Walking a rocky shore.
August 27, 2011 § 16 Comments
A basket of ugly beach shoes sits by the door of this Maine rental cottage. Unlike Florida where bathers walk comfortably on the glossy satin of wet sand, the shore here is unkind to bare feet. Stones and boulders, periwinkles and broken mussel shells make ugly shoes a requirement. Each member of my family has found a pair that almost fits.
Sometimes the tide laps the bottom step of the wooden staircase down to the beach. Sometimes it is a long teetering walk across slick rocks to reach the water. The tidal exchange here is twelve feet. With each tide change the shore is rearranged, pebbles and shells swept up like a handful of jack’s and tossed down again.
From this vast, shifting collection I am carefully selecting the few rocks that will come home in my carry-on suitcase wrapped in dirty laundry. Once home I’ll arrange them on a windowsill, where they will become part of the personal landscape of artifacts in my home, proof that I’ve been places and done things.
I will dust them—although rarely—for the rest of my life.
Barbara, the owner of this seaside cottage, collects rocks too. On every sill and table top are smooth, egg-shaped rocks that I covet. I have not found a single rock of that smooth perfect shape. Either she collected them elsewhere, or I am looking at the record of years of low tide walks, a mute declaration of belonging.
When I was young we stayed on another rocky shore; Orient Point , Long Island. The dresser in the room I shared with my sister was thickly painted with a glossy white enamel. Its surface was where we displayed the rocks and shells we’d found, laying them out in careful rows. As the days of our vacation dwindled the rows shifted closer together.
We humans are hoarders and collectors of things, but what we are most often collecting is memory. We organize—and even dust it. But time has a growing tip, the only part that is alive and drawing breath, which is the now. Right now I’m here in Maine on a low tide morning. The water is glassy with a slow ripple. I smell coffee. Two girls sleep under blankets on the couch.
Suddenly, the wish my father were with us as he was every August before his death washes over me, a sad, uncontrolled feeling I didn’t plan to have. That’s the way it is with the now.
The now is as chaotic and frequently remade as the shingle of beach below this porch. No matter how secure we feel, in an instant the now can roll us, turning us soft-side-up. We can neither escape it nor defend ourselves against it. In contrast the past is safe, improved in memory. Even the worst that can happen is rendered harmless as it falls into the past. No more damage can be done.
The rocks I gather here to display on my windowsill at home will be markers holding a place in the onrush of time. When I pick them up to dust them this day will no longer be precise and sharp. The smell of coffee will be gone, the whirr of wings as hummingbirds come to the nectar feeder hanging from the porch roof no longer audible.
Here is a summer day on a rocky beach in Trenton, Maine.
I will strive to remember.
Note to self: try to make the next post funny, okay?