Monday, February 18, 2013

President’s Day at the Coast

On this holiday weekend the winter beach is crowded with people and their amusements: dogs, kites, picnic lunches and sand castles; boats, blankets, cameras, binoculars and phones. Ocean waves thick in the mist rise up and thunder towards shore. Behind me shadows of seagulls float across the steep, rocky cliffs - appearing and then disappearing again - silently, spaciously, always on the move, staggered like sudden gleams of light emerging from the sun’s meeting with the fog-laced background of the ocean’s outer calm.

I begin my walk. How easily my bare feet advance along the seam of hard-packed wet sand trimming the water’s edge. Strangers smile at me for no reason; then walk past and leave me alone again. Swept clean of practical duties, I plan to spend the long morning soaking in nature’s warm, inviting disorder. Footfall after footfall I compress the glittering silt of quartz and feldspar which the waves draw back and return again –  each stroke erasing the shallow print of my body’s brief encounter with this broad, flat stretch of shore.

In the midst of multiple distractions, the ocean’s mesmerizing rhythm of sound fills me with balance and leads me to my center. How to remain here? There is no easy answer. Perhaps walking itself is a first step. Walking toward simplicity. Toward grace. Toward the cold, wet spiral of a small white shell.

 In the distance terraced cliffs of the headland break the bulk of the waves before they can reach this sheltered strip of beach. Deep green and orange plant growth weaves from root to tip along round boulders of grey stone.  While wave action fights to erode the coast and push the shore inland, the land resists the ocean's attack with the strength of its rock. Marine sediment mantles the terraces, much as my mind – at once clean and bare as whitened driftwood; empty as a shell, becomes so easily filled with life’s colluvium – pencils, pads and other particulars of the practical that accumulate in stubborn hollows, bound by the techno-urgency of the modern world.

The sugar-like sand of the upper beach hosts a tangle of wash-ups: crisp, stranded seaweeds encircled by a chorus of sand fleas; leathery, ribbon-like heaps of giant kelp; black-stained shells of the razor clam. The sand, usually too hot to walk upon in the summer season, is invitingly warm. Soft, loose, it slips beneath my feet and, as ever, pleasant sensations award all abandoned efforts. Halting in mid-expedition, I dig in my toes and lavish lazy waves of pleasure upon this torso of light I call my body, this polished pedestal composed of the elements, this confusion of salt – this sum of splendors that never slows or withholds; rather releases a lovely shimmer of everything it shows – this center of my self.