One hot June day, I listed my top ten childhood memories on new, college ruled notebook paper. Nine took place outside. From Bahamian sand with glass bottom buckets to a tree house in an old oak, from driveway snow forts with icicle collections to sailing Block Island Sound, each crisp memory shaped my definition of play. For as long as I can remember, I’ve collected beach rocks. The invisible friend my five-year-old self named Bunny ate from cowry shells and slept in its horse shoe crab bed.
As a child, I believed. I believed in everything, found proof in lightening bugs and sea glass. I loved my stuffed friends, told them all my secrets and brought one with me, always, just as my girls do. I remember standing on the breakwater of the Mystic River as a Woody Woodpecker doll washed ashore with the high tide of Long Island Sound. It was then I learned about karma: all that’s lost outside is found, comes to those open to love. I dried that doll, loved him for years until I lost him at the Eastern States Fair (The Big E). Every piece of me believes he went to another sea-dwelling family.
Most of life’s lessons I learned outside, while most of life’s heavy news I’ve let settle seated on front steps, hoods of cars or ends of docks. It’s outside where I get it, when I can figure things out, refresh my mood or settle into a whole new one. It’s an outside concert that makes the most sense to me, and it’s why Luke and I were married outside in a valley named Paradise, in a town called Pray.
The easiest thing I can do with our girls, aside from tucking them in at night and telling them how much I love them, is to take them to the beach. Hours can pass, bookended with snacks and ice cold water. Yes, for hours they’ll ebb and flow from solo play to group tide pool puddle stomping. Buckets will fill and empty, each daughter will declare one perfect piece of driftwood their walking stick, ten or twelve rocks their most awesome must-have rock.
At the sea, seaweed turns streamer, just as shell becomes so many good things in the hands of our daughters. With mountains in the distance and orca whales offshore, it’s easy to inhale with full gratitude as to why we live here. Our children run from one end of the beach to the other, and I like to sit and knit, to talk to mama pals beside me on beach blankets all their own. I like to know these are the scenes of memory – these are the scenes of our daughters’ childhood.
Often, I walk the beach, fill pockets with shells, pebbles, sea glass. The artifacts of our travels tell so much of our days. So many heart-shaped rocks, rocks with a single white line like a horizon. Over the years, I’ve found left shoes and buoys to fishing nets and, someday soon on our western shores, Japanese tsunami debris.
On minivan’s beach drive home, I look back at our daughters sun-soaked and sandy. Inevitably, there’s a beach pail full of rocks and shells, a piece of driftwood wedged between the seats like a favorite pair of skis. And sometimes, as I smile in rearview mirror’s view, Olive meets my eyes to say, That was a fun day, Mama. Can we do that ta-mor-row?
It’s been a while since I free wrote, since I wrote From The Heart.
It feels amazing to spill from the top of my mind, unedited and unchanged. It’s such an important activity for writers, and I’m glad to be joining today.