Tag Archives: beach

The Narrowest Strip of Land

I’d have worn a nicer baseball cap if I’d known we were going to be in someone’s engagement pictures. G played in the surf with the kids, right under the tower of pink and coral clouds that held the last light of sunset. Waves crashed all around us and the wind blew so high that puffs of froth flew off the tips of the waves and skittered down the beach.

Bunch of nuts.

Bunch of nuts.

I waved to G with my cup full of rum drink and pointed down the beach about thirty yards to a young couple locked in a tight hug. They were enclosed by a semicircle of beaming family. Every woman held a cell phone pointed straight at the happy couple…and us.

The young man must have planned it with all of their help. Each person wore beachy dress clothes, like they had just come from dinner and wanted to get some sunset photos on the sand. Only problem was…there wasn’t much sand. Certainly not enough for their family and our family and the magic moment that was supposed to happen in a picture perfect way. The sunset that the young groom-to-be had imagined coincided with a new moon high tide that thundered right up to the trash cans and the boardwalk steps. As we’ve all heard for a thousand years, “Time and tide wait for no man.”

So while their family tried to act casual, the young man led the young woman down onto the narrow strip of sand that hadn’t yet been eaten by the incoming waves. He handed her a letter and she stood there in the whipping wind trying to read it, keep her hair out of her mouth, and focus on this important moment…all with twelve people standing in a grinning circle and two strange children (mine, ahem) who decided to act out a scene from Paw Patrol nearby.

All was joy a few moments later, when she said yes and everyone jumped up and down and then they took photos in the last light of Their Engagement Day.

The narrowest strip of land

The happy couple, their happy family, some trash cans and my son.

I got engaged under a pink sky just like that one once upon a time. And the ground was being eaten beneath our feet on that day, too, but we pressed on towards what would be.

G clapped loudly for the young couple and gave them two thumbs up. He walked over to me and we held hands for a moment before he went back to herding the kids. I had to laugh, even though the sound of it disappeared into the wind and waves. Ten hours earlier, we had stood in the driveway and had a screaming match so loud that Carlos had walked out into the garage and said, “Enough with the arguing!”

For three days, I had been packing and prepping and then G had the gall that morning to roll his eyes and say, “Why are we taking all this shit?” Within 10 minutes, I was moving stuff from his car to my car and he had decided he wasn’t even GOING on vacation….yadda yadda yadda. We apologized to each other, explained to the kids that we were using our words to express our feelings, and that it’s totally normal to have disagreements. We all had a big group hug right there in the driveway then got back to the business of living as a family.

Who could resist that face?

Who could resist that face?

Watching that young couple starting out, with their fancy plans for how this Important Moment was supposed to go–sunset proposal on a pristine beach–I had to laugh at the reality of it. Sunset proposal next to the trash can at high tide with a wind so fierce she can barely hang on to the letter you wrote so carefully, the letter with all your hopes and dreams and love for each other.

What I would tell them is that they had all they needed, even if the details weren’t going as planned. Marriage is the narrowest strip of land. Just enough to stand beside each other while the vast ocean nips at your toes and the wind drowns out all that you would say to each other. Stay strong on the narrowest strip of land. The tide will turn. The moon with ease up. The sun will rise on another day.

Marriage Proposal, St Simon's Island


Perfect Pointless Mornings

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.

Sunday Morning on St. Simon's Island

Sunday Morning on St. Simon’s Island

“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.

Where this meets that

Where this meets that

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.

Crabby on SSI

Crabby on SSI

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.

Climbing the Lifeguard Chair

“Carlos, look at Mommy so I know you’re listening to me.”

He pushed wet hair out of his eyes and turned to listen. “Mommy and Daddy are right here with you, but if you ever think you’re lost, look for that big red chair. See the red umbrella? That woman is the lifeguard–she’s like the teacher in charge of the beach.”


I’m sure all he heard was “Blah blah blah BEACH!” but I do my best to prepare the kids for worst case scenarios. Well, Sharknado is probably worse but the forecast didn’t call for sharks or nados.

