It’s a gray, foggy morning and a bit cool for the locals. There was a storm last night and a lingering wind still augmenting the force of the incoming tide. He’d taken his morning coffee out to the bench on the beach and was quietly lost in the grandeur and the majesty of the towering waves as the surf crashed along the shoreline. He hadn’t seen anyone out and about as it was a bit early for most. She came up from behind him, balancing a magazine, beach towel, and a cup of coffee.
“Is there room for two on this bench?” He nodded and moved over to make room. She continued, “I’ve been watching you come out here every morning for a week, curious of what you were watching or doing…, guess curiosity got the better of me this morning. Hope you don’t mind my intrusion. Sometimes peace and privacy is hard to find in this workaday world we live in and now I come to invade yours.”
“I don’t really mind. The company is welcome. To satisfy your curiosity, I come out here to visit the wonder of the sea, to absorb some of its beauty and power, listen to it sing and whisper to me in the language of the soul. I share the beach with the terns, sandpipers, pelicans, and such other creatures as visit it, like the little coquina in so many colors, living just below the surface of the sand. It’s all such a beautiful mystery and I feel blessed to be part of it, at least for the while I’m permitted to be here.” He fell quiet and sipped his coffee, looking out to where pelicans were diving for their breakfast. She studied him for a moment and stood…
“I feel like I really am intruding. I’m sorry. I’ll just go back to my room.”
“No, don’t go, especially on my account. She’s out there for everyone to share, and I’m not that selfish that I would chase you away from enjoying the same things that I see.”
“You seem to see so much more deeply than I do. I see blue water, white sand and some surf, maybe some birds, but you seem to feel what you’re looking at, like it’s some kind of intimate personal relationship. Is this something that you acquire…, or is it just something inside of you?”
He didn’t answer right away, just sat there looking out over the water. Then he stood and kicked off his sandals. “Why don’t you leave the coffee and magazines here and go for a little walk with me…”
She kicked off her sneakers, dropped the magazines on the bench and put her cup on top of them. “Ok, you’re on. Where are we going?”
He led her out to the edge of the surf and waded into it a short distance til the water was above his ankles. He looked over at her, smiling. “Come on in and let her taste you. If she doesn’t like you she’ll just spit you back out on the shore.”
“But it’s January, and the water’s cold,” she complained, and the shells will hurt my feet.”
“It’s only cold for the first wave, then it’s refreshing. You’ll even get to like it. Just think of it as a pedicure and a massage for free, compliments of the sea.” He started walking down the beach and, with a little trepidation, she followed and caught up with him. They didn’t speak for a while but she watched him closely, aware of the way his face changed depending on what he was looking at, or maybe thinking of,
He stopped suddenly, stooped down and picked up a handful of sand, showing it to her. “Look at all the little mollusks, coquinas and sand fleas. They live in the top layer of the sand that’s washed by incoming and outgoing tide. Watch what happens when I put them back on the sand.” She was amazed when all of the tiny creatures quickly buried themselves in the sand again.
“I’ve never seen those before…, and I’ve walked on the beach a lot out here. It’s amazing how quickly they can burrow back under the surface so quickly.”
Farther down the beach he stopped again, admiring the flight of the pelicans a they were gliding just inches above the surface of the water. “They’re such amazing fliers, gliding along the surface without hardly moving their wings. I’ve never seen their equal…, and then when they feed, diving from as much as 15 feet straight down into the water to catch fish and bobbing back to the surface.”
“Look”, she put her hand on his arm as she said, “here comes three more.” She was smiling and obviously enjoying the sight as the three birds suddenly rose and flew right over them. “Wow ! So neat !” Farther down the beach they encountered a mixed group of birds, resting up on the beach away from the waters edge. “What are all of those? I see them out here all the time but I’ve never took time to identify any of them. They’ve always just been water birds to me.”
“Well,” he replied, ” the big ones, white and gray, are gulls, fairly common round any water environment. The brown ones with the long, stilty legs are sandpipers. The white ones with the black caps and tails are terns, and the little ones, the tiny ones that race along the water’s edge are sanderlings. They eat tiny coquinas and sand fleas when the waves expose them….., and that big guy back there near the sea oats is a Great Blue Heron. The herons are the royalty of the beach.
“How do you know about all of these things? I’ve lived here for years and I hardly know anything about any of this.”
Well, I guess, when you love something, like I love the sea, you try to learn everything you can about it so you can appreciate its beauty and understand its moods…., sort of the same way you would with people. I find something new almost every time I come out here. For me it’s kind of like visiting a best friend or a lover. The more you see and know, the more you want to understand. The sea can be both a generous friend…, and a naughty and capricious lover. Love her cautiously, but I do love her.”
She didn’t respond and they turned and quietly made their way back down the beach to the bench. “Coffee’s cold,” he muttered, “Well, it’s time to go back to the cottage and start packing. I’ll be leaving this afternoon. It was nice walking with you. Hope you didn’t mind my rambling on about nature and the sea. Enjoy the rest of your day.”
“It was nice walking with you too, and thanks for the lesson about the beach. I don’t think I’ll ever see it in the same way again. You opened my eyes to so much out there. It’s too bad that you’re leaving. I’d hoped that I might walk with you again sometime.”
“Maybe sometime,” he replied, “I’ll be back next year”….., and he disappeared behind the dunes.