by Kelly Salasin
I plop right down in the ocean soaked sand, just far enough from the incoming tide, and begin digging. I use my hands, never a shovel, letting the fine wet grains stuff themselves behind my fingernails. I won’t go as far as China today. I’ll scoop just enough to make a castle. It all depends on how close I am to the surf. I dig and dig and dig until the underground flow suddenly appears and fills up the hole I created. Magic!
At 42, this is all mystery to me–still. How does the water come to fill the hole from below? If it’s always there, why don’t I see it until I dig? How does liquid hold its form beneath solid ground? I’m sure there are simple, widely-known answers to these questions, but I don’t want to know; I’ve enjoyed a lifetime of wonder.
Once my pool fills, I set to work, letting the soupy sand trickle from my hand onto the pile of hard earth. Trickle, trickle, trickle- my castle grows, taller and taller, until it is time to fashion a tower- a careful drip, drip, drip, as the tiny drops of soup harden into chips, creating a delicate spire.
I am reminded of a castle in France built ages ago upon craggy rock, the sea rushing to surround it with the tide. I too am creator, artist, architect, building a cathedral. I too have spent a lifetime at this holy task, like the children before me, and so too, the ones after me- after I myself am washed away from the shore of this world. Bridges, moats, and castle walls, all crafted by loving hands, until the tide retrieves them, and we begin again.
It is the summer of ‘63, of ‘81, of 2006. Time is no matter. The salt still sprays in the air coating the downy hairs of my face. The gulls still swoop overhead, the pipers run to and fro in the surf. The sky is blue or gray or white; the water is warm, seaweed filled; or cold, bringing clamshells to the shore. My feet are sprinkled with sand-the tiniest specks of gray and black and white. In the heat of noontime sun, my step quickens–staccato– as I dash through the soft dry mounds of the dunes before they scorch my soles. I am heading toward my car; or toward the music of the ice cream truck; or toward cousins just arrived to join us for the afternoon…
My grandmother has packed peanut butter crackers and lemonade; and later, will surprise us with rootbeer barrels and sour balls. I’ll watch her mouth pucker, creating hollows beneath her cheekbones as she studies the crossword puzzle- a sharpened pencil behind her ear.
When we return home, we will shower outside, and she will powder our bodies before feeding us a dinner of fried tomatoes and corn (shucked ourselves in the backyard.) Our hair, freshly combed, will be damp as we crawl into bed, and someone will protest that the sun is still shining. “It’s after eight,” she’ll answer, firmly tucking the covers around us. The hum of the air conditioner and the faint call of gulls will be our lullaby as we sink into sleep, burrowing our way back into the timeless sea- like the tiny purple clams uncovered in our digging.