A fat black raven stands just above the surf line on Oval Beach. Another perches on a nearby log. Something glints in the receding water, something left stranded on the gravel as the water rolls and drops it. The raven hops down and nabs the wriggling silver streak. He hops back as the next wave crashes, a surf smelt thrashing in his beak. He gulps it, gagging as it struggles in his throat.
We walk into the waves, looking. And there they are. As numerous as the shards of fractured light themselves, slivers of fish roll and tumble in each wave, fish that seem beyond counting. (A dangerous thought, that one.)
The other raven hops down, head sideways, watching for light. The waves roll and suck at the gravel. The gravel hisses a long response as the wave retreats around the curve of the bay. The other raven plucks another smelt from the beach. Both birds eat. Both watch and wait for more. The sun lights their feathers with the iridescence of an oil slick floating on water.
We are walking back to our boats, pulled up on the inside of Welcome Harbour, a sheltered inlet on the northwest tip of Porcher Island, about 40 km southwest of Prince Rupert. At low tide, on our way here, we paddled through a narrow opening between two rocky outcrops. Inside these waters it’s hard to tell which clumps of rock are their own islands and which are part of Porcher – the tides change the answer every few minutes and right now the tides are over twenty feet. Our boats slipped through, the hulls mere inches above the hundreds of anemones – white frills, orange feelers, succulent green openings, squat brown sausages – and sea cucumbers, sea squirts, sun stars, bat stars and starfish, some dangling high above us, waiting for the tide to rise, other rocks dripping with dangling tunicates, each its own tiny watershed of cascading molecular systems, alive in its own intricate way. Crabs scuttle, as crabs do, some through the complex forests of kelp, others digging trenches in sand, claws up for battle.
This tiny opening where we pause is changed minute by minute as the water rises, slacks and falls not quite twice each day. In how many places and how many times is this duplicated? How long, you might ask, is the coastline of British Columbia? Benoît Mandelbrot wrote a paper which asked, how long is the coastline of England? It all depends, he argues, on how you measure it. The shorter your measuring stick, the longer the coast becomes. If you measure each tiny outcrop and then in between each stone, each pebble, each grain of sand and deeper in between smaller and smaller increments, each molecule, each atom, well, you can see it’s longer than you thought. And is it the high or low tide coastline you’re measuring? This fractal geometry becomes an illustration of how infinity can be contained within a finite space.