I’ve had a lot on my mind lately: worries about family, health, relationships, financial decisions, and on and on. I’ll spare you the details, but let me just say that my brain has been in dire need of some respite.
My husband and I haven’t gotten away in quite a while. He’s had to take leave days one at a time for a variety of reasons and, thus, has none built up for even a brief trip. So a real vacation is not in the cards for us in the near future, but I know—at the very least—I need to take myself on some sort of a mental vacation.
When I’m feeling this way, the place I most want to be is by the ocean—and I prefer being there in relative solitude. Theoretically, I could drive to the shore almost any time I have a few free hours—it’s only 60 miles away, but this being the week leading up to Memorial Day, I know if I don’t go now, the solitary part of the equation will be lost.
So I get up early, pack some things in the car and drive to Ventnor, New Jersey.
It is almost 9 AM when I arrive but, thankfully, the haze hasn’t burned off yet. So, after arranging my chair and beach bag in a pleasant spot, I enjoy a long, cool walk on the beach without the sun in my eyes. I instantly begin to feel better; there’s something about the sound of water and wind and seagulls that magically sorts my thoughts, and when I’m walking, the sorting goes even better.
I walk to Margate and back, a trek of 3 or 4 miles, and now I’m feeling hungry, so my second walk of the day takes me to Wawa for strong coffee and scrambled eggs. I carry my breakfast to the boardwalk, where I sit on a bench, looking out to sea—wondering what country I’d land on if I could sail eastward in a perfectly straight line. (Geography has never been my strong suit, so I’m actually still wondering . . .)
I dispose of my trash and head back to my beach chair, where I begin reading a great book about a man and a dog.* The man is a formerly wealthy corporate executive, now fallen from grace and status; the dog is a pit bull, recently escaped from a life of abuse—having been used as a fighter. The details of the lives of these two are worse than anything happening in my own life, which gives me some helpful perspective. I know, in the next chapter or so, the two will meet and begin helping to heal each other’s lives. I’ve read books by this author before, so I’m certain this story will have a happy ending. My subconscious receives a message of hope for my own “story.”
When I tire of reading, I walk down to the water’s edge and wade into the chilly waves. But now that I’ve put my book away, the worries of my real life try once again to assert themselves. I resist them by forcing myself to focus on something else: the search for sea glass. As I walk slowly down the beach, I scan the array of thousands of bits of broken shells, intently looking for the glint of glass, concentrating hard enough to push every other thought out of my way.
As I amble along, I find three pieces of smooth, deep-green glass.
“Green means go,” I say to myself. And I keep walking.
I interact with a few other walkers—some with dogs, enjoying the pre-season freedom to bring their furry pals onto the beach. I approach an older couple taking turns photographing each other; I say hello and reach toward the camera—they are happy to have a few shots of the two of them together. I stop to watch a pretty mallard duck, with green head and yellow beak, riding waves—he looks so out of place among the usual shore birds; he seems to be here to have fun—like he, too, has come to the beach for a vacation day.
And this is how the rest of the afternoon goes: walking, observing, wading, reading.
The sun slips behind clouds. The air cools and I know it’s time to start for home. I pack my things, shake off the sand, and walk back to the car.
It’s been a good day. It’s been a necessary day.
I feel renewed.
Although I have to take my body back to the city, my mind and my spirit have fresh memories of the sound of wind and waves and seagulls. These sounds, along with the feel on my skin of that mysterious mixture of hot sun and icy breeze, are things I can call to mind any time I want to—any time I need to.
And I know I’ll need to.
*The book I’m reading is One Good Dog, by Susan Wilson.