Storms and Tides

Most people we know who moved to north Florida from elsewhere were hoping to avoid cold, wet weather and shorter days. Usually, we are blessed with sunshine, gentle breezes, and an hour or so’s extra daylight.

Until a recent week in November!

We were swathed in a gray gloom that didn’t relent even on the days when the winds howled, and the rain poured. How readily we adapt to changing circumstances. Growing up in England, I’d have thought this entirely normal and, for twenty-seven years in Massachusetts, I’d simply have been grateful there was no nor’easter and the power was on! Here in Florida, Chris complains of the cold, donning more layers than he did when it was below freezing in New England. The ghastly gray seemed interminable! Our cats, who occasionally explore snow in Colorado, curled up contentedly on sofas, beds and, when they could cajole us, on our laps.

In the midst of the monochrome chill, our church had arranged to meet – on the beach! We had previously rearranged this gathering and had determined to meet there, rain or shine. Apart from a hint of drizzle, we got neither, but we huddled together, sipping coffee to survive a brisk, cold wind in an open-air pavilion on the boardwalk. I’m not quite sure what everyone had in mind, I had hoped to experience transcendence through nature: the dipping dune grass and the steady sea turtles, the sea gull’s call, and the sway of the sea. Our church generally gathers in a warehouse, so we are long past believing that whatever may be divine is somehow trapped in a solemn building, but we can catch an inkling of a creative spirit where the waters divide from the land, where the sky is huge and where prehistoric sharks’ teeth swirl in the shallows. As we peered across the dunes at the ocean from our boardwalk perch, on this bleak day, there was little that was calm and tranquil. A choppy ocean the color of pewter heaved and spattered on the shore, palms whipped and lashed, and passers-by braced themselves in hoodies and rain slickers against the gusty air.


New Vision Church on the Beach - Jean Goulden Blog

Being a hardy bunch, undeterred, we proceeded with songs and readings that spoke of the endless possibilities of water, rinsing clean, inspiring life, and bringing order and rhythm to our days. We had prepared little about heaving, stormy seas, the menace of the ocean. Nevertheless, a poem by Mary Oliver, Tides, made me pause and reflect. Oliver spent many years on Cape Cod, the hook of land that extends Massachusetts into the Atlantic. Having enjoyed many vacations in the area, I could easily imagine the harbor she describes in the poem. The tide sucks out as if a plug were pulled, exposing the cobbles below, the fishbones, the weed, and the mud. There’s a hidden world under there, some of it shiny, but much slick and slimy.

It would be lovely to stroll the beaches of our lives’ journeys on an endless string of light summer days, feeling at peace with nature. But we all know our journeys take detours, hit dead-ends, struggle over rough territory. When the storms come, or the tides recede, as in Mary Oliver’s poem, I wonder what is exposed.

I cannot speak of the extremities, of people embroiled in war, fleeing as refugees, starving, unjustly imprisoned, tortured. For most of us who face lesser struggles, it’s often the difficult times that expose the “shiny-ness” of Oliver’s poem, strength over fear, courage and compassion, patience and sometimes the outrage that fuels action.

An old friend in New England once told me that she surprised herself when her husband died. She instinctively knew what to do, who to contact, what she and others needed. My brother, in England, cares for his wife, who is dying of MS, with a tenderness and compassion that stuns the rest of us.

And yet, eventually, the tides turn, the wind abates, the skies clear, and we see a bright sail on the horizon.

End Notes


Magic Hour by Kristin Hannah

Magic Hour
Kristin Hannah


Imagine by John Lennon
Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood

Allison Russell

Cry Me a River (arr for Cello and Piano)
Shseku Kenneh-Mason


Mary Oliver

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