by: Terry Tempest Williams
rise rise swell c u r l
swell swell swell swell swell curl
still still still still f o a m f o a m f o a m foam
We are water. We are ocean. We are home. We are water. We are ocean. We are home.
We are water. We are ocean. We are home. We are water. We are ocean. We are
Ocean. Debra Bloomfield has created a visual meditation through her fidelity of form.
For seven years, her gaze has remained steady. Still. She has stayed still and let the ocean be.
Water. She calls her project “an adventure in monogamy.” Her passionate color fields allow us to witness a marriage between a woman and a place as a dynamic conversation over time. With each photograph, waves of emotion wash over us. We, too, can express the full range of our being.
Home. I was a child born of the waters, perhaps that is why I can live in the desert. One is the inverse of the other. California was home and my mother always told me, after my fingers wrapped around hers, it was a shell I clung to.
To listen to the sea is to be told of our evolution – shell in hand, we place it to our ear, our eyes close and we remember why we return.
And we do.
“We are like the swallows,” my grandmother would say each year we returned to Capistrano Beach, California. For years, we arrived, unpacked, and played on the edge of the sea. At dawn, we walked the wrack line seeing what the ocean had left us –
An abalone shell or a piece of weathered glass.
One night, she told us about grunion, silversides, small shimmering fish that ride the last wave of high tide onto the beach beneath a full moon. “If we’re lucky,” she would say, “we will see them, and watch the females upright, digging their tails into the sand, depositing their eggs, the males swirling about them in the act of fertilization.”
We would go to bed early, only to feel our grandmother’s hand on our shoulders, “Wake up,” she said. “The grunion --.”
We would quickly dress in our shorts and hooded sweatshirts, my brothers, cousins, and I, to sit on the wet black boulders on the beach and wait. Sometimes they came and sometimes they didn’t. We learned to lean on their timetable, not ours. No matter, they lived in our imagination, the silver rush of fish delivered by waves of our own anticipation, one after another, the teeming life that pooled around our ankles as we screamed with delight, bending down to place our hands among them, magic wriggling through our fingers.
Debra Bloomfield’s stance as a photographer is that of a companion because she has chosen to focus her lens on what is near, close, familiar – the scene before her since childhood.
From dusk to dawn, she stayed. Still. She stayed and waited for the light to arrive and she stayed until it left – awake -- her eyes open, always, for the sunset, the moonrise, and the return of day.
Each photograph becomes a gesture in the spectrum of reflected light: white, platinum, grey, black, blue, turquoise, green, yellow, orange, burnished copper, and red.
Who knew the skin of the sea called water could be so varied?
In my own marriage, it is this kind of unpredictability of light and shadow, form and texture, that has created a stillness behind my heart. The only thing I have come to expect within my home is a changing landscape. Like the sea, I keep returning to Brooke.
Relationships, like the ocean, are best met with humility.
…such is water. I always look at it with lowered eyes. Like the ground, like a part of the ground, like a modification of the ground…It’s white and shiny, shapeless and cool, passive and obstinately committed to its sole vice, gravity - and is endowed with exceptional means for satisfying this vice: by-passing, piercing, eroding, percolating…. ‘Always lower’ seems to be its motto.”
-- Francis Ponge
Help Mate I
We were in the middle of the Pacific Ocean camped on an atoll named Palmyra.
After gold-glittered days of snorkeling in and out of pristine reefs and being eye to eye with parrotfish in the coral, we opted for a day in the open sea.
Our small boat was being rocked like a baby from full-bodied waves. I looked over the edge into the unfathomable depth and felt both awe and fear. I was with three men. One, my husband. Two, my neighbor. And the third, was carrying an underwater video camera. We stopped the boat and threw anchor. The men wished me well and sunk into the sea to film schools of tuna.
After they left, I put on my mask and snorkel and slipped into the immense waters. Down. Down. Waving my flippers like a seal, I became horizontal in the current, face down looking, swimming, letting my eyes become accustomed to the milky waters as sunlight streamed down in diagonal shafts of white. I saw many schools of fish, silver fish, tuna, and found myself circling, spiraling, effortlessly, in this flashing funnel of fins. My awe overrode my ability and I swam beyond my intended distance.
I came up for air, feet-fins dangling below, and oriented myself to the boat, then took several breaths and sank back down only to be carried away once again with the currents of sea-born bodies. This fluid community of movement and muted color seduced me farther and farther, deeper and deeper into its spell. Plankton rushed past me in what felt like a universal pulse. Angelfish swam up to my mask, and then disappeared. Gone. Suddenly, everything was gone. I turned and there slowly, steadily swimming toward me was a shark. A very large shark whose name I did not know. I tried not to panic, mindful of a shark’s gift for sensing every electrical nuance, especially fear.
