Beachwalking in November

We went to the beach in search of nothing but time. It is precious, time, and elusive, slipping past us unnoticed and taking with it moments that might otherwise become memories. On a chill and blustery November Monday, Veteran’s Day, we were determined that time would not hide from us in a seam of the otherwise hectic fall. So we made a long delayed trip up to Crane Beach to take a quiet walk.

Of course a walk on the beach is never just a walk, nor should it be. At the confluence of earth and sea and sky, the beach teems with treasure, irresistible to the hunter who takes the time. To walk on the beach is to amble and to bend, to scan and to pore over. Most of all it is to stop.

We stopped a lot on our walk. We stopped to turn over the hermit crab to see if anyone was home, and to finger a faded pink claw-arm, moving it as though it still had a body. At the edge of the shell line we stopped to pick through the pile left by the tide, sifting sand, sometimes soft and sometimes gritty, through our fingers in search of what? A rust-mottled Kitten’s Paw, perhaps, or a bleached Egg Cockle, both halves attached and spread like butterfly wings? Or maybe an intact Lightning Whelk, its tail long and outer cone unbarnacled, its inner pearly smooth? A piece of abalone, rainbow shimmery. What we found we stuffed into the pockets of my parka, and walked on.

Above, cottony billows of fair-weather clouds ghosted across the pale sky. Higher still traces of contrails dispersing then disappearing in the wind. A few lonely gulls, their calls also taken by the wind.

We stopped at a serpent-shaped length of drift-wood, its neck essing up into an open mouth hissing out sea-spray.

A snowy owl was rumored to be standing sentinel at the top of a dune just down the beach. What was she guarding? She’d given up her post by the time we arrived, but we searched for her anyway. Perhaps she flew over us, camouflaged as a cloud.

We ambled and we bent and we scanned and we pored over. We scampered up from the beach and over the bluff into the dunes, the flora subdued now, in late fall, its colors giving deference to the tones of the sand. The beach heather steely, the scrub oak gray and barren save random clusters of burgundy and brown leaves. The grasses, wheat-gold, bent to the wind like misplaced amber waves. Beyond the dunes, even the green-limbed pines of the fledgling coastal forest dropped bronze needles onto the white-sand paths.

We’d been walking a long time, or not (who knew?), when we came upon a mother and her daughter, bent over and foraging beneath a grove of tall pines. “Cranberries!” they told us. A secret bog. We joined them in their treasure search, stepping carefully among the low, small-leafed bushes, combing them tenderly that they might reveal the bright red gems growing close to the ground. We picked a small baggy full. Just enough for a muffin.

Back at the beach we stopped again, to study wave prints in the sand. We traced the ripples and followed them down to the water line where they faded, erased by their own maker. We walked at the edge of the waves leaving footprints in that same sand and watched them as they too were washed away. Like moments in time.

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