An extract from
Field Notes From The Edge
by Paul Evans, published by Rider Books, 2015
Chapter 3. Strand p.38 - p.41
Something given up by the sea, hidden in swags of rope and kelp, was beyond redemption. Uncovered, it was like tarpaper studded with teeth. On one side the teeth were white, inch-long and plastic-like , knife-sharp, backward pointing fangs which drew blood instantly. Some were broken and some were just forming from the rough black skin. Closer inspection revealed the entire surface of the skin was made up of thorns, proto hook-teeth growing to replace the big ones when they broke. On the other side were skeletal remains: a fused spinal column, not bone but chitinous like dental plastic, with an elongated skull fragment holding what looked like eye sockets. Dark, dangerous, repulsive, it made no sense, the ruins of a being thrown up from the deep. This was a monstrous thing. Perhaps it was once part of a thorn ray, but it felt like the remains of some ghastly chimera - a sea monster made from fears and garbage. Unlike flotsam with floats and jetsam which is jettisoned, lagan is drowned cargo such as iron, timber, tyres, polyurethane, bone, fishing nets, stone and plastic bags sunk at the bottom of the sea. Treasure or trash, this stuff melded with creatures of the deep to form hybrid lagan monsters. Sometimes these things from dark unthinkable fathoms rose from the sea to haunt us.
A creature with a thousand writhing heads was washed up on a Cornish beach. Hurricane Katrina had churned up a strange protoplasmic thing and dumped it on rocks at Crackington Haven. A thousand pearly white heads attached to a body of wriggling necks 40 feet long. They were goose barnacles, shells housing filter-feeding polyps on a 15-centimetre peduncle stalk colonising a tree trunk, thought to have originated from the Florida Everglades, dislodged from the seabed by the storm and after months tossed around, stranded on the far side of the Atlantic. The goose barnacles - so-called because in medieval times they were thought to be the eggs of barnacle geese, classified as ‘fish’ and therefore edible on a Friday - were still alive, desperate, scaring and fascinating onlookers.
The appearance of mutilated whales, seals, giant squid, fish, spores, plankton and algal blooms excited that mixture of fascination and fear which the American horror writer H.P. Lovecraft and others tapped into with tales of monstrous creatures, arcane legends and old gods imprisoned in the deaths of the sea. Creatures seen at or around the surface have always been part of culture, from eighth-century St Brendan’s Jasconye the Fish - the island that turned out to be a whale - to Melville’s Moby Dick and the many imitations of the film Jaws; they are strange and, particularly in the case of sharks and jellyfish, dangerous. For many of us, the deep is an unknown wilderness, experienced vicariously through underwater documentary films from submersibles which travel to depths where the human body turns to mush. In these sunless, crushingly pressured realms, live creatures that appear alien. They have evolved forms so unlike those ever experienced by landlubbers. And yet, there is something about recently discovered deep-sea creatures that evokes an ancient fear and awe, an emotion which survives from a very fundamental anxiety about wild Nature that has lurked under the surface of myths and legends about the sea.
The monstrous thing in the strandline was a relic of an unidentified marine animal broken form its original form and mangled into surreal juxtaposition with human debris. It awoke an unfamiliar confusion trying to identify it, a sinister fascination for the violence it was capable of with those teeth, a fear of its weird wildness and yet there it was surrounded by a homely sort of rubbish: bits of detergent containers, bottle tops and baler-twine. It hid at the boundary into our world like a curse. In Revelation 20:13 - 'And the sea gave up the dead which were in it'; this is also the title of a paining by Frederick Leighton (exhibited 1892).
The man in the bow of the zodiac gestured, describing some large space or thing. The others watched and listened intently; they had been in conversation for forty minutes before the driver started the outboard and the others positioned themselves for the high-speed return trip. The boat skimmed back the way it had come, its wake cutting across the lawless, secretive sea, rippling calmly as it if thad no depth at all, under a cloudless, blank-blue sky, toward bare green mountains which appeared flat against the horizon, the space between filled with warm summer air glittering with intent. The zodiac took only a few minutes racing across the bay to Black Rock Sands were vehicles were waiting on the shore.
To the west, the monstrous thing, like some ancient munition activated by discovery and too dangerous to be left where it could blow up, was being buried under a stone. A shallow grave on the strandline for the unwanted gift from the sea, the dead returned long enough to bare its barbarous teeth, now safely tucked under the imprisoning weight of a gravestone. But for how long? To the east, four dangerous men went ashore to carry out their plan. Maybe wherever it was would make the headlines, maybe not.
© Photographs and video by Maria Nunzia @Varvera
© Paul Evans @DrPaulEvans1
NB photographs do not appear in the book.