors.
As we stand beside a quiet creek like this we are soon reminded that we cannot escape the powerful influence of the tide as it ebbs and flows. It runs and waits for no man as King Cnut demonstrated here at Bosham. But some modern car owners are not so wise, foolishly leaving their cars parked below high water mark despite the warning notices!
Even the sea waders join in the dance as the flocks of dunlin and knot rise from their mud flat feeding grounds as the tide comes in and return when it goes out again. Synchronized dance movement orchestrated by an unseen hand.
The coasts are where two worlds meet. Now the sea withdraws inviting us to explore the edge of her territory, this in-between place between the low and high tide marks. Away from the crowds and the hectic pace of life we’re left alone on the beach with only the ‘lonely sea and the sky‘, the wind and the waves for company. The delight of this place is its wildness, face-to-face with raw nature, on the edge of a vast ocean system. To be here is exhilarating, and deeply refreshing.
“Praise the Lord from the earth,
you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,
lightning and hail, snow and clouds,
stormy winds that do his bidding.”
Psalm 148: 7-8
On a sunny day on countless beaches crabs skulk under seaweed in shrinking rock pools. Limpets cling fast to the exposed rocks and bladder wrack drapes everywhere. Life just hanging on, waiting for the returning tide. In the creeks and estuaries boats lie at awkward angles languishing on the mud banks.
But we must leave this space and allow the sea to reclaim her territory. As she does so, she will be refreshing the rock pools. In the estuaries the moored boats will begin re-floating and as the mud-flats disappear under water the waders will ‘dance’ again as they fly off to feed elsewhere.
The sea is acting as nurse-maid cleaning up our beaches. In doing so it leaves its ‘calling card’ by depositing our rubbish at high tide mark, as if to remind us to clean up our act and stop polluting the oceans.
The Call of the sea
For sailors like John Masefield this call means being out at sea on ‘a tall ship‘ in full sail with a following wind. For all of us, as an island people, the call draws us to the coasts where the tides run and where we can relax on a beach, walk on the cliff tops, or watch the waves crashing against the rocks on a rough day. Here we can re-discover our true selves, as tiny creatures in a vast universe. It is always good to be here. We can return home better, humbler, happier and healthier people. Our restless lives slowed to the rhythms of the sea.
Now, with our Sussex coast only two and a half miles away, I really must remember to listen to the weather forecasts more carefully next time to check on those all important local tide times!