I, too, moved slowly, deliberately, directly toward the boat, swimming, taking as few breaths as I could manage, trying not to tread water, so that in shark’s eyes, I did not become the dangling legs of flesh, human or seal, it didn’t matter. The shark was swimming perpendicular to me. I was swimming directly toward the boat, the shark was moving in a concentrated diagonal toward me. I was trying to stay focused, my heart was racing. The shark’s speed was increasing. I was maybe fifty feet from pulling myself out of the water, before the shark grabs me; the aluminum steps on the side of the boat were gleaming. I quickly turned behind me to see if the men were anywhere around, but they were nowhere to be seen. Forty feet. Thirty feet to the boat. Twenty feet from the shark moving quickly, now rapidly, suddenly, literally, out of the blue, a dolphin emerges from below, between me and the shark, and shepherds me to the boat and vanishes. I am out of the water, shaking, dripping. I look down into the deep blue. Only ripples remain as the boat rocks me to a place of unmitigated gratitude and terror.
Help Mate II
I cannot sleep. My brother has been gone less than a month. Lymphoma. I wonder why. Why not me, instead of him? He has three daughters. I do not. He was younger. I am older. What’s the use? What is my purpose? In an existential moment of crisis, these questions paralyzed me. Exhausted, finally, I fall asleep.
The dream I have is this: a neon green triangle appears, pulsing, throbbing, in the middle of black empty space. Three words appear at the three points of the triangle: porpoise, soul, service. I am confused. Suddenly, the word porpoise turns into one and joyously leaps into the air, dives over the top word which is soul and curls back around the word service. As if that is not enough, it begins singing, “The porpoise of the soul is service. The porpoise of the soul is service.” It then flips around in the other direction just in case there is any confusion in my mind and sings, “The soul’s porpoise is service.”
Debra Bloomfield is in the service of the return – water, ocean, home -- such is water –
I always look at it with lowered eyes – Her expression finds buoyancy in repetition. If each image is one of change, she gives us permission to do the same.
Gregory Bateson says, “Mammals, in general, and we among them, care extremely, not about episodes, but about the patterns of their relationships…where they stand in love, hate, respect, dependency, trust, and similar abstractions, vis-a-vis somebody else... If, therefore, we really want to know what are the significant points in history, we have to ask, which are the moments in history when attitudes were changed.
Climate Change. We are in this moment of history now, where the rise and fall of tides is
the melting of glaciers and the instability of polar bears.
When I look at Debra Bloomfield’s oceanscapes, I see not only that which is still, but
still and changing. This is not a paradox, but what the Earth knows and we are discovering.
Climate Change. Perhaps we are talking about our own change of heart, as we find
our way toward a new fidelity, that our soul’s purpose is love this beautiful, blue planet, called Home.
There was a moment when I entered a phosphorescent tide with friends. We were on our backs, floating, with stars above us, and the flickering of dinoflagellates all around. With a sweep of our hands, we created poetry with plankton, singing “the body electric” with Whitman.
This numinous red tide is recorded in Bloomfield’s lens, at least that is what I see through the lens of my own memory. If as she suggests, “memory is a suitcase that we carry to the sea,” this is where I unpack mine.
My grandmother, my mother, I see them floating as bodies of water, the bodies of the women I love, in a monochromatic seascape of silver. They loved the ocean and passed their love on to me. Debra Bloomfield records this passionate embrace of peace. And on another day, in the stillness of her gaze, the deepest darks of the human soul quiver with the slightest promise of rose. Death is only a word that leads us toward light.
Debra’s sister, Bonnie, led her toward light. Just as my brother, Steve, did. Through our
families, our siblings, in particular, we learn to share and when they are no longer there, we stand in the truth of emptiness.
It is the emptiness that draws me back to the sea, where I can lower my eyes in prayer.
The rush of the incoming tide reaches my bare feet, beckoning me back into its waters.
It retreats and returns, retreats and returns, rising and falling like a planetary breath.
Still. Still there. Surf and sea. The calm that follows the surge. Still. Still there. The sea, where life on its edge is evolving, still, even as a lone photographer on her perch is paying homage to an evolving light in the hours between dusk and dawn. She does not fear the darkness of these days as long as her eyes are open.
The word crepuscular comes to mind. How do we learn to see in the dark?
It begins with a vow of watchfulness. Debra Bloomfield understands the art of devotion
as the art of gesture. There is a power in reciprocity as both witness and participant, but it requires stillness.
By standing still – we bear witness to change.
We are water. We are ocean. We are home. We are water. We are ocean. We are home. We are water. We are ocean. We are home. We are water. We are ocean. We are