The Young Boy and the Sea

I grew up with sand between my toes. I chased the ocean foam with my brother and cousins, caught sand-crabs when the tide pulled out across the sandbar. I caught a sea bass with my bare hands when I was six. The ocean was my summer home. My bare feet had the reefs memorized. I knew when to kick my legs to the surface and swim under the waves so that my feet didn't tangle in the rock. I caught flecks of gold in my t-shirt, pretended I was mining gold with the 49ers. Twice I was stung by stingrays and four times, jellyfish. I made necklaces out of shells and collected sand dollars in a jar on my bed stand. Sometimes, I would swim far beyond the surf and float on my back in the sun.

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.

And yet...


...Still between our toes, the sand remains.

GGC

16 comments:

Andrea | 12:29 PM

God I miss the beach.

Mamma | 1:43 PM

I share your love of the ocean. I just told someone yesterday how happy I am to have three beach boys. I feel so free there.

mrs. Q | 2:12 PM

Thank goodness we live near the beach, too. I feel the same way about 'our' pond. My grandmother bought a cottage on a small, crystal-clear pond when my sister and I were babies. My mom lives there now and we've spent countless summer days jumping off the dock, swimming until we were shriveled, feeding the fish and picking water lilies to decorate the canoe. Now, it's even better watching our own children learn to swim in its cool waters. That place will always feel like home.

Anonymous | 3:18 PM

Thank you for your wonderful wonderful rendition of your beach experience.. I stumbled upon your blog through numberous ones--- and can completely relate to this post...thank you for you words-- I love them. You little boy is lucky to enjoy the wonders of this world!
Monica - British Columbia, Canada

grayelephant | 7:31 PM

This post made me long for the beach, the water, and nature in general. At least I was able to live vicariously though your writing! Thanks for the journey to the beach!

abbersnail | 8:11 PM

Beautiful. Both your words and your son. Just beautiful.

tallgirl | 8:14 PM

We just got back from the beach. It was great. Peanut had a rocking good time babbling away, running, sifting through the sand, and saying "hi" to all the "doggies".

I also loved that there was nothing she could destroy making everyone relax a little more.

Anonymous | 8:52 PM

I take my kids to the beach at least 3 times a week, particularly on a "bad" day when everyone is grumpy or bickering incessantly. The ocean is cathartic, there is something about the sounds of the sea, the texture of the sand, the freedom of wildly running around... we always come home happy. Your essay resonated with me deeply. There truly is something magical at the beach. Thanks Bec.
Pascale

Loukia | 5:09 AM

You're so lucky to have the beach... we don't have a beach here... sigh... and looks like our FLA trip will have to be postponed now. But at least we have the in-law's massive pool. My son loves the water and especially the outdoors. I love spending every single second I can with him, and watching him explore and grow and just enjoy life and summer. There is not greater feeling on earth. Great post and beautiful pictures!

BOSSY | 7:42 AM

Bossy grew up summering at the beach too. Although she doesn't exactly share your brilliant memories, which sound as though they were plucked from Endless Love starring Brooke Shields and that blonde kid and they were stuck on an island together crafting engagement rings out of starfish.

Anyway - Bossy grew up near the Jersey shore and therefore remembers catching Cheesesteaks with her bare hands, not Sea Bass.

Larry | 8:57 AM

Archer, watch out for the undertoad! (always loved that line).

One of things I love about the beach, and hanging with my niece & nephews on it, is that it's just seems like it's where nothing can go wrong. Yes, there is the old undertoad... but it's hard to hurt yourself on the sand, and it's so easy and fun to get messy and dirty. And it's just what you're supposed to do. Have a great summer you guys.

Rock the Cradle | 7:00 AM

I've always been a water person, as well, but I have yet to take the Impling to the beach. But now that she's asking to go (on the train, no less) we will make the excursion.

I've always loved beaches best in the winter...something about snow falling on a beach is otherworldly.

On the other hand, one of the best moments of my life was floating on the surface of the impossibly blue waters of Hawaii, 3 months pregnant, rocking my little Impling-to-be in softly undulating waves.

Sandra | 12:23 PM

Stunning.

Makes me long for the beach..

Her Bad Mother | 6:51 PM

I grew up with the Pacific. So miss the sand beween my toes. So miss it for WonderBaby.

ewe are here | 8:03 AM

Ooh, I so miss the beach. Especially this beach ... I went to UCSD and I knew it well.

Love the pics!

Anonymous | 4:06 PM

I just found your blog and saw his post. We moved from Camp Pendleton to Austin TX last week and couldn't be happier, even though there is no beach! ;-)

Great Pics!