I came down to the sea in the middle of a blasted storm. (I have vowed always to follow the challenge of nature for as long as I can.) The fog was thick — you could soak it up with a sponge. The surf was a roaring, cursing bull, rolling up from the depths in sheets of dull paint. Rows of white-crested waves ran in lines like the torn edges of an envelope. Seagulls staggered in the heavy wind; a mossy log tumbled across the sand. The rooftops of the rich people’s beach houses rose like the spires of an old empty church, reaching for heaven and then vanishing.
I pictured men in black-hooded robes, heads bowed and chanting heathen prayers, marching along the shore with blazing torches. I imagined lightning splitting the trees and slamming them onto the beach.
It seemed to me like the beginning of all things.
Perhaps this is a time of primordial rebirth, I thought, when the starting of days lives again, when the oceans lap the shores at that first moment, when creatures without any real shape were given life and breath, and let loose upon the earth. And if any man could have moved his memory far enough back in time, he would have witnessed the coming of slithering, legless beasts, squirming through the sand with forked tails and hungry, desperate eyes, wondering why the lords of nature had cast them off, why they were chosen to be the first beyond the water and onto the land.
Somewhere between the running of the sea and the ribbon of the shore, a nurturing of life began. The first task of the first living thing was to find a way to live. And if a creature turned back helpless and afraid, they would have seen a single closing eye on the horizon, throwing away its children before falling into nothingness.
So the first to come upon the land were guided by a mother filled with a distant angry flame.
And all things born upon the earth and sea, from the air and wind and water ... everything was alone ... together and alone.
I cast a shaded look into the heavy mist. The rain throws itself steadily in my face, the chill wind searches out my bare skin. The earth surrounds me, it covers me with a dull gray cloak, it pulls me into the twilight. I am alone in my abandonment. In a world surrounded and filled and crowded with people, I feel cold and thrown away.
The earth was sent hurling into the universe a long time ago, and it’s been filling up regularly ever since. Footprints litter the ground with a billion, billion craters. The air is laden with the burden of every forgotten, useless word. Yet if one man can’t build his own house, then another might come along and teach him now. If children are starving, then other good children will share what they are given.
It’s too late now, I’ve been here too long, I can’t leave the sea. The ocean is my cradle, a mindful notion that there is no tomorrow, no yesterday (not really), just one continuous life separated into days by darkness. Through the lightning of the sky and the bellow of thunder, the measure of the sea is a book of unnumbered pages, a play of a thousand acts and a million scenes.
I have stumbled upon the christening of time, watching the sky and the sea thrown together, witnessing in the storm the staging area for earth and life, the new world made over and over again, turning and tumbling in pangs of birth and renewal. What a thrill it is to be part of it all! (But it takes courage, you know, that’s why so many, many of us hide behind shopping malls and business and football games — we’re far too nervous to face it alone.)
Behold the beach on a stormy day, as the sea breaks through the dimly lit dawn, sputtering and yawing and stretching onto the land:
What will you bring us today?