100 Tiny Oceans by Louise Kenward

For 100 days I have walked to the sea, onto the beach, and crouched at the edge.

In 100 jars I have collected water from 100 incoming waves.

Tiny Ocean #43          29.11.18          09:15               Wednesday

Wild winds and spikey rain: the tide is out and the beach swept so well that wide patches of sand have been revealed. Bending to greet the slowest and shallowest wave I catch grains of sand washing in with the tide. It’s closely followed by fast moving, low lying water, just enough to soak my shoe.

The beach: a place that hardly exists at all, washed away twice a day it is largely hidden from sight. My fatigue: a condition that is barely there, unseen, it is hard to believe in, but it lingers and dwells beneath the surface, rooted firm. As real as the ocean, it is as hard to hold onto.

I begin to be able to walk to the beach, it is a marker of achievement. Being by the sea is a joy I can no longer take for granted. I stand at the edge and take a photograph out to the horizon. It’s evidence.

In time I begin to collect a jar of sea water from an incoming wave. This is the new addition to my slowly developing routine. It mirrors my achingly slow recovery.

I learn that ways of collecting the water must change depending on weather, tide and the ferocity of the wind. Invariably I get wet feet, the bottom of my trousers soaked up to my knees. My porch is lined with shoes and socks drying out to be worn again the next day.

A short walk, a few hundred yards is all, and yet it represents so much. For so long I was unable to walk this distance, for so long I lay in bed yearning and straining to hear the sea as the wind caught its echoes and blew it up between the houses. I listened to it while in bed, with a longing and an itching to be nearer the water.

It marks time, these jars. Quickly I notice how much has happened since I started the collection, my health still fluctuating, but less so – for now. I can reliably walk to the beach, the proof is in these jars. There are days when it might take me all day to get there, but I have not yet missed one. The evidence that my health is improved lies on the shelves in my studio – they are real, and thus, despite the lack of reality to my illness, my ability to walk to the sea cannot be questioned. The sea speaks of my recovery. Bits of grit and sand and stones that lie at the bottom of jars, settled in time from foggy water, reveal a clarity that is hard to believe came from the same murky looking sea captured in photographs. The muddy ocean is in fact crystal clear, given long enough to settle. There is no settling though at sea, it continues to churn. The continuity, the unpredictability, reminds me of change, that no matter how I feel, it will change, the world around me will change, I will change.


The jars mark time for life beyond my own body too. The world is fast paced beyond my four walls and I struggle to keep up. It is a reminder of how much I carry, what my body is holding, when I curse it for being slow – it helps me to be more gentle with it.

I start to take notes, of the weather, observations, internal and external, and I look at the sea. I look at the sea and the beach that shifts and slides. The view changes day by day, hour by hour – the tide, the reveal of rock pools, the sand, the stones, the sky – they endlessly move, and make me realise it is OK to not feel well anymore, to just go hour by hour, day by day, making small adjustments, or standing still. Standing still or slowing down, it is all a part of the movement. It is only once time has passed, that I notice each wave imperceptibly drawing in or drawing out the entire ocean, only when I stop watching that I see how far it has come up the beach.

In 100 days my idle collection of mermaid’s purses has transformed into a careful process of identifying the species that hatched from them. The thornback and undulate ray are easy to distinguish now. The smaller egg case of the spotted ray is my latest species to learn. I feel more connected to my walks and my surroundings with this new knowledge. The more time is spent at the edge, the more I become a part of the beach – the more the ocean becomes a part of me. The edge becomes a place where I can be embedded.

I collect a small amount of water in a jar. I think that, somehow, it represents all of life beneath the surface. Akin to homeopathy or psychotherapy, a small part represents the whole. Some days it has been so wild that sea foam is as close to the water as I can get. Sea foam, full of dissolved organic matter, plankton and algal blooms. All of the ocean is in each jar. All of life is in each walk.

First image by Nicole Zaaroura; all others by Louise Kenward.