Every day, I wake up in awe. Every day. Every day I set my alarm for a half an hour before sunrise, and when the alarm rings, I struggle to open my eyes before turning toward the window at my left. Through trial and error, I have discovered that by this point, a faint glow will line the horizon. There have been a couple of mornings where cloud cover hides that glow, but most mornings, the orange color that swells and deepens as the earth rotates to reveal the sun propels me out of bed.
Before heading outside, I stop in the kitchen, where I pull out the guineafowl cup and saucer I bought in South Africa. It connects me with the power of being in Africa. I glance out the window as I wait for the water to boil, anxious to get out there. I squeeze a bit of lemon into the cup, spoon in honey, and then pour in the hot water. I grab a blanket, my camera, and my teacup before opening the door where I am sometimes greeted by the roar of the ocean and other times by the quiet lapping of waves. I hold the door open long enough for Captain to jump out of bed, stretch, and sleepily join me. I set myself up on the bench on the dune deck overlooking the beach and watch. In awe.
Most days, I struggle to leave the scene before me. But when I go back inside, my routine has become that I make a smoothie, turn on some music, watch the news, and do a few exercises. Except one eye strays to the ocean. And I always seem to see something that pulls me back out. It could be a shrimp boat followed by what appears to be hundreds of seagulls looking to pilfer what has been caught up in the nets. Or a line of pelicans flying by in a coordinated formation reminiscent of a kick line of Rockettes. Or the fin of a swimming dolphin, the spray from the blowhole of a whale at the surface. I can’t help myself. I drop whatever I am doing and race back outside.
The other day I was on the phone with my daughter when I saw a few dolphins swimming by. I could barely continue the conversation. She laughed at me for acting like I have never seen a dolphin before. After all, we saw dolphins at the beaches in California all the time. But she is also right. I feel like I’ve never seen dolphins.
How did this happen? How did I end up here? Although I can easily recite the steps required to get me here, I truly cannot believe I made this happen.
I grew up in Chicago and St. Louis, one city on a lake and the other on a river. But I spent very little time at either body of water. When I moved to Los Angeles, the draw of the ocean often led me to the beach. Of course, trips to the beach with my children were part of the summers when they were growing up. But throughout the years, I also visited the beach on my own.
Whenever I felt lost or disconnected or down for seemingly no reason, the beach was where I found recovery. I needed that time alone. I usually brought just a towel and headphones and would sometimes lay there until the sun set.
I always felt a renewed sense of peace when driving away.
When I visited Mozambique last summer, our group stayed in a villa on the Indian Ocean. Very few times in my life have been spent waking up where I could welcome the day with a clear view of a sunrise over the ocean. But in Africa I could. And I was not about to take that for granted. I sat on the beach for the sunrise every one of the ten days I was there.
There is an energy in the anticipation of the sun revelation that is not present at sunset. A sunrise is a promise of a new day, a rebirth, a sense of hope and of accomplishment at being able to show up once again despite what may have happened yesterday. I watch the horizon and its ever-changing display of colors in preparation for the sun’s appearance, and I can feel the energy building up in my mind and body. I can feel it.
Then, when the sun finally shows itself, I’m overcome with a sense of victory. It’s the strangest thing. “There it is!” “It made it!” I think to myself (unless, of course, you are visiting, and I have convinced you to watch with me – then I can’t help but point it out to you too!). Not that there is ever any doubt the sun will show up. But there’s a joy in its return that reminds me of seeing an old friend end a drive with a turn down my driveway or appear around the corner in the airport pickup area.
Captain and I take a walk on the beach every morning. And those who live on the beach or who have been to the beach with any regularity already know that the beach is different every single day. I don’t know why this surprised me. But each morning as we head down the sand, the water level is completely different. And I can see that during the night the water level varies fairly dramatically. I need to study the tides because even though I know they are related to the moon, I am not understanding the pattern yet – it all seems so haphazard.
But also, what the waves throw upon the shore varies dramatically from day to day. Today, the beach was littered with tiny, sand crabs. And strangely enough, no birds were in sight for this feast that had been laid out on the sand.
Other days, dozens of birds sun at the water’s edge only to fly off in a mass of squawking and flapping as we approach. Of course, they always choose to land right down the beach exactly where we are headed, so we simply repeat the cycle.
There have been days where the sand is covered with the shells of horseshoe crabs. One day I thought there must have been some cosmic horseshoe crab genocide considering how many I stepped over and inevitably on. Some days the beach is buried in shells, and I have to wear shoes for our walk. Other days, there isn’t a shell in sight. One day I might wake to a huge log in front of my house, another to a dead pelican, and yet another to a discarded flip flop. But these quickly disappear, pulled back out to the ocean.
I will be in here for six months, and I don’t know where life will take me after this. I honestly don’t know if I will ever live on the beach again. Maybe, maybe not. I have plenty of other places I’d like to explore. Which makes me all the more appreciative.
Someone recently asked me if I came here because I write better while looking out at the ocean. No, that isn’t the case. In fact, I tried doing that for about a week when I first got here. I set myself up at the table outside where I could feel the breeze, watch the waves, and hear the birds. But I quickly learned that I spent most of my time watching the seagulls floating on the rolling waves, marveling at the pelicans’ dives into the water, struggling to identify unfamiliar birds, or determining whether that flash I saw was a fin or a whitecap. That always meant running inside to get the binoculars. Yeah. Not much writing was taking place.
So I am writing this at a local coffee shop, with my vanilla iced coffee next to me and people chatting and laughing all around me. This is where I work best.
The ocean and the beach are right outside my door, literally right there, and I greet each day as it unveils itself. I can depend on the dawn’s arrival just as I can depend on its unpredictable aesthetic manifestation. And that has given me a peace and an awe that has made the creation of my life easier and more meaningful.
So tomorrow I will be up to greet the sun again and to cheer its arrival before I start my own new day.