tide clock

escape (the pina colada song)

Just a little S7, CS drabble that’s vaguely spoilery for Regina and Killian’s new Seattle identities and jobs but nothing beyond that, and assumes Killian is cursed with no memory of Emma.


Monday is Pina Colada Night at Roni’s, when the bartenders wear plastic flower leis and serve $3 drink specials to help drum up business on the slowest night of the week.

John Rogers hates rum, hates bars, but he gets dragged along with the 8 p.m shift change that is as predictable as the tide. Clock out, change from uniform to civilian clothes, and go get shitfaced. Wednesdays at the Irish pub for Guinness and darts, Fridays at that place with a DJ and dancefloor and girls who liked cops (in that way that just makes him vaguely ill), and Mondays at Roni’s.

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Finally we saw what we’d come all this way to see. Not only was the jetty above water; it looked like a glyph marooned in a desert. It was smaller than I expected it to be. Also wilier. The jetty changed shape and seemed to actively grow or shrink as we drove parallel to it, forcing us to constantly recalibrate our perception of it.

In short: We were not in hell. This was no inferno. The sky was low and soft and gray-mauve or dark mauve, as were the isolated triangular crags of mountains in the distance. ‘‘From that gyrating space emerged the possibility of the ‘Spiral Jetty,’ ’’ Smithson wrote. ‘‘My dialectics of site and nonsite whirled into an indeterminate state, where solid and liquid lost themselves in each other.’’ The lake, with its pinkish cast, was difficult to differentiate from the sky, creating the illusion that there was no horizon line. It kind of did feel like the end of the world, though not in the way I originally meant it. The world hadn’t been destroyed; it simply dissolved into a combination water-gas-solid substance that surrounded us. Salt lakes, I later learned, are also known as ‘‘terminal lakes’’ or ‘‘endorheic basins.’’ ‘‘Endo’’ (from the Ancient Greek) means ‘‘within’’ and ‘‘rheic’’ ‘‘to flow.’’ They are self-contained bodies that do not empty into any ocean. They are the self-contained end to an infinite means.

One of Smithson’s favorite words was ‘‘dialectic,’’ meaning he desired that things exist in productive tension with other things, thereby producing a ‘‘dialectical situation.’’ Our situation, vis-à-vis the jetty, clearly qualified as a dialectical one. But what was the ‘‘site’’ here, and what was the ‘‘nonsite’’? I’d been reading oodles of Smithson and still felt confused by these two words that crucially underwrote all of Smithson’s earth art.

‘‘What you are really confronted with in a nonsite is the absence of the site,’’ he said in a 1969 interview. ‘‘In a sense the nonsite is the center of the system, and the site itself is the fringe or the edge,’’ he said in a 1970 discussion with the earth artists Michael Heizer and Dennis Oppenheim. (If I occasionally tired of Smithson’s gnomic tendencies, I was not alone. Oppenheim, in the same 1970 discussion, grouched: ‘‘Why do you bother with nonsite at all? Why don’t you just designate a site?’’) But the most compelling definition, to me, is Smithson’s claim that the nonsite is ‘‘based on my experience of the site.’’ The nonsite is a drawing or a sculpture or a box containing slate from a quarry. It is the collaborative transmission, or so I like to think, that results when a geographical landscape moves through or commingles with a figurative, human one.

Sites and nonsites, in other words, involve the equal interplay of consciousness and matter. Which again made me think about the crows and what had thus far shaped their interior landscapes, the ones that might come to play (or interplay) on this trip, as well as on the vaster metaphorical trip that eventually their lives would comprise. How might they contain their interior landscape — their evolving selves, basically — and how will they productively, without becoming overwhelmed (or without imposing preconceptions that close down possibilities), deal with the deluge of feeling and information that exists both within a person and without?

In his essay ‘‘The Spiral Jetty,’’ Smithson included a list of materials a person encountered as she walked from the center of the jetty. He demarcated 20 directional points (North, North by East, etc.) The materials view from each point was the same:

Mud, salt crystals, rock, water.

Mud, salt crystals, rock, water.

The same materials, listed 20 times, the stack of repeated words gesturing toward sedimentary time layers while also, in replicating the many hash marks on a compass, implying the unseen presence of a circle.

Smithson completed ‘‘Spiral Jetty’’ in 1970. He died in Texas in 1973, while aerially surveying the artificial lake area where he hoped to build his ‘‘Amarillo Ramp.’’ He hired a plane, a pilot and a photographer. The plane crashed. All three were killed. The artificial lake is dry now. The ramp, completed after his death by his wife and friends, is eroding. The crash site — or maybe it is a nonsite — is a few hundred yards away.

We parked in the dirt lot. We scrambled down the rocky bank onto the flats. The push-pull of negative/positive space made the jetty seem even more kinetically alive and like the storm its shape resembled, one that messed with the intuitive logic of water behavior. The land we’d driven over was filling up with water, while the lake appeared to be emptying of it.

