We all need a place, and for me it’s the beach.
Where I live the ocean is usually placid. Waves lick the shores gently most days, swelling only a few inches before they break. When they crash it’s like a whisper, as though the ocean is eroding the land through relaxing massage. Sure, there are stormy days too, when the sea breathes and heaves in pulsing drama, and the waves get big enough that you can sense them pulverizing the helpless granite cliff-sides.
But most days it’s pretty serene.
These are rocky beaches, here, with pebbles of granite, quartz, and basalt as deep as you could dig. The sand, such as it is, is merely part of the continuum of desolation that the ocean and the rain and the wind collectively wreak upon the earth. The life cycle of the very planet is in evidence on these shores, but all the while the sea whispers, “shhh,” as the waves lap in, and then rattle back out to the Strait through the pebbles they’ve shifted by rolling softly in.
There are little crabs and birds; sometimes seals or eagles, porpoises or dolphins; sometimes orca; once I saw a grey. If you crane over the rock outcrops bright purple starfish cling where the water rushes in and out too fast for even the barnacles to stick. All this is what I want you to see when I say the word ‘beach.’
Today I went to the beach because it was clear and mild out but not because I felt like I needed to. I didn’t know I felt gnarled because it happens so gradually and maintains itself so steadily that it just becomes part of the way we are. But the beach can level you, as it will level the rock. The ocean will shift your sand, expose your boulders, and start in on washing all of that grit out to sea. It will do it on a gentle day. It will do it on an angry day. It will do it relentlessly.
I began on the beach with my hands in my pockets, a grown up with grown up concerns. But soon enough I was marvelling at the water. I was rerouting a stream as it coursed through the pebbles toward the waves. I dug with the heel of my shoe like I used to do in rainy playgrounds when I was seven years old. I dammed it with dirt and rocks, and dug canals with a stick and watched the river wash the sediment into the undulation of the waves. I hunted for sea glass. I scanned the horizon for whales.
I left the beach centred. The water and sand had done what they do, and smoothed the furrow in my granite brow.