Things to count on.
Swimming in warm water as the sun goes down, sand pipers pecking the shore when beach-goers begin to leave for the day, dune grass yellow green flowing waves in the breeze, brilliant blue hydrangeas like soft jewels, footprints in the sand hinting their silent stories, sand arranged in intricate random patterns on ankles and toes like bridal henna, beach glass, the Point, riptides and undertows, seagulls fighting over leftovers in the sand late in the day, a warm shower after a day on the beach, seaweed and sand stuck to the white skin under your bathing suit.
We are on vacation—2 weeks at our favorite beach. We rent a big cottage. It has expansive views of the ocean. We share this vacation with my sister and her family and my parents. This cottage is really big. When people visit, they are impressed by its size and quality, its contemporary design and decor. But it used to be a tiny shack with faucets that were cold on one size and hot on the other, a very temperamental septic system and walls that didn’t reach the ceilings. And it was a third of its current size. We're New Englanders—we stuck it out. The footprint is the same, but not much else.
It did always have an outdoor shower and if you don’t know the glory of an outdoor shower, I simply don’t think I can do it justice here.
I possess an unending adoration for this place. I would say inexplicable, but I have no trouble explaining my love of this beach. I write it into my fiction over and over. I can think of countless ways to to describe it. I have visited beaches in Hawaii, Costa Rica, the Caribbean, the Pacific Northwest and up and down the East Coast from Maine to Florida and none compares to this one. I don’t expect everyone to share this opinion—it is a symptom of being in love with a certain piece of Earth.
If you are lucky, there is a place on Earth that says home to you. When your eyes are filled with this place, it is akin to religion. You get what they mean by Tao, by Nirvana, by Heaven. In this place, you are more you than you can understand or articulate. When the sun began setting and the beach clearing of people, the light at a particular slant, a particular butter color still sparkling on the waves, the air a touch cool, I’d put on a long-sleeve shirt, and be perfectly at peace. It was me. I was in it. My soul clean, my heart slow and steady. It was my place.
I harbor a secret sympathy for people who live inland. I harbor a secret pride that we are beach people. That my children can navigate the strong pull of the tides, that they are salty, that sand decorates their feet and knees and elbows. I know my arrogance is unfair—merely a circumstance of my birth. One I think of as lucky.
Should we go for a walk? was what Mom always said and stood up. She wore her long white button-down collared shirt. She reached into her little cloth bag and removed her coral lipstick, applied a coat to her lips. She didn’t need a mirror. Her hands pulled off the cap and swiveled the coral cylinder up. Mom’s hands were beautiful, delicate and seemingly fragile. When I learned about the hollowness of birds’ bones, I thought immediately of Mom’s hands. Light, like birds’ bones. Flying, touching, walking lightly on sand. Mom’s skin looked even more tan against the white of her shirt and the white of her teeth in her coral smile. We walked to the shore.
At the Point, the sand curved up to the right around some dunes. Tucked on the other side of the curve was the harbor. Sail and fishing boats and tiny dinghies were tied to the weathered gray of the docks.
Along the way, we watched sandpipers dart in and out of the surf on their fast little stick legs. We scanned the shore for interesting shells and beach glass. We watched the sun sparkle on the waves. Listened to the surf, regular and strong like a solid heartbeat. We talked or we didn’t. We laughed and splashed or we enjoyed the suspension of our voices. We didn’t notice the time pass. Every time, we turned and went back once we reached the Point.
When it first touched us, the water felt cold on our sun-warmed skin, but before we knew it our feet and shins became accustomed and the water felt comfortable and warm. The transition happened without making itself apparent; suddenly we’d simply be aware of the change. We never experienced the change itself.
Here, I am my most authentic self. I am inspired and relaxed. I am happy.
I hope you have a loved place, too.
All quotes are from my novel in progress, Talking Underwater.