The unexpected depths of shallow water

I decided to post the photo below because Joanna liked it and because I was encouraged to do so after reading a recent post at breathofgreenair. In a piece entitled Plockton High Tide Seonaid talked about ocean tides and how spring series’ were her favorite because they filled the bay at Plockton, allowing the reflected landscape to be painted upon the high water. I liked the phrase and the images, both literal and figurative. My own shore-side walk, along the shallows of Hospital Cove, began at 4:15 AM when Joanna nudged me to report that there was some nice color outside. Sunrise wasn’t due for another hour but the dawn of this particular day was more than worth the early start. Twilight followed and seemed to go on forever and sunrise itself put an end to the colorful warmth of daybreak. As the harsh white light intensified it illuminated the shallows through which I had been walking. Although there were denizens going about the business which would define their day, my eyes were drawn instead to the bottom and the patterns formed by cobble, pieces of broken shell, algae, and a host of tiny creatures. Perhaps the impression doesn’t translate well in the image, but this near-shore bottom looked like a mosaic to me. I watched as its component tiles changed form and position, slowly. Minute grains of sand flowed, chaotically, with the encouraging breath of the incoming tide. Larger grains progressed, as if along the teeth of a ratchet, two bits forward, one back … two forward, one back … toward the shore. Algae, dislodged, swirled in the current and eddies of moving fluid. Cobbles and the largest bits of broken shell formed stationary outposts in the ebb and flow of the changing tide. Hermit crabs and their brethren moved purposefully on their appointed rounds. What struck me, however, was that the assemblage seemed loosely coordinated. The submerged shoreline behaved as though it was alive. Like genuine organisms, the movements of my mosaic weren’t entirely predictable. A marriage of patterned activity and stochasticity, like so many gems in a child’s kaleidoscope. It was easy to walk through this changing landscape but required a good deal of concentration to stand, fully bent at the waist, to look with care. As details emerged from what had originally impressed me as a plain canvas I was struck with how the visual experience was paralleled by that which I have when viewing those infuriating stereograms (see a post from March of this year). When I first look at one of these I see nothing, save a nondescript profusion of color. In a minute or so my eyes adjust and my brain is able to pick out the clues needed to construct a three-dimensional image (of a shark moving to the left, in the stereogram below) from two-dimensional data. My mind worked in just this way when I peered into the shallows on this quiet, colorful, morning. In a way which I cannot fully describe, the myriad bits of information, like those hidden in the stereogram, coalesced to form a larger picture, my living mosaic, from out of an otherwise mundane collection of tiles. When I took the time to look I was able to eliminate the noise and allow the beautiful, living, image to float to the surface. Clicking either image will take you to a larger view.

11 thoughts on “The unexpected depths of shallow water

  1. I remember a book from a long time ago that was filled with these “collages” and if you looked at it long enough, an image emerged. I was never able to see them then and still can’t!! Perhaps I am too tightly wound and can’t just let the shape come through! Your image of the shore line screams “waters of the east coast”. Always the same and yet always made up of different players. Looking forward to seeing it myself very soon.

  2. Lovely David … I love your thoughts about the shoreline as a living breathing organism. It can be so mesmerizing to sit and watch the light and the motion of the water … a great way to pass some relaxing time. That first image is stunning, as the horizon, sky, and water merge πŸ™‚

  3. I like your image and this blurred horizon – would it be a painting, I’d call it “infinity”. But again I failed to see the 3D image in the stereogram. I think the reason is that one of my eyes is slightly short-sighted, and the other one slightly far-sighted which my ophthalmologist called “the perfect eyes – people in the US have their eyes surgically changed just in this way” (I am just quoting … no idea if this is true). He encouraged me not to wear glasses but continue using one eye for short distances and the other one for large distances. It seems I don’t miss anything 3D normally but probably for exercises like this my setup isn’t that “perfect”.

    • Wow, that’s crazy. I can’t imagine an ophthalmologist in this country that woulnd’t ‘jump all over’ your eyes (if you know what I mean!). Yeah, that kind of stuff is always corrected … although I find it humorous that you were told to one one eye for reading and the other for more distant viewing. A novel approach, to be sure. In this county we’d be given ‘bifocal’ glasses … or even contact that can do the same thing! Crazy! D

      • I will ask the doctor for his sources next time πŸ˜‰ He did not mean my eyes would be corrected in the US – he said the state of my eyes (without surgery) is the desired goal in surgery in the US. If I recall correctly the argument was that you cannot get the focal length perfectly right with surgery and it may change a bit again after surgery anyway. Aiming at “my” combination of slightly far-sighted + slightly short-sighted you would be on the safe side as at least one eye will always be able to focus (By slightly I mean less than 1 diopter.)

  4. You’ve written a good description of your early-morning experience, and if we can reach back into the 1960s we might repurpose a term and call your experience a happening.

    You’ve reminded me that the inventor of the kaleidoscope, Sir David Brewster, also created an early stereoscope:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stereoscope

    In looking for that link, I learned that there’s even a Brewster Kaleidoscope Society:

    http://www.brewstersociety.com/brewster_bio.html

    • My in laws have a genuine antique stereoscope that’s been a real delight to ‘play’ with. That, along with the kaleidoscope, must have really been a fascination when first mass-produced. Can you imagine how ‘high tech’ folks must have thought they were ‘back in the day?’ D

  5. Your descriptions are as sharp and penetrating as your images. This is just lovely; so serene and perfect.

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