The dogs are back on the beach at St. Simon’s. They’re only allowed on the public beaches between Labor Day and Memorial Day. As I took my stroll from the Coast Guard Station towards Gould’s Inlet Sunday morning, tennis balls and frisbees flew through the air with suburban bird dogs hot on their tails.
“Katie, get up here!” one woman hollered to a sopping wet spaniel when she wandered off to a tide pool. “Amber! Amber! Amber!” a man chanted to a Corgi with better things to do than listen. “Bella! Bella! Good girl!” and the chocolate lab got a treat for coming back from the sand dunes when she was called. “Archie! Get the ball! Archie!” The beach sounded like a playground 10 minutes before nap time when everyone gets worked up and worn out.
I wandered along the edge of the water, my eyes down looking for shells to put in the plastic cup I had brought along. It was already an hour later than I had planned to leave for home. But I couldn’t live with myself if I drove 700 miles to the seashore for a board retreat and didn’t at least get my feet wet. In a word, I was lolly-gagging.
The tide was almost at its low, so there were plenty of shells to be had, mostly plain old oysters and clams. I’d pick up a promising one and hold it up to the sun as it rose over the low brown ocean. I’m looking for shells with natural holes worn in them for a project I’m working on back home. If the sun shone through, I put the shell in my cup. I love the ones that have grown smooth and pocked with time as they’ve rolled back and forth along the bottom of the sea. I want to string them together and make a windchime for the screened porch.
On one side of me, the sandy expanse of beach rollicking with dogs. On the other side, the quiet brown ocean teeming with life and mystery and danger. Pelicans and power walkers and crabs and investment bankers all out to get what they needed from the morning. And me shuffling along the narrow line where all that activity comes together.
Story-telling is like that. While the whole wide world goes on around me, I’m sifting through the little broken leftover things. Picking up a gray one and tossing it back into the water. Holding another one up to the sun to see if a little light peeks through. Putting it in my pocket if it shows promise. I’ll take these home and mix them in with all the shells I’ve picked up this summer and last summer and the summers before that. I’ll rinse them off with a little water and leave them in the sun to bleach. Shells, like stories, reveal hidden colors and crannies, after you show them a little attention and let them sit for a while.
After an hour at the beach, I got back in the car with the sand still on my feet and pointed the car towards Griffin. My dad isn’t doing well and I wanted to go by and see him. His precarious health is the ocean-sized story I haven’t been writing about for a couple of months. The idea of life without a parent is dark and mysterious and dangerous and eternal like that quiet brown ocean I walked beside this morning. So I’ve been looking at the shells instead of at the sea.
With shells and stories rattling around in the car, I played The Cowboy Junkies “Open” CD on that first stretch of I-95 outside of Brunswick.
I don’t sleep most nights,
Just lie awake and count my blessings.
I’ll take this endless life
Of perfect pointless mornings.
I’ll hold you till the morning comes
’cause it’s all that I can do.
I’m so open. I’m so open.
I don’t like these last goodbyes.
I don’t like goodbyes.
I’ll take this endless life of perfect pointless mornings. It’s all that I can do.
Have a listen.