As the golden-hued stones turn to sand, I slip my sandals off and carry them gently at my side. I’m halfway up the boardwalk, almost to the dunes, and the sound of the ocean is constant.
The sky is overcast; it has been all day. There aren’t many people left on the beach. The sun is setting behind me as I crest the dunes and glimpse the sea, waves rolling over and over toward the shore. A thick haze blurs the scene, but it’s still beautiful — the wide open sea, ever scrambling toward the sand.
Sandals in my right hand, book in the left, I go looking for a place to settle. The breeze is damp and salty; it always is on the beach, isn’t it? My fine hair is already a mess, frazzling and whipping around my face. Doesn’t matter though. The ocean doesn’t care, and neither do I.
I walk a little while, focusing on the tracks in the sand: thick wheel tracks made by beach security; wide, ovular indents made by human feet; delicate trails of webbed toes made by the gulls. When I look up, I’ve gone further than I thought. The beach goes on for miles, and so does the water. It’s easy to lose track of where you are.
But then I see it. The patch of sand that looks untouched, undisturbed. That’s it. That’s where me and my book will get acquainted.
A somewhat-successful attempt at grace gets me to the ground and I set my sandals down and take my phone out of my pocket. I snap a picture that is too far away and nothing like the sight I see before me and put the phone away again. It’s just a nuisance anyway.
I turn open the hard cover, the plastic library sleeve crinkling, and leaf through the first few pages before turning my body ninety degrees, the ocean waves crashing to my left. Now the breeze is blowing my hair out of my face and I can forget about it while I turn to the words carefully laid out for me.
Evening on the beach on a cloudy day is quiet, and yet it’s not at all quiet. I’d forgotten just how loud the waves are, throwing themselves against the sand over and over again. It’s quiet and it’s not. It’s a roar and a silence.
I’ve never really been a beach person, but the draw of the ocean always calls me anyway. Today I’ll stay thirty minutes in the cool, soft sand with my book, before the wind chills my limbs to goose skin and the clouds start dropping their burden here and there. I never last long at the beach anyway, but the peaceful walks along the edge of where the water meets the land beckon to me. Maybe it comes from growing up in a place known for its ‘shore.’
But maybe it comes from somewhere more visceral, more worldly. I feel something in me that calls me to the edge, to the perimeter, to the margins. Come. Remember that you are small, but that you are part of something so much more than yourself. Breathe deeply. Let go and then gather up again. Settle into the peace of your place in this world. Feel the roar and the silence that are both beyond you and inside you. Come.
So I come, and I pace along the waves for a little while. I settle in the sand and sink my toes in loose earth. I let the breeze unloose my hair and cover my skin with the slick of a salty wind. I put away the world and let words fill me up and slow my breath. I hear the roar and I hear the silence and they overwhelm me. I hear the roar and I hear the silence and they calm me.