Once, a long time ago, I lived in a house near the edge of the world. In the winter, when the air was still, I would lie awake at night and listen to the Ocean, to the waves. Relentless. Never-ending. In my mind, I could see them. They would turn and curl and fall forward into the Land. Crushing it. Tearing it. Taking little pieces away. Tiny bits of Earth carried swirling in the salt and the water and ground to dust. Over and Over again.
I knew as I lie there in the darkness, that the Ocean would one day win. Slowly, in time, the Ocean would take back what was hers and the land where my little house stood would no longer exist. Returned back to the sea where it came. But that of course was a long, long way away. I would be gone ages before that would happen, no need to worry about that just yet. And so I lay in the dark and listened to the waves, in the cold night and tried to think of Spring.
Every year in the Spring the small town I lived in would import sand from further inland, Kansas or Pennsylvania, and would dump it on the beaches. To confront the erosion, to halt the progress of time. Dozens of trucks would roll in backward – beep, beep, beep – to empty their contents and reinforce the coast, to stave off the inevitable for another year. Another moment. Another Summer.
For in Summer, the bathers would come. They would come from the cities; Philadelphia, New York, and Newark. And they would lay their blankets and their towels on the foreign sand unaware that it had not been here just a month before. And an army of children would arrive armed with plastic, yellow buckets, and molded shovels, bright red and green. And they would build castles and bury their fathers and dig for sand crabs. And the air smelled of salt and seafood and seaweed and the rot of damp reeds. At the end of the day, they would stand at the edges of the ocean where the water was thin to wash the sand from their bodies, hands, and feet. Into the water, the sand went in swirls of bubbles and foam.
The little house I lived in was a simple A-frame painted yellow with white trim and a screened-in porch in front to keep the mosquitos at bay. The small square of yard you had to pass to get to the front door had no grass. It had been torn up and replaced with rounded pebbles by the landlord. Easier to maintain, less work. The flowers in the wooden window boxes had all died years before and were never replaced. Once they would pop in the warmer weather – purple lilies, red tulips, yellow daisies – but they had become just boxes of dirt and soil, baking dry in the hot sun.
In the Fall evenings grew cooler. I would walk along the boardwalk barefoot past the shops filled with saltwater taffy and dense fudge. Past the wooden roller-coasters and the bumper cars. Past the games of chance that you had no real chance of winning. Past the cries of the pitchmen – Give the wheel a spin! Try your luck, only a dollar! – Past the water guns filling balloons in a clown’s head. And I would meet up with others, some that I even knew, and we would be advised to watch the tram car, please. And we would wait for darkness because at full dark the fireworks came. Red and yellow and green and purple. Star-bursts and shooters and Roman candles and pinwheels. And it was beautiful. Beautiful and bright. Primary colored flashes lit up the sky, just for a moment before falling to the Earth in streaks of smoke and ash. We oohed and we aahed and we held each other at that moment. A shared, beautiful experience, and there was at that moment nothing else in the world that mattered.
All the while the Ocean was there, right beside us, silently taking the Earth away.
This post was originally published on Apr 3, 2013