Signs

Sunny days may all look alike, but cloudy skies over water have many faces. Today, April stillness resides in the gaps between showers to reveal a smooth sea with undulating swells, rolling across a stippled surface of green-gray before breaking in wide breasting crests of white. The sky is low and overcast; but not too low and the cloud cover is varied in shapes and tone. A calligraphy of low gray scud is silhouetted against a creamier lighter background to the North. To the West a deep darkness presages the next downpour. To the East, quiet, lazy watercolor strokes bleed to a white glow directly above.

The swell is not particularly high; but without a chop to confuse the eye it’s visible quite far off as a wave of energy passing beneath the calm surface. It makes a portentous sea, full of import, the immensity of ocean felt differently than during a major storm, in some ways more potent for its latent power and lack of fury.

A Spring sea. Not just because the calendar says so. There’s a bloom of pea-green algae running in clots and streamers across the surface to trace a fine embroidery along the shore. The color, even the consistency of this mat – not at all like the other more familiar forms of algae – appears artificial. It seems to have more in common with the party-colored scraps of plastic scattered about the beach than with shells or sticks.

This apparent artificiality is a clue. This is Spring. Time for renewed life in the sea as well as on the land. But, this prairie of sea-going pond-scum is something new. I’ve seen it on satellite images of the English Channel, the coast of Namibia, off Gibraltar. Enormous twirls and eddies of bright festive color on a normally serious cobalt sea. Signs of illness. Like the ruddy flush on a fevered cheek that might give be mistaken for a sign of health and vigor.

Some expert or official, some talking-head today commenting on the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, spreading over six hundred square miles said, “This has to give pause. If not, then something is seriously wrong.”

Well, something is seriously wrong. The signs are everywhere if we were willing to see them. It doesn’t take the mental picture of a pod of Sperm Whales seen from the air swimming in the middle of an oil sheen, bigger-than-the-State-of-Rhode-Island to know something is wrong. Not even the lame and pitifully reflexive comment from a professional equivocator that while they were engulfed in oil, “There’s nothing to confirm that it’s affecting them adversely…” Must be absorbed for us to know that something is seriously wrong. Just walking along this peaceful shore as the swell throws-up its pea-green foam is enough.

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