Leaf Litter

Ocean-Inspired Poetry

Jones & Jones founder, Grant Jones, shares some of his ocean-inspired poetry.

Last week, at the Landscape Architecture Foundation’s 50th Anniversary Celebration, Grant Jones, founder of Jones & Jones Architects and Landscape Architects, was awarded the first-ever LAF Medal, an award given annually to a landscape architect for distinguished work over a career in applying the principles of sustainability to landscapes. In addition to being a world-renowned practitioner of ecological design, Grant is a poet.  When we told Grant about the topic of this issue of Leaf Litter, he generously offered to share some of his ocean-inspired works from that collection.

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Returning to the Drop Off


Alone I went out early,

before first bird cry,

before gulls and fishcrows

began plundering and waded

to the outermost bar

good half mile offshore.


The bar’d been drying before sun break.

I could see that the sand crystals had split open

like tiny mouths above each clam shell.


Each of these refts marks a cockle

with a telltale crack to practiced eyes,

can even etch a string of cockles,

a whole reave of morsels in the ridge of a sandbar.


Glaucous-winged gulls learn to see

these secret messages in the sand

over a lifetime predatoring.

They cock their heads back trying

to hear the whispers from the cockles

as they open their shells a tiny crack at a time.


At only a half inch below the surface,

a cockle will become clearly visible.

Deeper, only a faint double crack

like a pair of eyes will appear.

The young gulls hadn’t noticed yet,

but I could see them now plain,



I scuffled across the tiny reaves

with my boot, so any wise old gulls

would have to look for breakfast farther up the beach.


The outermost bar was really

two bars with a lagoon

in between leading to blue water.


There, in the glistening shallows,

fluid in the currents ebbing out through

these two pristine fingers,

there in the dark green eelgrass

that swirls tangled with eel blennies

who tickled my calves as I waded my own path,

as seaperch darted through the kelp strands

startling sanddabs who exploded right over my toes,

the water was colder and the bottom creeped.


Wading deeper, water licking up my ribs,

I begin to hear my young boy spirit

breathing deeply, as I went suspended, bouncing

on the calving edge of the drop off.


But wait, turn around. I was too old for this

and my spirit needed its home,

right here in my chest.


Grant Jones
Richmond Beach Tideflats
Point Wells two miles north of Boeing Creek
Central Sound Sub Region
The Central Puget Sound Region
The Salish Sea
January 26, 2016


I learned in the Galapagos there is a shimmering in everything. It’s in the land, the sea, the plants and the animals. It’s in the writhing lava, the sand, in the glaze of spines of the towering Prickly Pear cactus. It’s in the tail feathers of the Tropic Birds, the red throat patches of the Frigate Birds, the cobalt toe webs of the Blue-footed Boobies, in the glistening cadmium yellow skin of the Land Iguanas and the flapping black wings of the Manta Rays. The overall condition of your experience in a landscape like this, the cumulative effect of it, is integrative like being inside a landscape camera that still holds the latent images of everything that has passed before.

In fact I found this involuntary stranding on the Archipelago was like being in a time warp, an interruption of normal-time reality. I realized I was watching cinematic evolution and I was in it, not an actor in a drama but a silent partner listening to a narrative in my head. The gift of seeing, hearing and giving a voice to a landscape was fully aroused inside me. Because the Galapagos Islands are a mind-and-soul experience in a landscape that has the power to lift you up, crack open your eyes and your heart so that every subsequent landscape you experience in the future can and will talk to you.

Where ever you are, if you are quiet and really focus, you will now hear the land speak. And if you’re a musician, filmmaker or a landscape designer, you will become a player and a conductor of an intrinsic symphony. If you are a poet the landscape will speak out inside your head . . . in this case the pounding of the surf on the black lava, the equatorial pendulum of the sun swinging across the sky, and the stillness of the night called for a line-repetition form like a Villanelle.


Islas Esmeraldas


In kiln days of tall throbbing light

The sun twists the day, and sears—

Birth of cinders in a cold sea’s calyx,

Riddle of edges down long tortoise years.


En dias horneados de alta luz vibrante

El sol retuerce el día y abrasa—

Nacimiento de escorias en el cáliz del océano frío,

Enigma de umbrales a través de largos años de tortuga.


The ceramic click of the lava, repose of broken shores,

Chords of the furnace humming in your cairns;

Swollen cactus footprints pin the sky

And your landscape is glazed with spines.


Sonido cerámico de la lava, reposo de acantilados quebrantados,

Acordes de caldera susurrando en tus sepulcros;

Huellas de cactus hinchados se encajan en el cielo

Tu paisaje está guarnecido de espinas.


The day is shedding birds

A pumult of gannets over shearwater surf,

Terns swinging like slate amulets

As spindrift sifts light into shapes of wind


El dia vierte pájaros

Un desplomar de piquéros sobre resaca de pardelas,

Gaviotines balanceándose sobre la espuma como amuletos de pizarra

Mientras el rocío tamiza la luz en figuras de viento


Against an endless procession of swells

Advancing faster than a man could run—

Towers of molten blue water, clear and cold

Pale, the color of some perfume or precious glass:


Contra la procesión sin fin del oleaje

Avanzando más rápido que el correr de un hombre—

Muralla de agua esmaltada, clara y fria,

Pálida, color de perfume o cristal precioso:


Womb of the fire and pulsing sea,

Your reptile peace still moist in the shadows

As the sun twists the day, and sears

This riddle of edges down the long tortoise years.


Seno del fuego y de la mar pulsante,

Tu paz reptilezca todavia húmeda en las sombras

Mientras el sol retuerce el día y abrasa

El enigma de umbrales a través de largos años de tortuga.


Grant Jones

Darwin Research Station
Academy Bay
Isla Santa Cruz
Las Islas Galápagos
May 20, 1967

In 1994 my business partner, Manuel Mario Campos Campos, assisted me with the sonorous Spanish which gives this poem from 1967 a real bilingual voice.


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