It was cold, but I didnít feel it. The wind was up and I should have been shivering, but instead I was standing barefoot in the sand, head back and arms outstretched, eyes peacefully closed, with a hurricane of hair lashing my smiling face. As I basked in the blustering blueness of sky and sea that formed a seamless blend along the shoreline, I soaked up the invisible sun and felt phantom warmth blanketed in winter.
Continuing my barefoot foray down what I consider the most elemental of memory lanes in this, my heaven-on-earth, it occurred to me that I must be an eccentric sight to anyone peering through a window in the monotonously perfect condos standing in silent salute along the dunes.
Think about it. The air is cruel in its coldness, with salty icicles pelting uncovered skin, punishing even the bravest of beachcombers. And, standing blissfully unperturbed in that wintry hell, is a solitary soul unaffected by the blast. But they would be wrong. I am deeply affected, but not on the outside for any and all to see. No, the affect is in my soul, blasted by the sands of time until it is polished and glistening.
I welcome this sandblasting. In fact, I yearn for it like a block of marble for its Michelangelo. In the wildly creative hands of nature, I know that each barefoot step draws me closer to my intended purpose, nearer to my masterpiece moment. Lest you think my strangeness is as boundless as the ocean, let me put you at ease. Itís not only in the dead of winter that I walk the beach, covetously collecting grains of sand between my toes. I am an all-season oddity. But, somehow, the biting coldness makes each step more concrete, leaving imprints that follow and find me wherever I wander. The limitless coastline calls me, much like the resonance radiating from the seashells scattered artistically along my path. It has a Pied Piper effect, luring me to where memories were made.
I was younger then. Prettier, too, but never happier, although the years that trail me in the rapidly receding surf of my life were nothing less than blissful themselves. The happiness I feel today doesnít eclipse the joy of yesterday, but equals it in an odd, inches- to-meters conversion-esque kind of way. Back then, my seaside strolls werenít solitary. In fact, I rarely had time to myself during the early years of raising a family. But, those moments on the beach with my babies, darting around me like little sandpipers, are etched as indelibly in my heart as the fossilized fragments imbedded in the ground under my bare feet.
The babies bombarded the beach with the innocent abandon of childhood, teaching me lessons that linger in my mind and saturate my spirit still. Tirelessly, they would explore and examine the world unfurling in all its glossy wetness and glorious graininess. The sharply honed landscape, sculpted by childishly capricious forces of nature, would taunt and tease as it morphed and meandered and mesmerized into a million different moments captured, clinging to tiny toes and fingers at the end of a magnificent day. Standing on the smoothly weathered steps that joined our back door with Godís beachfront backyard, I must have collected at least a ton of sand from all the fleshy folds of baby-soft skin over the years. Today, this moment, I wish I could hold each long-lost grain of those bygone memories and feel them sift through my fingers once again.
Like sands through an hourglass, my life and times have flowed in a steady stream to this moment that finds me standing barefoot in the sand, head back and arms outstretched, eyes peacefully closed, with a hurricane of hair lashing my smiling face as in days of old. I must admit this stance isnít exactly original. I mimic the ďsmiling statueĒ my children created and perfected over years of practice, having observed its elegance and extravagance at least a million times from under my floppy straw hat.
As I walk, bent into the winter wind, I stop often and strike the pose. Then, as is my custom, I walk on, oblivious to the cold or the stares of strangers securely ensconced in their condos-by-the-coast. When finally I return to the doorstep where mountains of sand have been recycled from the aforementioned fingers, toes, swimsuits, and beach towels of my past, I stop again. Unmoving, I consider the stories within those miniscule grains and relish again their happy endings. Then, as is my custom, I add to the collection of memories by brushing the newly acquired moments from my feet and fingers where they have found refuge. Lovingly, I listen as they tell the story of this day, and every day that I have walked barefoot along this ever-changing yet ever-familiar stretch of beach.
Honestly? Thereís nothing I love more than sand between my toes. And time on my hands.