I first saw the ocean when I was 13 years old. It was summer on the Outer Banks in Corolla, North Carolina. I ran down the boardwalk and over the dunes, nearly desperate in my excitement to finally see the beach for myself. I had imagined the waves would be cerulean, aqua, azure, even.
Instead, the water that rolled in was a muddy, chocolate brown. Oh, those first, tumbling, glorious waves. Their color did not diminish my wonder in the least. It increased it. The ocean roared before me, vast and wild, and I felt knowledge swelling suddenly within me. There was an entire world out there that I knew nothing about.
Since that day, the beach has been a part of my soul. I go as often as I can. I miss it when I am not there. I think of it in times of sorrow, and the endlessness expressed in the waves soothes me. I think of the beach in winter, when the ice seems to crystallize deep inside my bones. The thought of the sand and the sun warms the chill from my skin.
There is an ocean inside of me. I can close my eyes and I am there.
Yet memories are pictures in our minds that can fade with time. They change, mixing with our imagination until the truth of a place is lost within us.
Words on paper do not change. If I write what I see, that place and that time become cast in ink, frozen, like a photograph. Those words can be read over and over, and the meaning they hold will be the truth of that place, as it was in that time and will never be again.
Through my words, I can render reproductions of the places I have been. Reading them later, I can return to that place. Let me show you. Here’s something I wrote in a notebook a couple of years ago.
July 30,2013: Playa Zancudo, Costa Rica
This morning I walk down Playa Zancudo for the last time this year. The only other person in sight is a tiny inch of color in the distance, walking away from me. The tide is coming in, and with each step the emerald waves claim more of the beach. I have decided they sound like a great sigh, a long, slow, deep exhale made by the ocean itself.
The black and grey volcanic sand is still cool under my feet from last night’s storm. The clouds hang low, shrouding the mountains in the distance, the hour still too early for them to rise and lift into the sky. A cooling wind blows steadily against me. Brown pelicans and vultures patrol overhead.
Sea foam edges the waves as they roll forward and flatten out, pulling back under the next wave that follows them. The sea foam makes a sound of its own, the effervescent popping of a million tiny bubbles of air. The air is rich with smells: salt, seaweed, damp sand and earth.
I collect all of these things, placing them inside of me, putting them down here on this page. Someday I will read these words and they will bring me back again. I stand for a moment and carve the beauty of this beach into my memory, hoping I can carry it with me always.
Across the Golfo Dulce, the ghost of the Osa Peninsula shimmers faintly behind a thick curtain of fog. The water washes over my feet, gentle and warm, calling me back. But I must walk forward. I must turn and leave this beach behind me, move on to whatever adventure awaits me beyond this shore.
I read those words now and I can picture in my mind every small, unique detail of that day. The beach is more true in my memory, refreshed by the things I managed to put down on paper.Try it yourself sometime. When a place takes your breath away, write it down. Let your words hold places inside of them.
I feel the ocean calling me. Summer pulls at the sudden end of spring, and time pushes me closer to the beach.
This year, I will be exploring some new beaches I have never been to. I will be seeking out new places, and seeing things I have never seen before. I can almost feel the sun on my skin now, almost taste the salt in the air. If you’d like to hear more about my upcoming journey, be sure to follow me in LOCUS: A journey in search of PLACE.
Feel free to put some of your own places into words in the comments! What place speaks to you?
Feel like hitting the beach?
This post has photography from two very different beaches, Playa Zancudo, Costa Rica, and Kill Devil Hills, NC on the Outer Banks. Both are fantastic destinations. If I’ve put you in the mood for heading to the beach yourself, check them out in the resources below!
A remote stretch of black sand at what seems like the end of the earth, but is really only about a bumpy 7 hour trek from San Jose, Costa Rica. (Or if you’re braver than I am, you can take one of those little planes to Golfito and make your way to Zancudo from there.) If you feel like truly embracing Pura Vida, or the Pure Life, this is the place.
-While you’re in the area, you *must* visit Osa Wildlife Sanctuary. You can book your boat tour to get there with Zancudo Boat Tours. Can’t make it? Click here to donate to the wildlife sanctuary from wherever you are. They do great work for the wildlife of Costa Rica!
– Stay at Casita Las Palmas on the beach, one of my favorite places in the world!
The Outer Banks
A 200 mile long string of peninsulas and barrier islands off of North Carolina and extending north into Virginia. Each beach is a little different than the other.
-To start planning your trip, click here.
-Don’t miss your chance to see the wild horses while you’re there!