By the end of a half way rainy day, all that hovering over my kids had really started to wear me out. We enjoyed a delightful morning of cinnamon rolls and playing in the waves, but after the rainy afternoon with no naps, then the disappointing “let’s go wander around” car trip, and the mediocre $75 dinner, followed by a rousing contest of “who can scream loudest in the minivan?”…this mama was shot. All that wonderful Relaxation and Family Time had solidified into a tightness in my chest that felt a lot like Shut the Hell Up and Here, Have Some More Screen Time.

So G suggested I take a walk by myself. Well, not technically by myself because I took my friend, Mr. Wine Sippy Cup with me. I left my Tevas on the steps and walked south, into the wind. I walked past couples holding hands, boys throwing a glow in the dark frisbee, moms trying to keep kids who were still dressed for dinner out of the waves. I walked past one, two, three lifeguard chairs. The wind blew so hard that tufts of sea foam from the waves scurried up the sand and into the dunes, like little white mice. I walked past a party on the verANDahhhh of the fancy hotel.

I didn’t want to turn back yet, but the daylight had gone. At the first lifeguard chair that I passed on the return, four feet swung against the wooden steps and two heads leaned close for a kiss. I walked on, alone. At the next lifeguard chair, a teenage boy with long golden hair struggled to light a cigarette in the wind. Another ways down the beach, and I found the third lifeguard chair–the one I had pointed out to Carlos in the morning–standing empty under the dark night clouds.

Mr. Sippy Cup and I didn’t think twice. We scaled up the wide wooden slats of the chair and faced into the wind. The breeze actually smelled different up there, saltier and clean. Even after the walking, my chest sat tight, filled with anxiety. Second day of vacation and my kids were already bat shit crazy. I breathed in three parts–belly, chest, collar bones–and felt the wind move into me.

I remembered the first time I had climbed into the lifeguard chair, 25 or 26 years ago. I had gone for a beach weekend with some friends. Late at night, we went for a walk on the beach and discovered an empty lifeguard chair. Feeling bold, I climbed into it and a guy I had known for years climbed in beside me. He was good-looking and smart and kind and suddenly there beside me, up above the rest of the world.  I “technically” had a boyfriend and this fellow wasn’t him. I didn’t love my boyfriend anymore yet was too confused to know how to end a relationship without the next one lined up. So when my friend climbed up there with me, I remember being hit with a strong feeling. I wanted him, this guy, to love me. To decide things for me. To find me where I was lost and pull me onto a path. Any path. I just wanted him to love me.

Nothing came of it, that first time I climbed into a lifeguard’s chair. Tonight while I sat up in the wind for a second time, 25 years later, I thought about love and how for so many years, I thought it was something that would come to me, not from me. That my feeling lost could be fixed by someone else.

No. The woman in the lifeguard chair, the one to search for if I think I might be lost? It was me all along.

The Sorrows of Your Changing Face

Old Woman Reading by Cornelis Kruseman, Amsterdam Museum

Old Woman Reading by Cornelis Kruseman, Amsterdam Museum

In 11th grade, our class studied British Literature, but we didn’t study it fast enough to suit me.  We dawdled through Chaucer (even in translation!).  We slogged through nasally BBC Radio records of “Macbeth” for a week straight.  Even the murders were boring.  I flipped ahead in the book to get to the more modern writers, the ones who had actually seen a telephone and motor cars.  The ones we wouldn’t have time to get to by the end of the year.  It was infuriating to me–how we always ran out of time in the school year and never got all the way through the end of the text book.  With every chalk dust diagram of sonnet rhyme schemes or droning exegesis of Wordsworth, I felt the chances of studying William Butler Yeats, Wilfred Owen, and Ted Hughes slipping into nothingness.  So I read ahead.

One poem by Yeats never left me.  I committed it to memory, or more rightly “learned it by heart” while sitting there in the windowless classroom filled with rows of desks and bored teenagers.

When You Are Old


When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.


