The beach is blue, as if some crazed artist had dyed every foam line on this spring day of cresting white breakers. On closer inspection, the blueness dazzles with iridescence. Each particle appears to be a tiny jelly-like sea creature with a sail. We’re witnessing a mass stranding of Vellela vellela, commonly called by-the-wind sailors, blue sail, or purple sail. Each one is stunningly beautiful, like blown glass that is soft and yielding to the touch.
Wes and I pick up handfuls and walk in them in our bare-feet, later learning they possess a mild neurotoxin in their tentacles they use to capture prey from below, while sailing along the sea’s surface.
What we’ve experienced seems tragic, yet it’s a regular, almost annual spring event along the Pacific Coast, from British Columbia to California.
To live like a Vellela velella is a risky form of letting go. Raise your sail with millions of your comrades and cruise the ocean at the will of the winds. You can have the ride of your life and cover thousands of miles until the winds drive you onto the shore.
That’s the blue message. We’re living in stormy, windy times. Unlike the by-the-wind sailors, we have a choice. We can turn downwind and allow the big winds to fill our sails, and oh that can feel so fabulous. Running with the wind at my back on a beach makes every stride long and effortless. I can pretend to be racing like Steve Prefontaine, who grew up in Coos Bay, Oregon, close to this beach of blueness.
I look up at the sky and watch the gulls cruise by at high speed, never flapping a wing. High winds are exciting. Ride them. Let them take us. The danger lies in letting go of the rudder. No one wants to blow off a cliff, or face an end like the Velella velella.
When the storm winds blow hard, we can take a cue from the birds that know how to navigate and harness wind to save energy, cover more distance, and also to stall and hover, turning into a headwind and hanging their suspended above this gracious earth and sea. This is the time of bird migration, too, when they have no choice but to fly directly into the headwinds in a journey north to nesting grounds.
What is our choice? If we simply let the winds of these powerful and often alarming times fill our sails and send us flying flying flying, we might end up on the blue beach. However, if we can be like the birds that steer the winds, we will find our way in the gale.
After running with the wind like a hand on my back pushing me forward, the turn into the wind can feel overwhelmingly hard. Yet, there’s something wonderful about leaning into a headwind that’s so strong it can hold you up and you’re like that hovering bird looking down on this incredible planet that cradles us all.
Steve Prefontaine, Oregon’s great runner who once held records in seven track events, from 2,000 to 10,000 meters, died tragically in a car accident at the age of 24 in 1975. Yet, in his short life, his accomplishments lived up to his quote that’s posted prominently in the Coos Bay museum Prefontaine exhibit: “To give less than your best it to give away the gift.”
That’s the blue message, too. None of us know how long we will have this incredible gift of life. What do we do with our time? I believe we are living in a time that demands each one of us to face the headwinds that in this case threaten what so much of us care about. Every day there’s a fresh assault on climate change science, on public television and radio, on public education, on healthcare, civil rights, and our public lands.
Where do we find our strength to face the big winds? That’s the blue message, too. There are millions of us out there who care. Our numbers would turn any beach blue and every one of us in this case is living, vibrant, and supportive of one another. The Women’s March showed that power. We can be like flocks of geese in Vs that take turns at the lead where the winds are strongest. Or we’re like a peloton of cyclists, drafting behind each other and switching leads.
And there’s yet another blue message. Reading more about these Velella velella (don’t you love to say those voluptuous words?), I learn that each one is actually a hydroid colony composed of many polyps that gather plankton from the sea and share it with each other through a complex system of canals. They can range in size from the tiny ones I gather up that are smaller than my fingernail, up to seven centimeters long. I’m scooping up hundreds in my hand, and each one is not only its own little spaceship with a sail, every one is either male or female. Even the polyps within the colony have different roles. Some are for feeding and reproduction, while others serve as protectors.
Ain’t nature grand? Every beautiful organism reminds us over and over to be humble, to be an apprentice to nature, and to conserve every part. Let’s do our part and remember, we are far from alone. My last blue message? Remember how fun it is to play in the wind? Never let the daunting tasks of standing up to great winds take away our joy. Always make time for laughter and always for love.