We walked the spiral many times; we developed individual jetty styles and jetty rules. The crows cut across the puddled sand between the concentric rings, but I did not, I never did that, I would never do that. I walked the line, or rather, the curve. Later we flung off onto the flats. My husband made minijetties with black rocks he found in the sand. The jetty, he said, was spawning.

We returned to the jetty and walked it again. Was it an ancient ruin? Was it the beginning of a new civilization? Was it an example of, as Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, ‘‘the revision of categories, where something past comes again, as though out of the future?’’ In always being both, it encouraged temporal slippage. We were not looking at the past or the future; we were in the middle of time. We were at the point of dislocation around which salt crystals spiraled upward like a staircase as they grew. The crows wrote their names on the sand, and because there was no rising tide — no ocean’s clock — their names would possibly never be erased.

Smithson, in his 1966 essay ‘‘Entropy and the New Monuments,’’ mentions a recent electrical blackout in the Northeast. ‘‘Far from creating a mood of dread,’’ he wrote, ‘‘the power failure created a mood of euphoria. An almost cosmic joy swept over the darkened cities.’’ (When Smithson wrote this, a far more economically destitute New York had yet to experience the subsequent 1977 blackout, the violent and anarchic results of which would probably not be qualified as expressions of ‘‘cosmic joy.’’) When we are in Maine, we often lose our power, and yes, the promise of darkness inspires glee. I gleefully fill the tub with water and the lamps with oil and make sleeping situations nearer to the woodstove. I create in our domestic interior a much more active and dynamic conversation with the exterior, that thing we are so often unaffected by, or simply trying, with our house, to keep out. And while this skill set has mostly been of use in places where the power lines are aboveground, sagging, even in good weather, from tilted pole to tilted pole, the underground electricals of New York are now equally menaced by rising (and descending, into the works) water. My gleeful preparations are increasingly applicable to many more situations, and by that possibility I feel energized. Not because I crave drama or instability, but because I am rendered, in a kind of trippy and exhilarating way, both indispensable and irrelevant.

At the jetty I became entirely irrelevant, and the result was even more exhilarating. Smithson, when searching for a framework with which to explore both limits and limitlessness, found useful the concept of entropy, i.e., the second law of thermodynamics. Entropy proved intriguing to him because, as he understood it, energy was ‘‘more easily lost than obtained’’ and thus, ‘‘in the ultimate future the whole universe will burn out and be transformed into an all-encompassing sameness.’’ I experienced that ultimate future. I experienced what the planet would be like when we were, every one of us, gone. I had, before our visit, worried not only about my crows but also about the loneliness of a planet that might someday have no one to see it, walk through it, feel intense things because of it. That is what made my brain and my heart fold in on themselves. Cities, yes, gone; ice caps, gone; but the beauty of the planet routed through a human consciousness, that’s what I couldn’t comprehend vanishing. This was what, more than my own particular death, I’d despaired at. But on the jetty, I understood what Smithson intuited so long ago in Rome: Beauty did not need us.

‘‘You don’t have to have existence to exist,’’ Smithson said.

If there were a sun, it would have been setting. As the sky grew subtly pinker and purpler, other cars appeared: two families, a lone woman and a couple. Some walked the jetty, but others struck out directly for the invisible horizon and soon became tiny black marks floating in the middle of the same-color distance. The young couple stood on the flats and hugged and kissed. The lone woman neatened the jetty; she found errant rocks and threw them back within the boundaries, redarkening its outline.

Back in the parking lot, as the rain finally started (it had been threatening), we talked to some of these people. All of them were longtime residents in the area. The jetty-neatener said: ‘‘I’ve never been here before. Today just felt like the day.’’

The Art at the End of the World

This is a list of things
that come back.
This is a list I am making
to remind myself the universe
doesn’t work like you.

This is a list of boomerangs,
Halley’s comet, the tide,
the clock striking twelve.
On this list everything returns
because this is a list of circles.

You are not on this list
and that’s okay because you
are not physics or God,
not everything plays by your rules,
you are not supposed to happen
because even shipwrecks
wash back up on shore.

Things like you are the exception.
There’s nothing in the ten commandments
about saying goodbye because this world
isn’t like you, this world is a boomerang.
You are the one who is wrong because
when birds fly south for winter
they always come back.

—  Boomerang 

306. The next night the clock strikes high tide as a distant bell tolls 1am. The dark river rolls in like before. The tide clock is on a lamppost tonight. You push at it; it’s stuck fast, though you can’t tell how. You turn back to the river. Its surface is matte, nonreflective. When you hold a hand out over it a swell of darkness pushes up to meet you.

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fitzsimmons | clocks

Tides that I tried to swim against
Have brought me down upon my knees
Oh I beg, I beg and plead

Come out upon my seas
Cursed missed opportunities
Am I a part of the cure?
Or am I part of the disease?


You are Home, home
where I wanted to go

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