I was sixteen years old, and I yearned for a day when I could look back on my moments of glad grace, when someone–anyone!–would have seen the soft look my eyes had and their shadows deep.  Even the last stanza, the sadness of a Love that has fled and hid his face among the stars–I even wanted that.  Something to miss at the end of my life.  I hadn’t had anything yet, so I couldn’t wait to have something to miss.

Yesterday was Richard’s birthday.  He would have been 47.  I meant to write this post for August 5th, and I’ve been feeling sad about that since I didn’t.  Like the English teacher who had good intentions of getting through the whole text book, but the year just ran out.

It’s fitting, because Richard hated his birthday and refused any fuss.  His mother making a Julia Child’s chocolate cake was the only ceremony he actually enjoyed.  He was happiest as a kid when camp coincided with his birthday because he wouldn’t tell anyone.  No cake from home, no cards, no nothing.  It befuddled me, but I did my best to honor his wishes.  For the four years we had together, we mostly did the anti-birthday party party.  We made a POINT of ignoring his birthday.  But yesterday was busy with packing up my family of five, leaving the beach and driving back home in time to make it to the “Meet the Teacher” night at elementary school then unpacking and laundry and sandwiches from the grocery for dinner.

On Sunday night, right at sunset, G kept the kids entertained at the pool while I took a walk down to the ocean with my glass of wine.  I walked out into the lapping waves of low tide and floated there.  Pelicans sailed over the flat water, headed towards the red lights of buoys on the sandbar.  I had the beach to myself and if I looked straight ahead, I could pretend that I was the only soul between here and everywhere.  I wished Richard a Happy Birthday then rolled my eyes at how he would have snorted at that.  I told him how I missed him.  How sorry I was that he missed out on getting to have kids.  I told him how hard it can be, with the training wheels and bloody noses and the why why why of it all.  I couldn’t even speak the words for how joyful it can be.  What it feels like to see my son say “Fee-two-un….BADASH!” and pretend to be a rocket.  How my heart swells when Vivi and I pedal a bike together and she tells me stories about lions as we ride.  The peace that comes when we are sleeping in a room all together.  


Then a light blinking off in the distance reminded me of a star and this poem came to mind.  I stood in the waves and recited the words that I learned by heart almost thirty years ago.  

He taught me how to travel and how to feel like I had the right to an adventurous life.  He loved the pilgrim soul in me.  But he has paced among the mountains overhead and hid his face amid a cloud of stars.  

Looking back over my life, I feel like my first husband, Fartbuster, got to love my beauty with love false or true.  Then Richard came along to love my pilgrim soul.  G gets the sorrows of my changing face.  This is how weird it gets when you’re three husbands in–they all can start talking in your head at the same time.  

As I walked back up to the dunes and to my family and to the life I love, I took an inventory of the person I have become since I learned that poem and dreamed of being loved and having lost.  I am so different now–a grown woman, divorced, widowed, a mother–finding her way.  Would Richard even recognize the woman that I’ve become because of what I went through with watching him die?  Could we have made it with happy hearts through the skinned knees and training wheels and rocket rides?  He loved the pilgrim soul in me, but he never got to know the sorrows of my changing face.  

That is the thing about growing older.  I keep growing.  

Mope On the Plane

The Reefs, Bermuda

The Reefs, Bermuda

See this hotel?  This is The Reefs and it’s one of my favorite places in the world.  It’s the place where I discovered that Bermuda really does have pink sand, right there on that pristine, private beach.  It’s where I learned to take tea at 4pm every afternoon on that veranda overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.  It’s where I learned that fish make a lot of noise underwater.  When we snorkeled around those rocks, right beside the parrot fish and the yellow tangs, I heard a sound like Rice Krispies just after the milk is poured on–the sound of fish nibbling on the coral reef.  It’s where I learned that you NEVER tell other travelers what you paid for your vacation because it turns out that we paid about 20% of what other people had paid to be there!

It’s also where Richard gave me a piece of advice that I remember to this day, especially on Sunday evenings when my brain is turning towards Monday.

“Mope on the plane, Ashley.  Mope on the plane.”

