The ocean inspired me. It was hard not to be humbled by the crashing waves and eternal glimmer of silver waters stretching as far as the sky and then... beyond. It was hard to know whether or not the ocean ever ended and when the seagulls lifted off and flew west over the Pacific after a long day of slurping sand crabs, I couldn't help but think they were just like me, going home to somewhere pleasant after a day of splashing the ocean with sandy feet.
I have written at length about the spoiling of a small beach town, the sprawling suburban landscape and it's run-off of conservatism and look-a-likes, but no matter what changes, coming home means returning to the beach, where roots grow deep beneath the sand and the ocean and the treasure that old men spend hours hunting with their metal detectors.
I have taken Archer to the beach several times since he was born. We have taken long walks with my parents down the coast, Archer's face shaded by a damp t-shirt as he bounced upon my chest. I have let him down to dig in the dirt and kick sand in my eyes. But today, as I drop him to the sand, his bare feet folding, it feels different. He looks up at me and explains in his own language something I cannot understand. His own Archer language, unique and all his own:
He points to the military helicopters that flap back and forth between the San Diego bay and Camp Pendleton. He throws sand around him like confetti and takes my hand and walks me toward the ocean, slowly at first. And soon... picking up speed. Archer suddenly lets go of my hand as he goes sprinting toward the ocean water. Splashing and squealing he soon turns and comes back to me. I am his base. You are safe now.
I pull him up and we stay like that for a second before he peels my arms from around his waist and drops down to the ground again, running full speed away from me, toward the lifeguard tower south of D Street.
He looks around. He takes notes with his knowing eyes. He burrows his toes in the sand and watches the girls pull their shirts over their heads and chase each other down to the water.
"Eeeek! It's cold!" They scream.
Archer smiles, and looks back at me. He knows it's cold, too.
His happiness here is reason enough for me to take back every evil thing I have ever said about a hometown where the ocean is a refuge for children and teenagers and families and old couples who walk the shorelines, like my Grandparents did when my Grandfather was alive-- taking 15th street from their house in the Del Mar hills, walking barefoot, hand in hand until the end. Like my parents do, now. Like Archer and my mother and me, who joyfully chase Archer across a landscape unspoiled and speckled with (perhaps?) the same gold I mined when I was a little girl.
Archer howls like a pup and darts back and forth, making wide circles in the sand as he goes, dizzying himself until he falls down in a heap of kelp. He gets up and does it again. Over and over until he becomes distracted by a surfer with his board balanced on his head. He follows the teenage boy to the edge of the sand, before the water comes up and he runs squealing toward me again. Safety.
But only for a second! He slithers down my chest and scurries off, again to race down the beach, his laughter overlapping with the cah-cah! of the seagulls. And I follow his footprints with my own. I place my large bare feet over his tiny ones and dart after him until they're all squished together and you can hardly tell whose feet are which, even though his are so incredibly small.
We run until we're out of breath. Until the sun falls down to rest on the horizon. Until the tide pushes up along the shore, washing our prints away: disappearing ink upon an endless canvas of particles and a trillion teensy rocks.
We quickly dress and make our way up the rocks toward the parking lot, where my car overlooks the rising tide. I strap Archer in his car seat and retrieve my keys from the floor of my mother's mesh beach bag.
We brush off and drive home.
...Still between our toes, the sand remains.