Time and Tide
At the beach there was movement everywhere except for the little girl. From her stationary stance where the sand slopes down toward the sea, she watched the gulls skim feathers of salty spray that stretched above the ocean swells. Tight curls of green blue water slammed straight down into the shoreline in front of her. Each wave shot a gush of water up the wet sand ramp. White and brown bubbles bounced on top of the salty surge that raced up the slope until the run-up tired, stalled, and retreated back to the sea.
Sound and movement and color filled the space around her. Deep bass kettle drum sounds boomed when waves smacked down on idling water. Gulls sailed above her on gusts of wind. A playful few stretched their wings straight out from their sides and floated like kites above the water. A brown bird honked and swooped toward the ocean to snatch a meal. Clouds drifted overhead. The ocean pounded clam and mussel shells and sea weed into a henna colored froth. Each rush of water carried the seaside residue onto the sand and stained sections of beach with brown patterns, temporary tattoos that painted streaks and patterns on the surface of the land until the next wave drew the designs in another spot.
The girl planted her hands in the sand and raised her shoulders above straightened arms. She surveyed the beachfront like an orchestra conductor, head turning side to side, eyes scanning up and down, left and right, watching each section play its part in the presentation.
The little girl lay a safe distance from the water where her mother put her down. I knew her leg muscles lacked the strength to lift her up. She did not walk yet, a skill most two year old children have mastered. But at her place, and in that moment, she enjoyed everything around her. Within reach of the ocean’s waves and her mother’s grasp, the tiny figure played one on one with the sea and its props. She was happy.
Sometimes a place reveals more than what we expect to see. I found more than the peace and beauty that I come to expect from a visit to the seaside. I saw courage and inspiration. I saw contentment with time and place and condition.
Three years later on a frigid December evening, I walked into a Manhattan restaurant longing as much for warmth and still air than for food and drink. I trailed the little girl who passed under the arm I used to hold the door open. She walked up ahead of her mother and brother to the maitre de’s station; she stopped and turned to wait for her four companions. I felt a poke to my side. My father in law touched my arm and pointed to the little girl. “Look at her,” grandfather said. “She walked in like she owns the place.”
Three years, two seasons and ninety miles from the Jersey shore, the little girl had come a long way.
Sometimes a passing remark says more than the speaker can know. On an ice cold night in December, I remembered a little girl who played with the ocean as if she owned it. She showed no fear of its size and power. She carried that inner confidence in the tiny frame that lay almost still on the warm beach and the tiny frame that walked up to the maître de to announce our arrival. It was another great time. On the walk back to the car, the evening did not seem as cold nor the wind as fierce.