We were sitting in two of those cushylounge chairs on the pink crescent of beach.  It was our last day of vacation in Bermuda.  Seven days of pink sand, conch fritters, evening dances, afternoon tea, scooters, Dark and Stormy drinks in the hot tub, kayaking, snorkeling, and wishes made under the moon gate.  Our flight wasn’t until later that afternoon, so we had stowed our bags with the concierge in order to spend every possible minute on that beach.  He was enjoying himself.  I was pouting because we had to leave.  It wasn’t fair–other people were just arriving.  Other people had another week to go.  Other people came to The Reefs EVERY YEAR.  Some people even got to live on Bermuda.  But not us.  We had to go home.  

I wasn’t talking much.  I was nursing my hurt.  The only conversation I seemed capable of making was, “I can’t believe we have to leave.”  Finally, the man who could shrug off most anything pulled his head off of the rolled up towel he had made into a pillow and said, “Ashley!  Mope on the plane!  You are wasting precious moments of THIS on THAT.  I’ll talk about leaving when we’re in the shuttle or at the airport, but right now….NO.”  

I think that’s pretty smart stuff for a Sunday night.  How much of life do we spend moping while we’re still on vacation…metaphorically?  How much Sunday gets eaten up with dragging our feet towards Monday?  How many days do we grind through in anticipation of vacation?  (I know I am right now…the count is 26) 

So now when I want to stay present in the good times, I remind myself to “mope on the plane!”  Even these days, when my passport has expired and I plan vacations around things that can entertain a toddler.   We spent two beautiful vacations at The Reefs–once for spring break and once for New Year’s.  I was lucky to have pink sand between my toes, even if I had to come home eventually.  

Short But Sweet

My car smells like old french fries.  The bottom of the washing machine is filled with the fine gray sand of the Georgia coast.  Carlos’ little wrists are more tan than they should be.  Vivi’s curls have been tied in knots by the sea breeze.  Yesterday, we woke up to the sound of the surf and fell asleep to the sound of rain on our roof.

My newest happy memories were made with my oldest friends.  It must have been a Road Trip Weekend.squish

It was short, but sweet.  I’ll write more about the art at the heart of it tomorrow.  And maybe I’ll write about the man whose portrait stopped traffic.  There’s a “feet picture” story to tell and Vivi’s lesson on math.  For today, I can only think about the shortest and the sweetest member of our family–my son.

Carlos has been to the beach 4-5 times in his short life, but this was the first time that he was REALLY into it.  He squished his chunky baby feet across the sand and rolled around in rippling tide pools.  The wind blew so hard off the ocean at night that it wobbled his baby cheeks–but he couldn’t stop giggling.

luis and carlos

At our picnic in Forsyth Park, Carlos lolled around under the trees, stuffing himself with a celebratory amount of Chips Ahoy cookies.  If I offered him an apple slice, he shook his head and answered with his curt little “no!”  I handed him a sandwich and he reached for another cookie.  What the hell.  Why not?  He fought off his nap valiantly but chilled on Richard’s old raggedy bedspread (our family Adventure Blanket) for over an hour.  After Tio Luis finished the sidewalk portrait, he and Carlos sat and pondered for a while, like men do.  One of them enjoyed a beer; the other had another cookie.  One was covered in chalk and sweat.  The other in chocolate.


We went back to the beach for the evening.  Carlos learned that the wind is fun as long as you’re dry, but not so much once you’ve gotten wet.  That’s when it’s best to be wrapped up, snuggled up, loved up in a lap.  Even when his lips were blue and he shook with cold, he couldn’t take his eyes off the waves.  I remember a trip I took to St Simon’s on my own when I was about six months pregnant with Carlos.  I walked out into the water to cool down and that baby started flipping and dancing and getting down.  I stood there for so long, bouncing along with the waves, that a school of tiny fish started nibbling on the green skirt of my swimsuit.  That was a September, and the monarch butterflies were resting in Georgia on their long trip south.  Small things–the fish and the butterflies–small things with great journeys ahead of them, making their way across the wide sky, through the deep sea, into our lives.  My boy.