A memoir like short story of how one hobby reveals a transition from childhood to adulthood.
The national seashore was spread out before me like a great, blue canvas, stretched out in every direction. It’s a powerful sight.
Standing there, at the top of the stairs, looking down, I felt as if I were on the edge of creation. It’s intimidating to see the enormous world we live in, and this is only a piece of it, I felt small. A strip of ashen sand and crushed rock, lie sleeping between me and the wide open sea. At first sight, I had to catch my breath.
I walked the shore line, letting the aggressive waves grab my feet in spontaneous and repetitive spasms. The tide was coming in and the small rocks, which decorated the edge of the ocean, were beginning to disappear under the cloak of tides. Today, I would not be collecting rocks, so I was unconcerned by their threating farewell. Today, I would not ignore the life around me. I would not live with my head hidden in the earth, milking its lofty promises. I would not pick up even one single stone- I decided. I can barely remember a time in the history of me, when I did not gather at least one pebble on a beach trip and sneak it discreetly into my jean shorts. it was an obsession really, but today I would be a grown up.
I was not preoccupied with scanning the sand for precious gems. I was un-worried about my beach body, I just walked, feeling the breeze and the spray, listening with my head up. I watched the water rush violently against the shore; rolling carelessly, through bare feet and little brown bottoms; then it would pause, before receding slowly, taking with it memories and footprints, burdens, ideas, awkward quirky coping skills and anything else in its vicious path.
Fascinated and mesmerized, I walked on. I suppose I was in the moment, I was gathering it up, in lieu of tiny bits of earth; and it felt good. I love rocks. It’s rare, for me to see them without stealing them from their gritty graves. I like the differences between them, their unique shapes and colors and sizes which decorate beaches and water around our feet. I like the idea of them, belonging to something at one time so much bigger, broken off against their will, beaten down, carried away, forgotten but then made beautiful.
As a child, I had one sole purpose at any beach we visited. Find, gather, sort and possess as many rocks as could possibly fit in my shoes and buckets. I would stop only to eat, smile for pictures and build the occasional sand castle. I had trays with rocks, which were numbered and color coordinated in special boxes. I would frequently take these out, look over them, touch each one, and count them, as if they were my children. I would fill buckets and sneakers, pockets, and empty hands. Bags, hats and coolers have all been carrying cases for the rocks I find. Clearly, I needed to control something.
I am thirty five years old, and I have several jars in my home. I have rocks on my dresser, in my camera bag, in my beach bag, on my kitchen window sill and I’m certain in a jean pocket somewhere. The pure white ones were consistently keepers, the purple or pinks, a rare find. Stripes would always catch my eye, perfectly round rocks were attractive to me and really any rocks that stood out from the rest. I made them count in a world which hid them, or perhaps they made me count in a world I felt lost in.
Today would not be a day I would spend with my eyes glued to the earth, scanning the shoreline, oblivious of the world around me. The people on the beach, the babies crying, the women in skimpy suits, the children running and screaming and the elderly sitting in long sleeves and pants soaking up the last few days of life, they, would be my treasures today. The vast sky, the sound of the waves, the motion of the moment; it would all be the object of my affection, and it felt big.
So often, I shut out the world, indulging in my private realm, and creating my own space, unable to cope with the huge unpredictable-ness and massive forces of life. In so doing, I forsook the joy as well. Its touch acknowledging that, we are part of something so vast that will eventually be broken in bits. Perhaps being part of this world is the breaking process, seeing and understanding and living, is the power that crushes.
Somewhere, somehow, in this private world, I sorted out life. I suppose in the quiet silence of organizing and gathering, sorting and choosing, I figured out something about who I was, and who I could be.
As I walked the beach this time, I didn’t need to physically manipulate my world, as children typically do. I could look and not touch, I could enjoy the moment in time, put only the memory in my pocket. I wasn’t desperate to hide, like one of those little pebbles in the sand. I finally let myself emerge, and in the process, I was ok, just enjoying the rocks where they were, instead of trying to rescue them, from what I thought was a scary place.
Silently, I realized, I don’t need to rescue them, because I have been rescued.