Winter winds have ravaged the beach. Storm waves crashed, pounded, churned, and dragged several tons of sand into the powerful longshore current and banished it to the deep waters of the sound.
The landscape of the beach reflects this battering as steep scarps are left at the backshore and boulders litter the mud flats at low tide. Wind and waves, the great artists of nature, work within the shoreline studio, endlessly creating, destroying, transforming. A walk on the beach is a stroll through the most magnificent gallery in existence. One that changes over days, hours, and often step by step.
Today, the surf had draped broad swaths of ruby and graphite sands over the buff-colored beach along the length of the strand line. Meandering brushstrokes stippled with glittering flecks of mica. Sheets of mud and sand folded into geometric, repeating wrinkles that extend to the twin rocks offshore.
The fabric of the beach is adorned by a collection of objects strewn along the water’s edge, some smashed and jagged from the pounding surf, others smoothed and rounded, having endured the same forces over a longer time. My muse focused on a lone bleached, Channeled Whelk whose chalky abandoned home fit in my palm.
The whelk’s form can be described as a logarithmic spiral. It’s well-known to humanity as one of the most ancient and mysterious of symbols. It has been used to represent growth and rebirth, the path of the soul’s evolution, and to signify a link between humans and the divine. Some suggest that focusing on the image of a spiral leads to self-exploration, and the awareness that the entire universe resides in the present moment.
In addition to spiritual or philosophical meanings, the spiral also has been used extensively in art -- from the extraordinary spiral shapes of Newgrange in Ireland to ancient, decorated pottery of the Minoan civilization. In nature, the spiral is found in tornadoes and hurricanes, human fingerprints, and the flight paths of raptors.
Of the many types, the logarithmic spiral pattern is found within the Sunflower (Helianthus annuus), the national flower of Ukraine. Jacob Bernoulli, a renowned mathematician, called it the "miraculous spiral", because even as the size of the spiral increases, its shape is unaltered. This property is known as self-similarity. As with human evolution, the miraculous spiral has evolved in nature and appeared in a variety of forms from whelk shells to sunflower heads – different on the surface, but underneath, the pattern is the same.
Likewise, there is a smooth and invisible fabric that connects all of humanity in the unbroken spiral of compassion. It connects us to those who, as Desmond Tutu described, have “overcome the most horrendous circumstances and emerged on the other side, not broken.” My hope for today as I walked the beach in silent prayer, fingers tracing the curve of the whelk, is that the people of Ukraine and all those who suffer, may emerge unbroken.
May we all be, as the miraculous spiral within the sunflower, a symbol of resilience and support, as we pray for peace in this everchanging world.
(Sunflower photo credit: L. Shyamal - https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=895745)