The June morning was gray, with the sky threatening rain, and the chill of a lingering mist made the beach unappealing to tourists. Even the locals seemed to shun the sandy strip that day, as near-summer literally gave a cold shoulder to the place.
And so the strip of shoreline was mine alone to roam and examine and embrace. To those who do not know the joys of shoreline solitude, the word “embrace” will surely sound a trifle precious. But to those of us who know the steadying sense of perspective that is provided by combing beaches on one’s own, that word will seem entirely apt. For when you wander up and down a stretch of shore without the distraction of chatter and company, a beach can be counted on to offer up treasure that you can grasp with your hands and your mind.
With one’s attention undivided, it’s always easier to find that marvelously twisted piece of driftwood washed up on the shingle, or to spot a harbor seal on the rocks just off shore, or to gather sea glass and pottery shards in abundance. To some of us, these things are riches in themselves. And to any soul inclined toward mulling the mystery of where one is, practically and emotionally, the place itself becomes a companion. It almost carries on a conversation with you about itself — and ultimately about you.
If you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself talking to the beach.
“Omigod! Now there’s another seal!” you exclaim, to no one but the shore.
“There’s the foghorn,” you say. “Was that sounding all along or did it just start up?”
“Lavender sea glass! Oh, I’ve got to save that piece. I wonder if I will ever find a rare red piece.”
In fact, it is in searching for sea glass that one truly hears from the beach. By following deposits of flotsam and jetsam and seaweed and seashells that represent the final washing up and retreat of the tide in wavy patterns along the shore, you discover that the shoreline tells you about its last tidal encounter. Not only does it reveal whether or not the tide was unusually high or low, but it lets you know where waves laden with pebbles and so much more must have lingered. The clearer expanses of sand say something, too. They tell a tale of loss, where things have been pulled back into the sea. In fact, the shoreline is a visible story line of giving and taking.
If you’re so inclined, the shore may make you think about your own last encounters with forces greater than yourself. It will also tell you something about your general attitude toward life. If you’re an optimist, you will see the shoreline as a place replete with riches. You might say you’re a sea glass-as-gem person. If you tend toward pessimism, you will see sea glass as useless shards. You might call this the sea glass-all-broken approach.
No matter what kind of person you are, it is wise to listen to what the shoreline has to say. That’s because the beach, which daily greets tides that come and go and give and take, is a place of balance. Embrace that notion, and you will wrap your arms around the shore’s true treasure.