I stand on the edge of this sacred land the Shawnee people call the Great Turtle Island, where the water meets the shore. Salt spray brines the air, gulls wheel, crying, in the blue and pelicans bob on the waves as the ocean rocks me like a primal cradle. In and out rushes the endless tide, frothing the glistening sand with millions of tiny diamonds. That eternal sound is always in my ears, calling to me. People from all walks of life are drawn to this ancient place seeking some gift from the sea.
Sunburned men with a beer in one hand and a pole in the other fish as though their very sustenance depends on it. Bikini-clad women lie like beached whales basking in the sun, or jog along the shore. Three teenage girls dressed in long navy jumpers wade into the surf squealing in delight. Perhaps this is their first visit to the Carolina coast, or any other. Near them stands an old man, pants hiked to his white knees, gazing out at the waves with contentment on his face. He has come home. Curly-headed children dance in the tumbling foam. One little red-haired girl plunges bravely in while her chubby-legged brother flees to his watchful mother and snuggles against the baby in her arms.
A covey of young builders cluster on the sand with buckets and spades, intently fashioning castle turrets and digging motes. Is there anyone as utterly contained in the present as a child at play? Parents join in the fanciful creations and for that moment lose their cares in the sea. A shark emerges under fingers, large and small, with harmless teeth of splintered shells–as ephemeral as the day. No lasting work is done, yet they build on while folk paddle on rafts or dive into waves. Seekers all. The orange sun sinks low in the cloudy palette of colors and casts fire on the waves. People linger, reluctant to go inside. What do you search for? What do I?
Our family has always sought gold doubloons from sunken Spanish galleons in the battered shells left behind by the tide. Not a likely find. Still, we look for the coins and passing whales. Monday I saw great fins and splashing tails, a whole pod of whales. Not because they were there, but because I chose to. My mother and thirteen-year-old daughter, Elise, saw them too, led by me, and were disappointed today when they were gone. Schools of dolphin really do skim through the wake behind shrimp boats, but I fondly remember the whales and keep an eye out for white-sailed clipper ships.
The ocean is a fertile place for the imagination, also to find healing for the soul. Some wounds are raw and gaping, as if beyond the Mender’s thread. Others are old and crusted over, yet still in need of balm. Creator God speaks to us through our Earth Mother, if we listen, and breathes new life into our troubled spirits.
*I wrote this several years ago at Holden Beach, but the sentiments are the same.
However, the Outer Banks, where I am with my family today, are not as crowded this time of year.