I was taking a Christmas break from the hustle and bustle of work at the beach with wife and friends this weekend and decided to take a walk outside. As I was the only one who brought rain gear, I took that walk alone. It was raining, the wind was blowing, and if I didn’t have something to keep me dry I would have been soaked before I had walked a block, and that would be neither refreshing, exhilarating nor meditative, nor anything else pleasant. Instead, it would have been miserable.
I came prepared however. Poncho and high rubber boots protected all but a few inches of the lower part of my jeans, and stepping out into the weather I felt like I was cheating nature. I walked down the porch steps and into the street, wading through a few puddles to get there.
The street was a river. Rainwater flowed over the asphalt, gathering speed as it rolled downhill and converged into a gurgling stream as the asphalt ended and the water found channels in the ruts of the dirt path. My rubber boots are of good quality and I strode through water above my ankles in dry comfort. I silently celebrated my little victory over nature as I emerged on the other side of the stream and began to climb the backside of the row of dunes, up towards the crest and the roaring surf which lay beyond.
As I reached the crest the beach became visible. The waves were chaotic, crashing into each other and struggling against the old, spent waves which sought to return to the sea, where they could be recharged with energy in order to fling themselves at the shore once again. The water was shades of gray with only the barest hint of green, and was laced with white foam. These are waves which have only one mission: attack! No surfer can ride them, and no swimmer would dare venture into their midst. They pound the beach, fling logs high along the shoreline, and seek to sweep anything or anyone that they can catch off guard into the deep, where that unwary soul could join in the company of the myriad souls who have preceded them.
I began to descend from the crest of the dune and found that the sand which had been flung by the storm high up over the beach grasses had no firm foundation, and I sunk deeply into it. This was disconcerting. One thing that we all believe that we can count on is that the earth we stand upon is firm. Yes, some sand is soft, and some debris on a mountainside will slide downward as you struggle up, but you just are never ready for the land beneath your feet to give way and allow you to sink downward. Where would I stop? How deep would I go? Would it swallow me whole? Would they find my bones when the next storm strips the sand away again? The feeling was unnerving, and I picked out the most direct path down the seaward face of the dune toward where the sand lay packed more densely, at the margin of the surging sea.
Having gained more firm footing, I turned south and began to walk along the beach. The rain was falling from that direction and a slight wind blew the cold water into the unprotected lower part of my facer. It was not a heavy rain however, and I was able to ignore it for the most part. I walked along, tracing the footprints of two people who had passed there before me, along with their dog. There was one large set of prints and one much smaller. The number of possible combinations which those prints could represent is actually quite large. I settled on a man and a woman. The dog was most likely – well – just a dog. They were nowhere to be seen and I imagined that they were at home, sipping coffee or hot cocoa, the dog dozing before a fire.
I kept my eyes on the waves which surged to a point not too far away from the path that I was taking along the beach. The storm was powerful, and rogue waves are widely reported to rise up out of the sea and flatten people with logs and other debris, or snatch the unwary fisherman or sightseer and send them to that watery eternal rest. I have never seen any such wave but only a fool says “It can’t happen to me.” My soul was at rest in the solitude of my walk and reverie, but my legs were coiled in preparation for the need to spring up the dune should the need arise.
At length I decided that I had gone a sufficient distance so that I could cut inland and reach the tiny downtown of the community where we were staying. Spying a path over the dunes and away from the beach I turned my back to the growling, restless sea and began to plod up and over the crest, and then across a broad, low valley of sand and beach grass. Again I climbed a rise and found myself, instead of on the path to downtown, in somebody’s back yard. My options were to retrace my steps fifty yards or so to a path which would carry me a few houses north, or trust the charity of the homeowners and skirt the rear edge of their yards. I chose to trust, or at least test, their charity, and pressed northward until I gained the gravel path which led to town, and from there back to our house.
Lunch, a nap, and a few chapters of a book later I sit in a window watching the wind pushing the rain first one way and then another, and then sideways. Trees whip and sway, power lines swing in the wind, and I wonder if electricity will last until after dinner is cooked. Yet I love it. I don’t really care if we lose power or not. We have quilts, candles, snacks and wine. All of the basic needs are met, and I am at peace.