Wordless Wednesday: Buried Treasure
Let us meet just slightly west and south of a place called despair.
It is a place that does not turn away from difficulty or fierceness. And yet it is also a place of paradoxical gratitude, where images, metaphors, powerful language and practices of grateful living combine to bring about moments of belonging, grace and yes, even joy. —Dale Biron
I don’t actually know what drew my eyes to this heart-shaped rock, wedged into the tiny crawl space between the boardwalk and the sand. Maybe it was the sliver of sunlight that fell across the face of it, at just the right moment. That’s how the ocean sometimes presents to us her most precious treasures, isn’t it? Like the lustrous pearl, for instance–tucked into an unassuming oyster shell, waiting for its intended recipient.
To the vast blue ocean, I offered a single rose,
and whispered a simple prayer about gratitude and grace.
It was ushered into deeper waters by the outgoing tides.
The ocean swaddled it in velvet,
And sang to it sweet lullabies and old, familiar hymns.
Time passed. The tides rolled in and receded.
I waded in the shallows, watched the rosebud sink and rise again.
A deep peace washed over me, and when the tidewaters dipped to their lowest ebb, I discovered these treasures from the sea.
Is it any wonder that Freckles likes to lounge here, in Treasure Island Cove?
The tides are shifting, and there are subtle changes in the slant of light that shines through the sycamore trees at dawn. Summer’s waning, and here we are again, drifting slowly into autumn.
In Southern California, the changes are more subtle. And yet every season brings ashore its own treasures. This is just one of the secrets I learned by reading Ann Morrow Lindberg’s beautiful book, Gift from the Sea.
I thumbed through my copy again last week…familiar passages, fresh insights. Like this one, which speaks to me of nature’s transitions, and to the more intimate changes in our own lives.
Perhaps this is the most important thing for me to take back from beach-living:
simply the memory that each cycle of the tide is valid;
each cycle of the wave is valid;
each cycle of a relationship is valid.
And my shells? I can sweep them all into my pocket.
They are only there to remind me that the sea recedes and returns eternally.
Flowers perfumed my neighborhood market, splashes of sunshine on a summer morning.
…but after a long walk on the beach, I had a single purchase in mind.
“One blueberry scone, please,” I said to the woman behind the bakery counter.
She chose the pastry with the plumpest berries, swaddled it with parchment paper before sliding it into a paper bag. Brown eyes twinkling, she presented it to me like a gift.
“Thank you,” I said. Just then, I caught my reflection in the bakery case. My eyes were bright and my cheeks were rosy, but my clothes were rumpled and wet. Hair clung to my scalp in limp curls, tousled by salty breezes and dampened by fog.
“Beach hair,” I said with a shrug.
“Ah, sí!” she said, “I get that, too.”
“Do you go down there on your breaks?”
“No time,” she said, “but my family goes down to Puerto Vallarta in July…”
“Oh! That’s really soon! You must be excited!”
She turned away, wiping invisible crumbs from the counter and blinking hard. “Not this year,” she eventually said. “No money.”
There weren’t any other customers around, and –here’s the real gift–she felt safe in telling me the whole story. Mexico is her birthplace. Her father lives there, still. Her siblings have scattered to the winds, but the family reconvenes in her hometown every year. In beautiful Puerto Vallarta, they shrug off their worries and embrace their cultural traditions. Mañana will take care of itself; for one week every year, they’re able to live together in the moment.
“But not this year,” she said with a sigh. But then she brightened. “We have great memories though! My daughter is really little, but she remembers…”
I wanted to give her daughter the memories of a life time, but that’s not within my power. “Oh hey, I know!” I scrolled quickly through my cell phone, showed her some recent pictures of Freckles.
She admired his tender brown eyes and giggled at his goofy poses. “¿Dónde?” she asked.
“Not more than five minutes from here!” I said. And then I let her in on my secret. I told her a little bit about Freckles, showed her how to coordinate the tide tables with his haul-out times, and pinpointed his lounging spots on a map.
“Oh, my daughter will love him!”
I nodded. “You, too. We all do.”
She eventually rang up my order, and when she counted back my change, we mirrored each other’s smiles. As new friends do.
I slid the scone onto a pretty blue plate–a “happy” for my husband. He smiled, but his forehead was wrinkled with worry. “You’ve got dark smudges under your eyes,” he said. “Go look in the mirror.”
Mascara was sliding down my face, swirled together with saltwater tears. I laughed at my reflection, and I swear, my heart grew three sizes.
Here, another serendipitous encounter–seemingly random, but maybe not. I don’t claim to understand it, but I am grateful for yet another gift from the sea.
I came upon this plen aire painting class on my walk yesterday. Beautiful morning; magnificent view.
I watched from a respectful distance, noting with interest that the artists worked systematically, dabbing identical brushes into matching color palettes. When they’d spread the first pigment from corner to corner, they stopped to compare their templated images to the scene beyond their easels.
The instructor was genuine in her praise, and most students seemed to appreciate her occasional redirect. The class objective? To reproduce the painting on the far right, which was itself a reproduction of a rock formation in the cove below.
Truth be told, I started feeling restless. Such an arduous, painstaking task! Like most creative types, I pull from a grab-bag of tried-and-true techniques, easily mastered. I’ve learned that it’s far too easy –and dangerous– to focus our energies on straight-ahead instructions, easily reproduced. I like to experiment, make mistakes, discover.
