by Madeline Laughs
I take my morning cup of coffee out to the deck so I can peer down at the progress, or lack of progress, I’ve made weeding the flowerbed below. This bed spans the side of the upstairs deck and has climbing roses that lazily drape themselves along the railing of the stairs. The bed has had years of neglect and is choked with weeds, but after much shoveling and pulling I can find the border lining I know existed from long ago. The azalea I planted yesterday seems to be thriving already.
The air is thick with moisture this morning. A light fog is drifting in from the ocean. It’s still quiet out and I can hear the waves that are only a block away. I like the way the air feels on my skin. I like the way it smells. Salty and clean, like childhood. The air is fresh with possibilities. Will it rain today? Will it mist just enough to make my clothing damp and keep me cool as I toil away in the earth? Will it cloak me in a blanket that only an ocean can weave?
The laughing gulls caw and circle. This is a sound I have heard since I was very young. I had forgotten how much I love to listen to them. The sound of the gull has always meant the beach to me. Very vocal, insistent, haunting. They call to the sea to bring them sustenance, comfort and to bring them home. The gulls I’m listening to however seem to be calling to the dumpster behind the restaurant at the moment. I shake my head and smile. I know I could easily call them to my yard with the smallest action of throwing a piece of bread in the air. They would come in droves. I enjoy feeding the gulls. I like to see how brave I can be with holding the morsel out to one in hopes he’ll eat from my hand. Sometimes I hold it long enough to feel the tug as their beak closes around the snack. Sometimes I panic and release it just before they make contact.
The gulls caw and I pretend they are saying Good Morning! We’re glad you’re back on the beach where you belong. They are naughty. They are bold. They are the beach. They make me happy.
I walk to the mailbox and put the flag up as I place my envelopes inside. I’m looking down as I cross the street in front of the cottage. The paved road is filled with broken bits of tiny shells. Every road here is like this. I wonder how many people living here even notice this. The pavements are mixed with the local shells so they’ll have more material as they pave. How appropriate for a beach road to contain the recycled parts of the ocean. When I walk to my mother-in-law’s house I play a game in my head and try to identify each shell I see. There are thousands of them and they sparkle and give the road it’s own personality. How lucky I feel to travel the yellow brick road paved in shells.
There is sand in parts of my small yard. I like the way it feels between my toes. I like the fact that it’s here. I can hold a handful of sand and I can imagine the life it lived when it was larger. What was it before it became sand? Was it the vertebra of a whale? Did a pirate hold you in his hand as a beautiful conch shell? Did you grace the neck of a young girl as a jewel? I can brush it away from my feet, my hands, my clothing, easily and it never leaves behind a stain or any evidence that it ever touched me. How few are things in life that feel so good when they happen and yet disappear without leaving a mark?
The wind, ever present here on the Outer Banks, is at my back as I pull my Radio Flyer across the yard. My trusty wagon will haul weeds today as I pick and plunder my way across this tiny patch of land the ocean receded enough to give me. I will discover the treasures locked under the blanket of weeds like flower bulbs for next spring and forgotten toys from a child grown into an adult.
I will don my gardening gloves and my gum boots and let the sun shine on my arms. I will pull and I will hoe and I will shovel and plant as the waves conduct a symphony and life around me evolves even though time is standing still and patient. I will appreciate all of these gifts and know that nothing is expected of me in return but my own happiness and my own peace.
I close my eyes to feel the wind in my hair and the warm sun on my cheeks. I inhale all the seashore has to offer. I hold out my arms to you, my friend, and reach around the world to wherever you are reading this. May you hear the wonderful mystery and the beauty of the Outer Banks in my word picture.