The other day I was able to take my boys to the beach. Their friends weren’t at home, it was a beautiful day, and with my entrance into their father’s domain, an uncomfortable pall had already settled over the house.
On a whim, I said to the boys, “Let’s go to the beach.”
They almost beat me to the car. It turns out, whims are expensive. Lack of planning tends to cost more. When we neared the beach access, I realized my mouth was dry and pasty. My stomach was grumbling too. The boys were parched and famished. We stopped at a convenience market and got some water, soda and snacks.
Apparently, once you cross the bridge to the island, there is a tariff of some sort on paradise. I think it is called the “you forgot to plan the trip the beach, stupid” tax. Everything costs more on the island even though technically, the bridge that connects it to the mainland kind of negates its islandness. It doesn’t matter. There is one way on and one way off and if you forgot the potato chips, well it’s your dumb luck.
We were like abandoned lion cubs on the Serengeti, or baby polar bears on drifting ice, or strangers from the hinterland without sunscreen. In reality, we were refugees fleeing our uncomfortable limbo for the afternoon. Now, I know why on June 1st there’s a mad rush on bottled water, batteries and playing cards – survival gear for hurricane power outages. If you haven’t stocked your hurricane kit by the opening day of hurricane season, you are behind in the game.
I made a note to self called “go to the grocery on the other side of the bridge.” I looked at my boys already getting tan for the season and knew this would be an expensive mistake. They looked back at me sensing my trepidation and seized the opportunity for sodas, chips, candy (which I tried to point out would be nasty as soon as the wind caked sand all over it’s sticky surface) and beef jerky. Every adventure needs a little beef jerky. We had ours. My jaws still ache from chewing its salty, leathery goodness. By the time we made it to the public access, we were well sated.
We had the best time walking the beach looking for shells, again, grandmother shells, but this time something amazing happened. My oldest son, Blade and I finally cracked the code of finding fossilized sharks teeth. A friend of mine once told me that once you see them, you will begin seeing them all over the beach. You won’t be able to look down without seeing one. In fact, not seeing them will be harder than seeing them. I didn’t believe her as she is sometimes prone to hyperbole.
The boys and I had walked all the way from the access down to the retaining wall looking for specimens. The wind kicked up, and soon we were in the middle of a stinging sand storm. At that point, several things happened all at once. It was like walking through that door you can never go back through. My mind opened to the practicality of traditional Arabic dress and the reality of what actually happens when you exfoliate. I shouted over the roar of the waves and the thunder of the wind to explain this to my sons. They were underwhelmed.
My youngest, Chopper said, “Well, sometimes it’s painful to be beautiful.” Then he jumped into the water where the numbing cold was more appealing than the stinging sand.
We knew that fossilized sharks teeth were black and shiny, there are lots of black bits of things in the ocean, and when they are wet, most of the time they are shiny. We picked up broken pieces of shell and debated on their shark toothyness. As hard as we tried to see the shark’s tooth in each fragment, invariably something would give it away until there was no denying its inner shellness.
We were determined to find teeth, but the biting sand was a distraction, and finally, as we approached our destination, Blade said, “Mommy, lets go back.”
Chopper said, “Let’s go to the pier.”
Blade agreed that the pier was a better choice than the beach, no sand, lots of pelicans, plus the allure of the gift shop glimmered in Blade’s eyes. And even though it was tucked away, under the seat in my car, I could hear the faint whimper of my wallet.
I didn’t want to give up. The previous day when my partner was on the beach; she had found some beautiful specimens. My competitive drive kicked into overdrive, I couldn’t go home without at least one tooth (even if I had to buy one at the gift shop pier). I was in quandary. Do I appease my boys and turn us around or continue onward around the edge of the rocks? I had this feeling that if we just kept going, we would find a pocket of shells in some shallow pool or convergence where the water eddied and swirled, depositing the motherlode. We just had to stick with it. (I think that I should stay out of Vegas for sure).
It occurred to me there are sometimes many paths to the same destination. We could go back an alternate route. We could circle behind the dunes, just above the do not enter signs that created the invisible shield between the law abiding and the turtle nests. Behind the dunes we would be protected from the fierce wind, and though I felt my chances for shark’s teeth slipping away, I told myself, “Where there is sand; there is hope.”
Blade was skeptical. Chopper thought anything that came between him and the sand pelting his bare legs was worth a try. So up the shore we went. We followed the rocks to the Gazebo; hobbled tender footed down the blacktop path and followed the trail carved between the dunes from others who had had similar revelations in the past. The wind died down from a gale to a breeze behind the dunes. I could see why the live oak trees grew the way they did. The leaves sloped up from the ocean-side, nearly touching the ground. They formed these imaginary hills that were formed by shear determination to grow in spite of the wind into imaginary hills reaching up into the sky. The live oaks had figured out how to grow in spite of their circumstances.
The car was still far away. My back was beginning to hurt from walking hunched over. And suddenly almost like seeing clearly for the first time once you get those first pair of glasses, I could see them. They stood out like gleaming stars but in reverse. They were black diamonds on a light canvas. They were so obvious they almost floated above the sand. I looked at Blade and Chopper. I could tell my oldest could see it too. Chopper ran from one sandy hillock to the next, sprinting from one safe place through the wind tunnels to the next.
I looked at Blade and he looked at me. Then we dashed. It was like the pre-school Easter egg hunt where teachers just put the eggs on the lawn and the children race out to gather them in plain view. I picked up gleaming fragments of the past and as my son filtered fists full of sand through his fingers. We compared specimens and moved on to the next find. By the time we had made it to the access ramp, Blade and I both had handfuls of shark teeth fragments, whole teeth, and later to find out, a fossilized stingray barb. I didn’t want this visit to be over.
We had tried to show Chopper what we could plainly see, but each time we huddled around a tooth and tell him, “Look over here to see if you see anything.”
Each time he would scour the area with his eyes (sometimes placing his hand right on the tooth to balance himself on his hands and knees), he would exclaim, “What! Where! I don’t see it. I just don’t see it!”
Blade looked disgusted. I could tell his impatience was growing. I could tell he wanted to scream at his little brother. His frustration was building.
I could almost hear him shouting, “its right there!”
Before that happened, I touched Blade’s arm and said, “remember, just a few minutes ago we couldn’t see them either. He will see them when he is supposed to see them.”
That seemed to assuage Blade’s irritation.
When we finally made it to the car, we put our treasures in a breath mint box for the boys to take home. I didn’t take any with me. I had nothing to show for our day — toothwise.
I thought, “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.” In my sons, I could see each part of the saying. One day Chopper would see them too. Until then, Blade and I could supply him with his fare. It was a good day on the beach. It was a good day to be the mom. I could tell you about the pier, the gift shop and the pelicans, but that is a story for another time.