F-stops, shutter speed, and the Rule of Thirds; strong verbs, sensory images, and character arcs. These are the basic elements of storytelling. I want a working knowledge in my fingertips. But I’d never trade away my wide-eyed sensibilities (my unique perspectives) for that muting thing we writers call “structure.”
For me, creativity comes of exploring a rugged archway–born of earthquakes and raging tides–and chance encounters with tourists who pass through its frame. It’s inspired by pelicans that glide silently through the skies, waves that churn and froth at the shoreline, and salty breezes that tousle my hair.
Writing flows when I break loose from those soul-sucking musts and shoulds, lace up my hiking shoes, and plant both feet in the scene. It’s then, when I finally lose myself in the moment, that I come home to my story.
We worked together for several months last year, co-creators of a super-secret project for Hillary Clinton. Two women from opposite sides of the country–upstate New York and Southern California–who shared the same vision and purpose.
Though we’d never met in person, we fell into an easy rhythm. Creativity flowed, as it does when ego’s not an issue. When my new friend fell sick, I filled my planner pages with to-do lists and affirmations, colorful sketches and motivational stickers. She poked fun at those stickers, but it was laughter that helped get us through the more difficult days of her cancer treatments. Oh, and the harbor seals. Hashtag: #StrongerTogether
On Election Day, we finally went public with the news we’d been sitting on, for what seemed like forever:
I could hardly contain my excitement. Pollsters predicted an early, easy victory. But as everyone now knows, Election Night was holding back some surprises of its own.
Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, but the Electoral College twisted the other way. Our hopes and dreams, aspirations and efforts…reduced to ashes, inexplicably and unimaginably so.
We explored Manhattan over the next several days, reveling in our friendship despite the pain, and reaching for the proverbial candle in the dark.
But once I got home, well. I couldn’t bring myself to talk about the election results for weeks, much less the video that would never have an audience.
Slowly, eventually…light overcame the dark. Hope stirred; optimism reawakened.
The time eventually came when I could once again look to the future with clear, dry eyes.
The moment came when I decided to take some deep, cleansing breaths. I am an optimist, after all. I’m not immune to injury and sorrow, but I do have an indomitable spirit.
And so it was that, one sunny afternoon in late December, I ventured down to Laguna Beach. Freckles was lounging on the rocks, as usual, smiling that ubiquitous seal-smile of his and waving his flipper. Adorable. Irresistible. Irrepressible.
In that peaceful island cove, I reflected on the pendulum swing between Election Night and the restorative nature of the sea. And I remembered something I’d once read about being simultaneously courageous and vulnerable:
During the process of rising, we sometimes find ourselves homesick for a place that no longer exists. We want to go back to that moment before we walked into the arena, but there’s nowhere to go back to. What makes this more difficult is that now we have a new level of awareness about what it means to be brave. We can’t fake it anymore. We now know when we’re showing up and when we’re hiding out, when we are living our values and when we are not. Our new awareness can also be invigorating—it can reignite our sense of purpose and remind us of our commitment to wholeheartedness. Straddling the tension that lies between wanting to go back to the moment before we risked and fell and being pulled forward to even greater courage is an inescapable part of rising strong. –Brené Brown
Voilà! Like a pearl, hidden inside a rough shell, I discovered my 2017 Word of the Year:
Isn’t that just perfect? I’m no fortune teller, but I predict I’ll be amazed at the many ways this word will manifest itself this year, in my life and in the world around me.
PS I created these posters in Canva, using my own pictures. You are welcome to use them, so long as you leave my watermark intact. (Just now learning, so they’re not perfect, but this is how you raise the bar.)
On my way to Goff Island yesterday, I happened upon a family reunion. Tourists, probably, drinking in the winter sunshine after savoring a picnic lunch. The women wore modest clothes and hijabs, and the men wore ankle-length, cotton robes. While the younger children built sand castles, replete with fancy turrets, a teenaged boy –positioned at a distance from his group–dug through the sand, examining and discarding tiny seashell fragments.
I lifted my sunglasses, smiled and waved. They waved back, generous smiles spread across open faces.
I thought I’d read the tide tables right, but Nature keeps her own timetable, doesn’t she? The Island was mostly submerged, so the harbor seals hadn’t yet hauled themselves onto the rocks where they typically congregate.
The ocean heaved and frothed. Seaweed floated in swirling eddies. But while I sensed the seals’ presence, I didn’t see any bobbing heads.
In the sheltered cove, where the turquoise waters deposit their treasures, I found a pearly white seashell–exquisitely shaped, perfectly whole.
I wandered toward the group of children, seashell cradled in my palm; and when I reached the spot where the older boy knelt, I slowly opened my hand.
I saw in his face a kindred soul, someone for whom simple things oftentimes bring about the greatest joy.
I spread my fingers wide, and the seashell spiraled downward. It landed gently in the boy’s lap, as if it were meant to be there, all along.
“Thank you,” he said softly, in beautifully accented English.
You’re so welcome, I thought, but I let my heart do the talking.
It was a quick exchange, no fanfare or fancy wrappings, but it felt to me like a Christmas blessing.