Growing up on the Oregon Coast, I perfected the art of beachcombing. I learned to read the tide tables to decipher the low tides, get to the beach early before the tourists, and where the best shells could be found. I was fairly picky, taking only the ones that were whole and unusual in shape or color and making sure that there were no creatures living inside before I put them in my pocket. Tidepools were sources of endless fascination and, often, I fancied myself a bit of a mountain goat as I easily bounded from rock to rock without slipping. I could identify dozens of different sea animals and spent hours walking on the beach on the weekends.
Last week I took my children to the very same beaches I once prowled and delighted in teaching them to spot sea urchins, touch anemones gently, find whole sand dollars and pop the floats at the end of the long strands of seaweed like bubble wrap. It felt good to be the instructor, sharing one of my favorite pasttimes of youth with my own daughters, but I never dreamed I would also discover a new fascination. I thought I had unearthed all of the treasures these particular beaches had to offer. Not so.
One morning we headed down to the beach at low tide and started walking north. Pretty soon we came upon an area about a hundred square feet of beach that was covered in pebbles the size of a pinhead. My youngest daughter sat down and invented a game of house where she was the mom and was fixing me dinner with the rocks. I sat down and began sifting through them absentmindedly, feeling the tiny tumbled edges cool against my skin as they fell through my fingers. The sun glinted off of one in particular as it dropped back into the mix and I immediately began searching for it. As I looked down, I noticed the different colors of these tiny treasures. The majority of them were simply grey pebbles, but tucked in among them were miniscule agates, orange, red, white and green, and bits of clam shells that had been smoothed by their journey in the sea. I started to separate the most unique of them out and collect them in my pocket.
Two hours later, my husband came to shake me from my reverie, reminding me that the back of my neck was getting sunburned and I could hardly believe I had spent my morning in such solitude. The constant rhythm of the waves shushing the shore, the warmth of the sun on my shoulders, the murmur of my girls playing their game and my mind completely occupied with sorting out tiny treasures had quieted the firing of my neurons and given me a complete grounding in place and time. Those rocks will sit in a jar of water on my kitchen counter as a reminder of that precious time, found completely by accident in a place I was convinced I knew inside and out. I have discovered another reason to love "my beach". I can't wait to go back.