The seagulls are bellowing the latest gossip overhead as I sit on a piece of driftwood, bleached out from its posthumous adventures. From where I’m sitting I can see a little girl exploring the souvenirs left by the current, and she’s shrieking with delight as she befriends real-life members of the cast of Finding Nemo. While the temperature hasn’t reached 75 yet, several bikini-clad Washingtonians are absorbing some much needed vitamin D. And I just sit there, taking it all in.
When I was a kid the beach was a tactile experience — feeling the cold water lapping against my feet, touching the slimy seaweed that’d washed up on shore, pestering a sticky sea anemone in a tide pool, and burying my entire body in the soft, cool sand. I could spend the day sitting in one spot, getting to know each rock and creature; learning not only the feel of the sand and water but how they moved as I ran my hands and feet through them. But now I experience the sand and the waves in panorama. I experience the seaside as an observer, as an adult.
As the zen-like quality of the rhythmic waves puts my yoga DVD to shame, I let a handful of loose, dry sand slide through my fingers. A confetti of white and peach colored shells mixed with various shades of gray sediments. Bits of shellfish. Bits of rock. Bits of memories. Memories. That’s what sand will always be to me.
I’ve been running up and down the beach at Saltwater State Park looking for sticks, pieces of dried seaweed, chunks of bark, and small ocean-polished rocks all afternoon.
Mom is sitting in the sand on one side of an ocean-smoothed piece of driftwood as Dad and I sit on the other. The salty breeze is whipping my blonde curls into knots and the driftwood provides a barrier, allowing us to play at beach combing architects. When we’re finished, our separate real estates will look like something a tiny Robinson Caruso would proudly call home.
I jam four skinny sticks in the ground, trying to get them in deep enough that they wouldn’t sag. Then Dad leans pieces of bark against the sticks to make the outer walls of our little building, and together we try to precariously balance additional bark on top to form the roof. It looks like the beach version of a ginger bread house, and like a ginger bread house it collapses in a heap as soon as we try to get the roof on.
I peek over the log separating the sandy construction sites to spy on Mom’s. The daughter of a builder, Mom’s house was not falling apart. “Dad, Mom’s house is standing up! And she’s already decorating it!” I report. It’s not a race but I still feel like we were losing. “Don’t worry about what Mom’s doing,” he laughs, “we’ll figure this out.”
Mom’s sandy shack is like the house built on the rock my Sunday school teachers tell me about — the rains came, the winds blew, but the house on the rock stood firm. Or, in our case, it manages to have a roof.
Dad and I conclude roofs are really overrated and instead opt for a fashionable lean-to made solely out of bark.
Finally we’re decorating. I carefully select the perfect size fragments of white shell from the pile of beach treasures I’ve been collecting all day. The crushed shells make for the perfect walkway to our little dwelling. And I finish off the walkway by lining it with the smallest, prettiest pebbles I can find.
Together Dad and I build a twig fence around our property, adding scraps of dried seaweed to the yard (they make lovely bushes).
The sun sets without me noticing as I rummage through the sand looking for more home renovation supplies. “It’s time to go, Kelsey,” Mom calls. “It’s getting dark.” And it is but I hate to leave my little house. I scramble to add a few last minute touches to the garden before saying goodbye. “Can we come back and build houses again soon?” I ask as we climb in the car.
As we pull out of the parking lot I notice the sand is sticking to me like glitter. It’s clinging to my tangled hair, hiding under my fingernails, tickling and scratching me between my toes, and even lodged in my ear.
Sand isn’t the sort of thing you can just leave; it stays with you. It lingers. And even after you’ve washed it all down the drain, it’s not gone. Those little grains made up of so many stories and lives, a time capsule in each handful, won’t be forgotten.