We returned last night from what has become an annual trek to the sands of South Carolina and the lure of waves crashing on shore, sun and great food and more important than those, a few very close friends with whom we share the week.
I look forward to three things during the week we are gathered: walking the beach, starting before the sun is above the horizon, and the sky has only a few golden hints of the day ahead; sitting and talking over coffee on the wide and deep screened porch that faces the ocean; writing in a room the others have agreed is mine for the week. I follow the same schedule that I follow here on the mountain: early morning ramble (but without my pal Teddy), a leisurely breakfast (but with the other early risers), then work until noon or so. Afternoons at the beach are for reading, talking, and occasional forays into the more citified areas around us. Closer than the small city we consider our commercial anchor here at home, and about as many cars per mile as in all of our county.
There is something about being away from one’s "regular" desk, I think, that opens the mind to more creativity. I generally have at least one story I’m working on when we get there, and add a lot of new material. I finished my first novel there some years ago, and at least a couple of short stories, and added to other works-in-progress. It is a working vacation, but for me every day is a working day. I suppose that is because I wouldn’t know how to not work, as long as I can work.
I also had a birthday while we were on the Island, pushing me closer (but not all the way) to the end of another decade. There are few things I value in life, but most of them come together on the shore of the Atlantic ocean. They show up in sharp relief there, where other things can’t intrude: family, friends, solitude and sharing, and work. Especially word-work. For me, those are the things that balance my life, and in that order of importance. Within those boundaries I find the essentials: love, laughter, learning. As my clock runs faster, it is the eternal repetitiveness of those things that slows it down enough for me to read the time.
How do you leave footprints in the sand that don’t get washed away? I walk every morning along the beach. I can usually see where I’ve come from by looking for the distinct impression of my sandals. When I come down onto the sand tomorrow though, I will have to make a new trail on new sand. I may make an impression, but that isn’t the same as leaving a permanent mark. To do that you must do more than take a walk, I think.
I’ve been walking the beach for a long time. If I’ve made an impression that will be there tomorrow, it will be because someone else has seen it and found it useful. The best one can hope for is that the footstep that covers yours will in turn be covered by another and eventually someone will rise above it all and make a lasting impression.
So much for finding poetical reminders of the impermanence of it all.