S a l t y
W o r d s
A beachcomber discovers real treasure, and the beauty of loving and letting go
By Beth Browne
Photographs courtesy of Beth Browne
It must be some instinct from our
hunter/gatherer ancestors, but like many people, I love beachcombing. Anchored at Cape Lookout, I wade ashore from our little sailboat to a very long and completely undisturbed stretch of beach. I hadn’t planned to comb the beach, just to get out and stretch my legs after several days of sailing. But right away, a dark cube catches my eye.
I am determined not to take anything back to the boat, no matter how small, because we don’t have room for it. Besides, I have a house full of stuff, including many more seashells than I have space to display. But, lying there among the clamshells, scallops and broken conchs, is this funny little black cube. It’s full of holes, like a mesh. With my not-so-great vision, it looks like a piece of a crab pot, mangled into a half-inch cube. It sits in my hand, full of possibilities. What could this little trap hold? What would it let go? It might let the water flow in and out and transform into something new. I want the little cube to be part of my life. I want to keep it, hold it, and think about what it means. I know I have to let go of it, but I don’t have to let go right away, so I curl my hand around it, lift my gaze to the lighthouse and the dunes, and keep walking on the warm soft sand.
The Art & Soul of Wilmington
I make it another few steps before a shell catches my eye. It has a question mark on it. It winks at me with its questions: What are you doing here? Why are you holding that dark little cube in your hand? What will you do with your life, now half over? I want this shell too. I need it to help me find the right questions, so that I can begin to investigate the possible answers. Unlike the cube, this shell is smooth, curved and fits in my palm with comforting warmth. I press the question mark into my palm and walk on. I can hold them both as long as I keep walking. I will let go of them when I feel ready and I will be ready, before I go back to the boat. Walking in the bright sunshine makes me feel hot, so I go down to splash in the water. The tide is going out, and the high tide line has a four-foot swath of shells. Right away, I find a silky gray gull feather tipped with velvet black. The gulls have already grown their winter plumage even though it is still summer. They have lost their dress whites and jaunty black caps in favor of a mottled gray/brown. But my feather isn’t motley, just a sleek, rich gray. Not a shell, but a feather, dropped by a bird who knows this beach better than anybody. Gulls are fearless, valiant, persistent and adaptable, a symbol of the beach. I want that in my life too, so I pick up the feather. The three items are getting to be a burden in my hand. I know I will have to let them go. Our little boat is anchored stern-to just off the beach, a position I dreamed about even before we got the boat. Eric comes out on deck and I call to him. When he looks up, I release my treasures to the sand to give him a twoarm happy wave. I know that he is my real treasure. Eric joins me for a walk to the point and I tell him about my new shell June 2016 •