Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Spontaneous Stone Sculptures at the Beach - Harkness Memorial State Park

In A Passage to India, one of my favorite novels by E. M. Forster (1879-1970), the female characters Mrs. Moore and Adela Quested travel from England to Bombay, India, to begin a new life there. Early in the story, the ladies lament that so far they "aren't seeing the other side of the world." They have been stuck in a sort of contained British settlement and long to see the "real India," of which they have only had a glimpse. (It was a glimpse of the moon in the Ganges.)

Mrs. Moore isn't as disappointed as the younger Miss Quested, because, as the book reads, "she was forty years older and had learnt that Life never gives us what we want at the moment that we consider appropriate. Adventures do occur, but not punctually."

How often is it that we have the most fun when we plan it? I've observed over recent years that the most interesting and fun moments are ones that I stumble into. I often write about these adventures in this blog.

This entire year, so far, I've been champing at the bit to get back to Point Judith, Rhode Island, to see how the landscape has changed since Superstorm Sandy rolled in last fall. If you recall, I previously wrote about all the cairns covering the point beneath the lighthouse there, a scene I stumbled into one weekend. I haven't yet been able to make the long drive over there (and get in the gate, which is often locked) to see what has become of all the stone monuments.

Spring garden scene at Harkness State Park

This week, we had one day that was sunny and much warmer than any of the others so far this chilly spring. I wanted to get out, so chose to visit Harkness State Park in Waterford, here in Connecticut. As I've mentioned before, this is a property with diverse features, including gardens, a sweeping lawn, a beach, a mansion to rent for functions, biking paths, a picnic area, and more. On the day I went, I didn't expect to get there and find it shrouded in chilly fog, when just a mile inland it was sunny and warm.

A frog statue in a garden by the mansion.

However, the heavens heard my request for some sun, for after I parked the car, the fog started to burn off and I found the beach was the most pleasant spot, protected from the shore breeze, unpopulated, and the perfect place for quiet contemplation and enjoyment of the sounds of the waves, foghorns, and shorebirds.

I beachcombed for a bit, then I stumbled on what appeared to be a couple of little altars made of wood, dried grasses and leaves, rocks and shells. Hmmmm...I couldn't figure that out. Maybe it was a playground for fairies.

A little altar for sand fairies?

Then I saw that somebody had collected a bunch of rocks and created a circle with them. This reminded me of a large, fort-like circle of rocks at Point Judith, which had preceded the erection of all the cairns and other stone sculptures there by at least 2 years.

It was then that my adventure really began, because I thought to myself, "OK, if you can't get to Point Judith just now, then start by making your own cairns here." It would be my first try...ever. I have read about the intricate art of stacking stones, and I recalled that some creations defy gravity, their makers being expert at balance, shape and form. I took a few rocks and stacked them crudely.

A person's gotta start somewhere! I tried another stack.

Lacking some energy and patience, I moved on, and saw a big, flat slab of rock, a mound emerging from the sand. I figured it would be easy to just pile a random assortment of rocks all over it, and see what happened. So I dove in and began.

Remember those days when you were a kid, and you sat on the floor with your toys and just arranged them, or played with them, from moment to moment, with no agenda...your play (or your "adventure") just evolved...and whatever the ending was, when you had to stop for dinner or homework, it was the end, and it was OK. That is what this felt like. And it was really great to feel that with nobody else around.

I don't care if it just looks like a pile of rocks, or if a few fall off. I hope that people walk by and wonder about it. I hope that people are inspired, or remember there's art in "found objects" and think about adding to it, or make their own version. I hope this pile survives for some time before the elements or hoodlums get to it.

Afterwards, when I was resting nearby, I was taking photos and realized I could get a really cool closeup of the sand, with my little cairns in the background.

Grains of soft, sugary sand with my cairns in the background

By the time readers get to the end of  A Passage to India, another character, Mr. Fielding, finds himself returning to Italy, where he studied as a youth, and he realizes that now, after he has had a bit of perspective from his time in India, that he feels a joy in "the harmony between the works of man and the earth that upholds them."

This passage has a deeper meaning as it relates to the story, but I was thinking about the simpleness of that phrase. It refers to man-made structures that coexist with the natural form of earth, whether an island, hills, or sea. But to me, the beauty is compounded, and the harmony more exquisite, when man creates form on Earth with earth. Which is probably why the cairns at Point Judith were so awe-inspiring to me when I first saw them. What was once the benign landscape became an entirely different form, comprised of the same elements.

I wish that this week I had been joined at Harkness by a willing group of adventurers—cairn makers—so that, like a flash mob, we could have come together spontaneously and, in a spark of time, created a grand work of art.

If you want to learn more about Harkness, check out my beach guide at the Beach Bath And Trash website.