At a minister’s retreat, Narragansett, Rhode Island

By three o’clock the rain had stopped, and I even saw a spot of blue sky, just for an instant, among the scudding clouds. I put on my rain coat, tied the hood under my chin, and walked down Hazard Road towards the ocean.

I started to feel rain, but realized it wasn’t rain. The wind was blowing hard enough to kick up drops of seawater and drive them a hundred yards inland. Over a fence and across a carefully manicured lawn, I caught a glimpse of gray ocean, and white waves crashing against light gray rocks.

At the end of Hazard Road, I scrambled down among the Japanese knotweed mostly stripped of leaves, and some of the stalks broken off, by the force of the wind. I came out of the knotweed down onto the rocks, and stopped there. That was close enough. Upwind, I saw a young woman with a camera crouched in the lee of an rock outcropping. The wind drove spray into my face. I quickly turned to face downwind. Bits of sea foam blew across the rocks, and now and again sheets of spray followed. There was little regularity to the waves; they came and went and boiled over the rocks and ebbed back again and bits of them blew off and hit my face, covering my glasses with tiny droplets of saltwater.

Yesterday, four of us has clambered over these same rocks, the ocean quietly moving to and fro just below our feet. Jan, the avid sport fisherman, was talking about stripers and how they’re migrating south down the coast right now. He said, They’re probably crossing over here from Cape Cod right now, and we discussed the comings and goings of the striped bass, and how sea squirts are taking over parts of the coast, and how little we understand ocean ecology. He said of himself, I should have been an oceanographer. We stood looking out over the sea for a moment, and then he added, We only understand the tiniest bit about that — pointing to the sea. Anyone who says otherwise, he said, is in for a rude awakening. We don’t understand it at all. I nodded, and thought about ships going down in Atlantic storms.

A wave crashed over the rock where yesterday I had seen someone surfcasting. The ocean beat against the rocks where yesterday we had walked in safety. Spray and seafoam and waves broke twenty feet into the air, covering that huge rock out cropping, draining down in white rivulets. I stood just watching, and then became aware of someone behind me. Imoved so the young woman could climb down the rocks.

“Quite something,” I shouted over the wind. “It’s amazing,” she shouted, pointing behind us, “I was out there taking pictures.” “I know, I saw you,” I shouted, “you won’t catch me out there.” She said something I didn’t quite catch, something about “beautiful.” “It’s beautiful,” I shouted back, and she climbed up to Hazard Road.

I walked around some, and at last I couldn’t resist; I climbed out to where the young woman had been taking photographs. It was actually quite sheltered, and she probably had been telling me how beautiful it was, that I should try sitting there. A tiny bit of sun broke through the clouds, lighting up the verge of the water down the rocks until it lit up the brilliant white of wavetops at the little point across the cove. Another bit of sun lit up a line of mysterious white wavetops far out at sea. The wind and waves and sun kept up with no discernable pattern except the randomness of power and beauty. I thought about what Jan had said: Anyone who thinks they know anything about that ocean is setting themselves up for a rude awakening.