The Sands of Time

Every year around this time I start to go through beach withdrawal. For the last few years since I moved away from the coast, I have gone to one beach or another every February. After a long winter, I stumble onto the sand and I feel like I am coming home. This year,  I will be here in the mountains, which hold their own beauty every month of the year. Still, the beach shimmers on the distant horizon of my future, moving away from me like the tide going out again.

I have been thinking lately of all the beaches I have loved. Some of them I will probably never return to. For so many years I thought I was looking for a beach I could keep forever. I longed to find a place I could return to year after year, coming to know the world better through that place.  To read more about this, check outThe Ocean Inside of Me Walking down Playa Ballena in Costa Rica, on the tail end of visiting 11 different beaches in that area, the ocean taught me something.

Every beach is different from one moment to the next. You can never walk the same beach twice. It is always changing, the very Earth moving beneath the waves. Life,like sand, doesn’t stand still. It doesn’t stay in one place. Time pushes us forward. The Earth and the oceans move, and life rises and falls against them. We must move forward. We must see many places in life, and use our time to explore the world around us. This lesson seems important for to me remember now, as my life changes daily, becoming something new.

Today, I offer you a humble beach that will always hold a special place in my heart, and a piece of my life that happened there.

When I was 22 years old, I fell asleep drunk in the middle of the afternoon on Waveland Beach, along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. It is a small strip of sand between the Gulf of Mexico and the pavement of Highway 90 as it hugs the coast. Before Hurricane Katrina, graceful historical estates sat on the other side of that road. On this day, they had already been torn down and their foundations lay in a rubble that was the only evidence that anything had ever happened there. The Live Oaks stood triumphant, and the land beyond looked like a strange, deserted forest of twisting branches.

I woke up with what would be diagnosed as a 2nd degree sunburn over the entire back of my body. I drove home to my townhouse in Slidell, Louisiana on the Northshore of Lake Pontchartrain. I was sandy and sore but laughing. The smell of the beach was still on my skin, and the beauty of that day was like a sun setting inside of me. Later, I would ask my friends to leave so I could crawl on my knees to the bathroom, no longer able to bend them. There were weeks of pain that followed; lying prone in sun sickness on that couch in Louisiana all those years ago when the world still seemed new after Katrina.

Now, the fire of those days is written in lines on my face. I know now that I was in the early stages of pregnancy, and that was the last of my drunken days on the beach in that place. My existence teetered there on the precipice of change, and my old life began to ignite and burn away.

I remember the agony, but I also remember how my friend and I were at one with Waveland Beach that day. We looked past the men leering from the road 200 yards away and the trash and what was left of the houses that had been torn down in the storm. We saw how beautiful it really was. We saw the Gulf large and flat against a vibrant Mississippi sky. We heard it calling out to us. Like memories sometimes do, this one balances on the sharp edge between beauty and pain.

I have walked that beach many times in my life. Humble though it may be, I have felt the Gulf calling out to me there. I have laid in the sand, and felt myself sinking into the world around me. I have loved that place on many days, and I love it still from afar. I don’t know when or if I will ever back there again. My memories wear away, time like sand rubbing the finer details out of them, smoothing out some parts and erasing others.

Here, on the page, that place lives, frozen in the time it was written down. Let me show you. Here is something I wrote on Waveland Beach many years ago. Observe how the words have galvanized something true about that place and that time; how they have captured something pure about the person I was when I wrote it.

LATITUDE

Somewhere a girl is lying on a beach, her skin warmed by the sun, like a benevolent god above her. The wind runs its fingers through her hair. The tide inches closer into shore. Soon its waves will lap at her legs like gentle persuasion, pulling her deeper into this moment of repose.  Two brown pelicans alight from their wooden posts and glide over the surface of the water. Her heart soars with them.

She closes her eyes, listening.  She feels herself rise with the roar of waves rolling forward, and gets carried away with the gentle whoosh that accompanies the receding pull. Back and forth she rides, until the heat on her eyelids make them snap open and here she is, now, lying very still in the sand. If she was to try and stand at this moment, her legs might sway beneath her.

She imagines the fish swimming between the sandbars; the whole beating, pulsating throb of life that waits just below the surface of the water. Her mind plunges into the depths, dives to the bottom, and comes up for air.  She lays her head back, and her field of vision becomes double exposure; transforms into an inverted perception of sand and sky. She imagines herself planted there, suspended above a blue expanse and held in place by the root of the tide.

