by Mary Wakefield Buxton
Urbanna, Va.— The best part about the ocean is the never ending roar of surf. A comforting sound, it eradicates all unpleasant sounds of society—sirens, horns, trucks, radios, TVs, leaf blowers, chainsaws, lawn mowers—the noise of modern day man and his infernal machines.
The ocean has its own noise, a symphony of nature . . . whistle of wind, crash of waves, cry of gulls, swish of palm fronds, beat of rain . . . eternal sounds that bring us close to nature and afford an instant cure for all that ails us.
I’m in a favorite haunt this week, Cherry Grove Beach, South Carolina. The summer crowds have departed, leaving empty beaches for solitude and communion with nature. My new cocker spaniel, Dandy, is with me and we are slowly getting to know each other. The way it stands now one of us is madly in love while the other is still stand-offish.
Dandy proved a good traveler during the 6-hour drive south. Upon arrival, he stood majestically on the dune as if he were Ozymandias reviewing his sands. Then he noticed the great ocean beyond and turned to me as if to say, “Wow, Mom, you never told me about an ocean!”
The sea is a great equalizer, for we all are equally powerless beside it. Nature sees us as all the same, components of the whole universe and inexorably a part of it. One is not any higher, bigger or better than the other part, in spite of differences we notice in intelligence, strength, gender, color of skin, health, weight, etc.
There are no Republicans or Democrats at the ocean or Episcopalians and Baptists. No fat, thin, young, old, rich or poor. There are definitely no atheists at the ocean.
I stoop to pick up a pink shell half covered in sand. It is unbroken, so I pocket it for my collection. Dandy expertly skirts the waves, quick to charge but even quicker to retreat. It isn’t long before a wave drenches him and he scoots off to higher ground, his cheery little tail clamped on his stern. He appears more like a drowned rat than a spaniel. Happiness is a dog at the beach.
Dandy gives the seagulls the same treatment—an immediate charge and immediate retreat when the gulls explode about him. “Wow, Mom, did you see those crazy birds?” I think I hear him exclaim.
We stand on the shore looking out to sea at the far horizons and we are equally awed, and helpless too, by the wide swath of blue sky above us, the white fluff of cloud sweeping by overhead, the golden tipped waves each kissed by the sun, the swirling patterns of sand beneath our bare feet.
We walk in the direction of the inlet, ducking our heads to pass under the low stanchions on the fishing pier. Six sharks were spotted last week off the end of the pier but we see no ominous black fins now. The tide is high and the water is rushing into the inlet in a cascade of roiling white water.
Dandy chooses a small pond in the sand and fearlessly plunges in. Thousands of minnows separate like the Red Sea for the fleeing Israelites as his determined body surges through the water. Dandy is proud; at last he has found his milieu, king of the pond.
I am aware of that always yearned for feeling . . . that sudden but elusive sense of happiness that can flood the brain but then dart off again, as if not wanting to spoil a person with too much of it at one time. The joyful feeling takes command, lends temporary relief, and leaves me stunned with simple awareness of the pleasure of life.
A North Carolina nature preserve is across the river. It lends lovely contrast to the built-up beaches of the strand. It’s good to gaze on the virgin beaches where only wildlife resides with no man nearby to destroy it.
Every rose has its thorns and, alas, so does the beach. They are sand spurs that lay in wait of the cocker. He soon learns to lift his offended paw for me to dig out sharp prickers from the soft fur under his paws. By the end of the week my fingers are well-pricked.
The week passes with each day exactly like the previous day—sun, sand and sea. My shell collection grows with whelks, periwinkles and scallops. It seems sensible to amass sea shells for they are yearlong reminders that simple pleasures are best, and a life lived close to nature is true “vita abundantior.”
It’s soon time to return home. We are pink from the sun, well-rested and ready for whatever comes next in the remaining chapters in the book of life.