"The beach is a place where a man can feel
He's the only soul in the world that's real."
- Pete Townshend
I spent last week on the beach in Wildwood, NJ, a place I've gone for vacation since before I can remember. Even more than the beauty and fun of a week at the beach, I enjoyed the break from life's routine. Such experiences can't help but readjust a person's focus, and the endless horizon of the Atlantic Ocean, stretching toward the "old world" of my ancestors can't help but provide perspective.
Lying on the sand, staring up at the sky and clouds, I found my thoughts drifting to the extremes of joy and agony I've experienced at the place where the water meets the land: playing pinball in a boardwalk arcade; returning from the beach in the afternoon to shower and make love before heading out for dinner and drinks; watching the sun rise out of the ocean and set into the bay. When I was small, my brother, my cousin, and I were pulled away from the beach by a riptide and had to be rescued by lifeguards in a boat. In one of the most intensely painful incidents in my life, a wave lifted me up and pounded me headfirst into the sand, compressing a vertebrae. As I age and my bones stiffen, I think that particular one will give me more trouble than any other.
Still, there's something about the seashore that is hypnotic and seductive. There are the scores of healthy young bodies, proudly on display; the gentle hush of the endless waves; and the eternal, unblinking force of nature pounding rock into sand. I hear the fudge is good too.
In 2009, my first novel, The Zoo, was published. It contains this passage in which the protagonist visits a special beach with the planet's oldest being, a fish named Ella:
“Here we go,” Ella grunted, beaching herself on a wide expanse of white sand. Margarita followed slowly, afraid now that she couldn’t breathe out of water. But, to her amusement and delight, she found that she could breathe air as well as water. Ella’s small front flippers pulled her heavy body further from the water until she collapsed in the sand, exhausted by her efforts. “It’s been a while,” she finally gasped to Margarita who struggled to keep up with her.
“Take a good look around,” Ella gasped. “You’re on sacred ground.” Margarita looked around and saw a beach glistening with beauty but she didn’t see anything to make it sacred, or even particularly different from any other beach. “Oh, but it is different,” Ella informed her. “It’s the differentest place in the world. This is where it all started.”
“Where what started?”
“Crawling, walking, flying. This is where we first left the water. Right here. But that was a long time ago,” Ella smiled.
“How old are you?” Margarita wondered to herself.
“Old enough to know better,” the ancient fish laughed.
“It’s impolite to ask a woman her age,” the fish giggled.
“A hundred years?” Margarita asked.
“Oh, dear. A hundred years to me is like an afternoon to you.”
“I was an old lady many, many thousands of years ago.”
“A million?” the girl’s fishy eyes widened.
“Hundreds of millions, dear. Hundreds of millions of human years and I remember it all…every day…” her eyes glazed over with overwhelming recollections, “…everything.” Ella looked out at the waves rolling toward the beach. “I remember it all.”