A Ramble on the Beach

I went once to Wrightsville Beach. Our friends – we all – had left Goldsboro and drifted far, liberated leaves on an autumn wind, our colors scattered to brighten other lawns. We collected ourselves at their new home in Wilmington to celebrate the connections, and they took us out to the seaside, out to the edge of forever. God’s visible power had come blowing through, last hurricane season I guess, and humans and machines had “re-built” His beach. It was a horrid, coarse sand full of seashell shards that scraped shoes and scrubbed bare feet, but it got worse. The water was deceptively soothing in color, a pale aqua-blue, but the yellow flags warned we must take care. I’d not seen such waves before on the gentle Mediterranean and South Carolina beaches I’d visited. This was a damaged coast, and it had lost the gradually sloped shelf that should have sent whispering swells smoothly forward to caress silky white sands. The waves tossed angry white manes a few short feet from shore, then galloped in to pound their heads against the wall of ground up, spit out, dumped in skeletons that served as a beach that year. There was no bed for them to lie in to rest themselves before the long run back to sea; nor was there any place for human feet to stand before climbing onto the backs of the waves. A three-foot sheer drop marked the edge of land, and the bottom fell steeply away from there. To swim was like leaping over a racetrack fence in the second turn onto the backs of horses about to enter the home stretch. These were not patient, easy, playful horses. They were busy and in a great hurry, of course, and we bathers were troublesome distractions. Thus were we trampled and tossed and ultimately thrown back against that same wall we’d descended for the sake of this pleasure. Shell bits sanded the skin off our bare places, and the grit interposed itself in the tight spots between suit and flesh. Gasping for breath and grappling for handholds, we quickly reached the limits of our desire to swim on that particular day, at that particular beach.

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