I stood on the edge of a world, if not the world itself, and felt the cold Atlantic breeze blow right through me. Gorgeous blue water stretched far ahead and the smell of frozen salt and ocean assaulted my nose.
Far ahead in a long straight line was a rock path. Giant stones with flat surfaces stretched ahead, constructing an unexpected walkway to a sandy island, perhaps a half mile away, and on the island itself were lighthouses. It was still light out and the lighthouses had a single red light on the top that kept turning around, flashing gently on the horizon from time to time.
The path was beautiful. And it simply had to be walked on.
My sister Sheri and I bundled up, she with two hoods pulled over her head from her sweatshirt and jacket, and me with a stocking cap on my head, a pink one that she had in her car leftover from her participation in the women’s march a few months before. I kept my hands in my pockets as we walked, with car keys in one pocket and cell phone in the other.
The hike across the rocks was surprisingly difficult. Well, more like intermediately difficult. Large steps across large gaps, sharp edges to rocks with a steep decline to either side, into the ocean, four to six feet down on either side. But the path was clear, just required some navigating.
As we walked, I was overcome with the beauty of life in all its forms. Gulls and cormorants and ducks above and on the water, carving out little nests in places along the rocks where weeds had been stuffed and arranged to provide warmth; crabs scuttling within and below the rocks, foraging for food; kelp and seaweed along the surface of the water against the rocks, moving with the currents; clams and oysters just below the surface, with fish all around; insects along the surface of the water, spiders building webs to catch them between the rocks; lichen and moss growing along the sides of the damp rocks; bacteria within and without and around. All forms of life preying upon every other, staying alive, mating, providing, foraging, the circles and cycles of life around and around and around. Farther out to sea, whales and dolphins; farther in to land, raccoons and hawks. What a supremely beautiful world.
Sheri and I talked as we walked. We talked about how far we’ve come, about her progress in school, about coffee, about family, about loss, about living for now, about my sons, about where we saw ourselves in the near future. We talked about our history and the state of our world, and all the while the wind buffeted us, unrelenting and furious and persistent.
I stopped in wonder as I saw a bone-white seagull grab an oyster off the side of a low rock. The gull flapped lazily into the air, several yards up, then dropped the oyster to the rocks below, presumably to crack it open. The gull landed to claim his meal, but a grey gull swooped in quickly, stealing the oyster for himself, and the white gull landed, calling out shrill protests too late for his meal was lost.
We continued walking, and several rocks were covered in broken oyster and clam shells that crunched and broken under our feet, and I now realized how they had gotten there; this was a favorite feasting area for the gulls. I heard Sheri give a loud groan as she saw some dismembered crab legs, shells, and claws, and I began to notice them among the discarded shells on the path.
I stepped over puddles of ocean water, stepped over gaps in rocks, and ascended or descended on rocks that were uneven in size, getting ever closer to the lighthouse island ahead. As I listened to Sheri tell a story, I lost my footing briefly and stood quickly with arms out to balance myself. The jostling of my body sent my cell phone cascading out of my pocket and I watched it bounce on one of the rocks ahead of me and then slide slowly, as if in slow motion, between the cracks of two of the rocks and into an inaccessible chasm beneath, one that I couldn’t even fit my arm down.
Swiftly realizing we couldn’t reach the phone, Sheri and I began to turn back, ad I was surprised at how peaceful I felt about the whole thing. That small piece of expensive technology, and how attached we get to it. Photos, text messages, files, Emails, apps, connections to Snapchat and Instagram and Facebook. All of those little pieces of technology would be available in any other space. My life backed up on an iCloud, my log-ins preserved with passwords and usernames that could easily be downloaded into another expensive piece of flat-screened technology.
Somehow, as the ocean stretched out around me and the lighthouses turned and turned with their blinking lights, with an oyster shell crushed underfoot and a gull overhead, and with the sun setting over the sandy shore in the distance and the waves washing in and out, in and out, I felt very small, of little consequence. I felt temporary. Yet that realization warmed my heart, it didn’t sadden me. Temporary is the state of all of us. And to be at peace with that felt wonderful somehow.
And still the rock path stretched both before and beyond me.