Friday, March 14, 2014

Poetry Friday: Nelson Bentley's ZERO TIDE

Whidbey Island Beach
I've put this poem up on the Drift Record before, and I'm in the mood to post it again. Favorites are favorites, and the sun is out today, the sky is blue, tomorrow rain is coming, and I'm thinking "Quick, quick, get out for a walk on the beach." We won't be having zero tides any time too soon around Puget Sound...well, there's a pretty nice -1.5 on April 18th (mark calendar, Julie)...but a walk anytime on any beach is fine with me.  As for zero tides - there is nothing in the world like walking on a beach that will be far under water later in the day. If doing that sounds like something out of a fairy tale, well, that's what the marvelous real world is like.

Zero Tide 

I walked from our cabin into the wet dawn
To see the white caps modulating in,
The slow wash of the word in the beginning:
Wind on the bowing sedge seemed from Japan.
A cloud of sandpipers wavered above the dune,
Where surf spoke the permanence of sun.
Back inside, I sat on my son's bed
Where he sweetly slept, guarded by saints and poets,
Oceanic sunrise on his eyelids;
I whispered, "Sean, get up! It's a clamming tide,"
And thought of chill sand fresh from lowering waters,
Foam-bubbled frets across the hard-packed ridges.
"Sean, it's a zero tide!" From a still second,
He came out of the covers like a hummingbird.
"Don't wake up Julian." In the pale blue light
He dressed in whirring silence, all intent.
Along the empty coast the combers hummed:
Sleepy gulls mewled in the clearing mist.
My wife and baby slept folded in singing calm,
Involuted by love as rose or shell.

                                                 - Nelson Bentley

Be sure to follow the link right there to Wikpedia's entry for Bentley, and try to find his books. He was a fine professor and a poet who brought his heart to the page - well worth reading.

The Poetry Friday round-up today is being hosted at Rogue Anthropologist.  Head over there to see what other people have posted. And next week, I'll be hosting right here at The Drift Record!


  1. Julie, I've never heard of a "zero tide," and this is what Wikipedia brought up: The page "Zero tide" does not exist.

    Could you explain without getting too technical? Is it simply a low, low tide that happens only rarely? Is it predictable?

  2. "He dressed in whirring silence, all intent." -- very nice. I liked that the boy was "guarded by saints and poets" as he slept. Thank you for introducing me to Bentley's work.

  3. Diane -
    Hmmmm - here is a lengthy explanation: but you're right, it's just an unusually low tide, measured against average lows. Since we're surrounded by saltwater her in Washington, many people have Tidal Charts and mark the zero tides (also called minus tides) that occur during daytime hours over the year - they are predictable far in advance. Lots of clamdiggers on the beaches during a zero tide!

  4. Actually, this is a better, clearer explanation: "The zero tide height is the average height of all the low tides or lowest tides in a given period of time for a given location. Without going into all the details, suffice it to say that there is a zero tide height from which all the other tide heights can be gauged." So we look for tides that fall BELOW the zero tide mark. I've been on beaches at -1.00 and those are good, but when it's -3.00 then the exposed beach (especially here where there is so much tide pool life) is phenomenal. Sometimes we can walk way out to the haystack rocks on the Oregon Coast - google those and you'll see how impressive that would be!

  5. Thanks for the education on zero tides. What fun. Sure wish I was there to walk the beach with you.

  6. Thanks, Julie, that's a lot clearer!

    (Actually, I had a vision of it being a great sea creature with a giant straw-like proboscis, which sucks all the water from the shore--but your explanation makes more sense.)

  7. I think there's a story or a poem in that saltwater-sucking sea creature, Diane!

  8. ooo, I love this poem. the way that son came out of the covers like a hummingbird!