Sweeping the Beach

By , June 17, 2011

“If seven maids with seven mops
Swept it for half a year.
Do you suppose,” the Walrus said,
“That they could get it clear?”
“I doubt it,” said the Carpenter,
And shed a bitter tear.

—Lewis Carroll, The Walrus and The Carpenter
from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There

Tuesday, I swept the beach. That’s right, I swept the beach.

Some people claim that those who live in isolation eventually go crazy. I don’t know if that’s true (or, if it is true, if I could judge) but I know how nutty it is to sweep a beach. Quite apart from the futility of such activity, the whole idea of trying to impose order on Nature is contrary to my general outlook.

And yet, there I was, whisking feverishly away at the rocks with a broom, as mad as any of the denizens of Mr. Carrol’s Wonderland. Or, perhaps as circuitously logical as their mathematician creator wrote them?

We expend considerable time and energy ensuring our physical welfare on the homestead. We are far from help should one of us be injured. Also, the lifestyle demands that we remain physically fit and sound as long as we possible can into old age. This makes us cautious about how and where we step.

Our rocky beach may be our greatest hazard. The large rocks, piled by the retreating glaciers of the last ice age, are uneven, sharp, and loosely scattered, making them teeter and shift without notice. A fine black algae covers many of them, which becomes treacherously slick when wet.

When Aly and I pruned the windbreak last spring, we piled the branches on the beach to dry. Tuesday, I went out with a bow saw and a pair of rachet loppers to clear up the mess. I cut the branches into firewood and slash, then sorted them into piles outside our general pathways. As I worked through the pile, I found the dried needles sifted down to cover the rocks. The loose covering made footing almost impossible. As I worked, I began to slip precariously.

So, like one of the Walrus’s seven maids, I swept madly all around the area. I felt silly, and hoped that none of the small local tourist boats would pass close to the beach and spy me at work, but when I’d finished, we could safely navigate the rock faces. The needles, swept into the crevices and crannies, will compost, eventually becoming soil to bed the rocks as isostatic rebound converts the beach into upland. And for a while, our safety is ever-so-slightly improved here in our own Wonderland.

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