Enchantment and seaweed on the Irish west coast

I bury a square of unbleached linen cloth with seashells under a cairn on a beach. A beach ochre and yellow-sunset with bladders, scattered with crab shells, limpets, barnacles. with whelks studded between rocks stained by lichen and algae. Nothing on the beach is the colour of the sea except the base grey sand. Maybe, I think, the weed will stain the cloth a bright yellow too, if I leave it here through the tides.
So I build a little cairn over my linen cloth with shells and snails and weeds and rocks streaked with quartz. I leave it there for 48 hours, four high tides, two dark nights. The weather is calm and unseasonably hot. Another woman here on this Irish retreat, more skilled than I will ever be, has stained beautiful silk scarves by boiling them with seaweed picked from the shore. They come out delicate grey-brown-green like no colour I know except the underside of a dove's wing, or a cloud hanging for a moment at sunset. Impossibly gentle.
Late the following afternoon at high water, I return. My cairn is invisible under the gently spread water that has seeped across the weed. The sea is so clear I take pictures through it to the gravelly beach. A green crab scuttles past, waving.

After two days I unpick my cairn, impatient to see if any of the drama of sea and strand have coloured it, captured the brightness standing out in the grey and green and brown of Ireland. My cloth emerges merely grubby, scattered with the micro-debris of the sand, little changed by time or tide. (Later I will wrap fuchsia blooms in it, from the bush we walked past on a starry night. I will press them in it, tight held in my over-full case. That doesn't make any impression either, I find when I unwrap it in my flat high above Cardiff Bay.)

I have brought with me to the beach the sheila-na-gig I made on the retreat. (I will never be any good at clay.) I add a wee snail found in the cairn. Around her I arrange four pebbles brought from my strange alabaster beach at home in Wales. The dark pink of ancient crustaceans fades to purest white when the stones are rolled in the tide. Small nubbins of brick mark the houses already pulled down by the water gnawing at the cliff. A still-jagged scrap of green glass may have come from the houses above or been tossed up by the sea. It is not yet polished smooth.
Over this collection, I rebuild the cairn, collecting more shells to decorate the top. They are merely sitting there and will probably not survive one tide nor a puff of wind. I won't know about that, for I will be long gone. I walk away, leaving the beach spread gold and indifferent alongside the spreading channel, the grey sea and brown skies. A small boat is leaving for the fishing grounds.
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4 Comments

  1. Wow, your words are lovely. Im just now recovering from reentry in to my life in Tucson. It was fun to return to the workshop and your blog about burying your piece of cloth. I’ve thought a lot about that time, and I am so happy I have things from there… like the seaweed scarf. Im very excited to virtually go along on your trip with you…

  2. I love your language, Sarah. And your story.
    It inspires me to write a piece about my adventures with my piece of linen. I managed to capture the smell of Ireland in it.

  3. I love your language, Sarah. And your story.
    It inspires me to write about my adventures with my piece of linen. I managed to capture the smell of Ireland in it.

  4. Lovely to hear your version of objects, placing and place on the Beara Peninsula. It was such a gentle, yet meaningful act.

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