My beach friends and I have always stayed in touch by letter. Sometimes telephone, more recently texts and email, but mostly letters. There is something wonderful about stationary, about seeing familiar handwriting, about choosing just the right stamp, and about sometimes slipping in a surprise--a pressed flower, a fall leaf, a trickle of sand from the beach. I thought I'd share with you this exchange. The person to whom I'm writing is my age; we grew up together at Hubbard's Point. When you love the beach, children's stories, the simplest truths can come to mean even more as you get older.
From my friend:
What are the seagulls and waves doing down there? Have you had pleasant weeks since I saw you? Not sure when I'll be back down, but I am sure trying to lean that way. The thought of the lovely Point and its summer breeze, sun and clouds and sunsets and moonrises, these are thoughts I am fortunate enough to have wafting through me at the moment, so I wondered what the latest sand grains said when they rustled in the waves. You seemed like a good person to ask. I miss that place right now, that's for sure.
Last night the seagulls were crying as they flew home to Gull Island and again this morning as they woke up before dawn. The waves are quiet today. We had a couple of windy days last week that kicked up lots of whitecaps. Early this morning two people were surfcasting off the beach--I didn't see if they caught anything, but rumor has it stripers are running. I watered the garden just as the sun rose out of the Sound, and the air was cool, but now the heat is rising.
I have thought about your question, what the latest sand grains said when they rustled in the waves, so late last night I went down to ask them.
The water was mostly clear, under the light of a waning quarter moon, and you could see the sand grains--mostly mica, sparkly and black in the stretch in which i stood, tossing and whirling and glinting gold. A few grains of granite and quartz joined in. The action--the way they turned and rolled in the waves--looked both festive and somber--like a party with an underlining serious purpose. So I asked them, "What are you doing?"
"What we do every day, every night," a sliver of rose quartz replied.
"Yes, but what is it?"
"We are dancing," a large granite pebble said.
"Not just dancing," a chorus of mica said. "This is our work!"
"Work?" I asked.
"Of course!" said a barnacle who happened to be attached to a piece of sea lettuce, wafting like a green silk scarf through tunnels of tumbling sand, "It's our job to keep it all going."
I thought about that, wanting to grasp the meaning. As a lifelong beach girl, I thought I should know. But since I didn't, and since it's alway best to ask when you don't understand, I said, "Keep what going?"
"The planet!" the mica said. "It's how the world turns, how the forces of gravity and centrifuge and tides and currents continually propel the earth on its axis. We have to play our part!"
"Everyone thinks we're just sand," the rose quartz said. "But..."
"We're more than that," a fragment of granite said. "We work with the waves, and wave action is everything. It's pure energy, it brings life to the intertidal zone, even into the mouths of rivers. And we provide shelter for mollusks, crabs, lobsters, flounder. We give life!"
And that made sense to me. Yes, it did. Now I understood. I walked down from the tide line and stood barefoot in the shallow waves. The sand tossed around, swirling over my toes. A million flakes of mica tipped and dove in joyful formation, like murmurations of starlings flying above a field. My feet were buried in silt, but I felt the dance going on around me, tickling my ankles, lifting my heart.
"How long will you do this?" I asked. "How long have you done it?"
"Forever," the quartz sand said.
"Forever," the granite pebbles said.
"Forever," the mica shards said.
And I heard that word, forever, and felt the fullness of it, felt the swelling of love in my heart for nature and our beautiful coast and seas, for beaches, for our beloved Hubbard's Point. And even after the sand stopped speaking, I could hear the word in the waves: forever, forever, forever, the waves were saying, taking up the chorus of the sand. It was the language spoken by the ocean, from the beginning of time, the one word among all others we would hear until the end, until the last wave hit the last shore. But there is no "last," no "end," because the ocean, the sand, and love will go on forever...
Hope to see you soon.