They’re happening all the time. We just need to notice them.
May 29, 2002
Whenever I think of the beach (and there have been several times sitting in front of this computer that I’ve thought about it) I always think of the sound of the waves first. Sure, I think about the white sand, the cries of the seagulls, the smell of the saltwater, the force of the wind, the warmth of the sun and the shrieks of the kids; but I always hear the soothing sound of the waves rolling onto the beach and sliding back out into the ocean, before I see it or feel it.
Recently I was back on the beach for four days. For the last year I’ve been regretting not bringing my tape recorder to record the surf the last time I was there. This time I went back armed to the teeth with the recorder, a stereo microphone, a mic stand, blank tapes and batteries.
One night I went out to the beach to record. The only light was from the endless row of condo units lining the beach, standing 15 stories tall. The stars were out and the orange glow of the tiny oilrigs miles out in the ocean lined the horizon. There were kids combing the beach with flashlights and nets on long poles. They were in their bare feet hunting for sand crabs. Their parents walked alongside of them with buckets, probably hoping that the safari in the sand would be the kids’ last adventure of the day.
There were miles of beach where I could have set up my gear and the recording quality would have been superb anywhere. The problem was with the kids. Kids are loud. No matter how loud the ocean is, kids can still be louder, especially when they’re quick enough on their feet to nab a sand crab. Every time I got away from a herd of kids, they would make their way back to me. I’d gather up my rig, move down the beach out of earshot and start recording all over again. This happened a few times.
I was getting irritated with the situation. I had already recorded an hour and a half of the beach from the fifth floor of the condo. It had all the sounds of the beach, including the kids and their noises. I wanted this recording to be nothing but the beach.
I finally stumbled onto a sweet spot. I could still see the kids attacking the night with their flashlights, but the only thing I could hear was the ocean.
I sat for a long time with my tape recorder rolling. I was already recording on the second side of the 90-minute tape when I became acutely aware of the moments before me. I forgot about the children with their flashlights, the condos which loomed behind me, the work that was awaiting me back home, my wife watching television on a couch five stories up and time itself. There was only me, the sand, the ocean, the wind and the stars. I was engrossed with the experience of simply being.
Then this heron swooped down and landed in front of me, no more than 30 feet or so away. I guess I had been there long enough that I had become part of the scenery. I barely moved my head as I watched its movements. It stood erect in the sand as the water rolled around its long, thin legs. Sometimes it would stand on one leg, jab its beak into the water, straighten out its neck and swallow its dinner. At times, its neck was as smooth as a hook and at others it was as rigid as a pipe, examining the life under the water. It checked me out a few times, but it wasn’t alarmed, and it went about its business.
I have no idea how long I sat there watching that bird. It felt like an eternity. I thought the way it moved was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I felt as if I was part of something larger, something I can never really explain.
In the distance, a kid with a flashlight and a net ran down the beach toward me. The heron looked at me with its beady eye and back at the charging kid before it took off, beating its large wings, into the darkness over the water.
I snapped back into reality. I didn’t have the full hour and a half of recording I had planned on making, but I had experienced more than I had expected.
There’s not much to this story. It might even be so simple that it’s ridiculous. That’s fine by me. Something very simple happened to me and that’s the story. Nothing more.
It happens to every single one of us each and every moment of our lives. It happens while we’re waiting in traffic at the red light, while we’re getting the kids ready for bed, while we’re changing the oil in the car and while we try to get a flawless recording of the ocean. Whether or not we choose to acknowledge it is an entirely different story.