Palace of the brine

I’ve been coming to this beach for 25 years now. Tonight it was just me and the frogs, the eagles and a whale carcass. The wind came on when I broke out of the forest and with it the whale odor. It was like fresh manure but something seemed off about it. Had the phlegmy look of pond scum, stringy and viscous like thick strands of snot, rust colored, a grisly salmon pink. The texture of muscle. And hard to tell if those were bones or bleached driftwood logs, many had burls and bulbous edges, could be a socket. The skin stretched taut like pieces of leather, like Freddy Krueger’s face. It made my stomach turn. I went back to my camp holding my nose, wondering how I’d sleep through the night with that smell.

The chorus of frogs starts and ends at the same time, they must be telepathic. It’s like a symphony with different movements, you realize you’ve been tuned in for a while and then it changes. Like Muslim prayers emanating across mosques in a village or bees in a hive, the sound combines into one, it builds on itself.

I sat there for a time with the whale odor and the frogs, an eagle calling down, and then it got dark and I freaked out! The frog sound was like a drum circle, throat singers in a jungle. I didn’t pitch a tent because all I had was my tarp and didn’t feel like staking it out, I’d just use it like a bed sheet over my sleeping bag.

I lay down and thought I heard footsteps crunching on the rocks, I imagined I could feel the rocks vibrating, and then a mouse ran over my head! The sound was just the mouse coming closer. And how would I sleep with my face exposed, and mice scampering about?

I used a trick when I’m camping alone where I imagine I’m not in my body, I burrow into my sleeping bag and pretend I’ve disappeared. And then I focused on the sound of the waves coming in and out, an emptying and replenishing sound, yin and yang…and drifted off…

On the drive out, I tried to pry open some old memories to celebrate all the years of coming here. They’d come on like a rushing wave, it hit you and then pulled away. It was a sense of being full and empty at the same time. Or like a canyon dropping out beneath you, looking over it. It feels both dense and empty, the way it’s scoured out. Was that the feeling of the past brushing by, like some ghost?

There was the picture of the four of us posing by an old uprooted tree on the beach, the roots bigger than all of us, the shape of a giant clamshell behind us, the setting sun on our faces. Charlotte squinting, a stick on her shoulder. Me with the same cooler I always had, a pair of shorts I’d since lost. Back when sticks were wands and they were overcome by the majesty of the ocean. Charlotte with her hands stretched out like a witch casting a spell, taking it all in.

I was wet from the ocean spray when I woke, with eagles up above. The tide looked low and the beach opened up. Fallen trees off the bluffs made it feel like we were at the edge of the world. The past leaves you feeling full and satisfied but has a chill to it. It could be like an awful riddle I had to solve for fear of losing it all.

No whale smell, the wind shifted, though I couldn’t go back to look at it again. All these crows and eagles were living off the remains, dive-bombing me if I got too close. They were all connected in a way we weren’t anymore. We thought we were, through these invisible lines, but it was a trick. I felt connected here. I wanted to be here for always. I imagined I was.



Categories: prose, writing

Tags: ,

12 replies

  1. I like it. Does the phrase palace of the brine have any significance beyond being the title of a pixies song? One of my faves.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great read! Grateful I can’t smell that whale carcass. And I cringed reading about the rat. There are a few places I’ve been to frequently enough to sense that a bit of me stays even as I drive away … that resonates. Also the burrowing into sleeping bag – vanishing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My parents tell a story of dogs past. Out by Ruby Beach once, they pulled over and let the dogs run. Seconds later the pooches found a rancid seal carcass, which they proceeded to roll in. I believe they paid a premium the next time they detailed that car.

    Liked by 1 person

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