She is the salt in the air, the song carried on the cool breeze. She is one with the earth and the sea, perfect because there is nowhere she would rather be.

The sun rises over sand and water on Waveland Beach MS

Photo courtesy of Paul Murphy

Mississippi Bound

If you feel like beating your own winter blues with a road trip, you might check out some of my old haunts along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. You can drive the whole thing in a couple of hours, visiting several beaches along the way.  The coast is dotted with small, quaint communities that each has its own distinctive charm, and the area abounds in outdoor recreation like boating and crabbing. If you’re not into that kind of thing, there’s plenty of good food, gambling and booze, and New Orleans is less than an hour to the West.

Do you have a beach that’s close to your heart? Tell me about it in the comments!

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Exploring Playa Ballena Costa Rica

The waves of the Pacific Ocean lap at the last of the sand of Playa Ballena at high tide, many grey stones in the foreground and a hint of the jungle to the far right of the frame.

Photograph by Kerri Nicole Casey

I have traveled over 3,000 miles to the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica. I have come here seeking what the wonderful people of this country (Ticos and Ticas) call Pura Vida. The Pure Life. The simple pleasures of beautiful beaches, pristine rainforest, abundant wildlife, fresh food, and uninterrupted time with my family. The warm sun and the cooling rain. Green mountains that tumble to the very edge of the ocean. As always, I am finding more in this place than I came looking for. Keep reading for travel resources to the pristine Playa Ballena. Continue reading

Make the Most Out of Summer in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Summer glows green against the Blue Ridge mountains, that bloom in the foreground with Catawba Rhododendron.

Photograph by Brian Scott Casey

Spring has officially ended here in Western North Carolina. The leaves have taken on the deep, jewel green that I so love at this time of year. I feel the world warming around me. I soak in the sun, drinking summer as it seeps and simmers slowly to life. There is only one thing to do about it: Get out into nature. Revel in the glorious riches this time of year has to offer. Keep reading for some great resources to help you make the most out of summer here in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Pink and white Mountain Laurel blossoms bloom like tiny parasols across the green face of the Blue Ridge mountains, heralding the coming of summer.

Photograph by Brian Scott Casey

The last of the Mountain Laurel blossoms have turned brown and withered away. For weeks, their tiny pink and white flowers have bloomed like parasols across the green face of the mountains. “Rejoice!” they seem to say to us, “Summer is on its way!” The Catawba Rhododendron takes up where the Laurel left off, heralding the start of this glorious season.

Take a Drive Down the Blue Ridge Parkway

A red sports car drives through Craggy Pinnacle tunnel along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Photograph by Brian Scott Casey

There is no better way to take advantage of summer here in the mountains than a drive down the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway. Go hiking, swim at a waterfall, stop at a campground and sleep under the stars. Stand and marvel at the utter majesty of this amazing place in the world.

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The Ocean Inside of Me

Evening falls in colors over the beach in Kill Devil Hills, NC.

Photograph by Brian Scott Casey

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.

A day comes to a close on the Outer Banks, sea gulls sitting on the sand as waves roll in.

Photograph by Brian Scott Casey

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. Continue reading

Cherokee Storytelling Bonfire

In Cherokee,NC a friendship dance is performed by firelight at the Cherokee Storytelling Bonfire.

Photograph by Brian Scott Casey

Come Listen To The Cherokee Tell Their Stories

Take a trip to the Qualla Boundary in Western North Carolina to check out the Cherokee Storytelling Bonfire as it starts back up again for the year! The first bonfire of the season will be this Friday, May 22nd at the Ocanaluftee Islands Park. This is a unique and memorable opportunity to gather fireside and listen to the Cherokee tell you their stories in their own words. Come on out and enjoy a fun and informative evening  learning about this ancient culture!

Some of you may have read about the bonfire on my blog last year. For more details, beautiful photos, and great cultural resources, click to read my post from last year here. The times and dates have changed this year, so be sure to read on for the new schedule. Continue reading

Autumn Falls Across the Mountains

Autumn colors burst forth, scarlet blooming from green against a blue sky on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Western North Carolina.

Photograph by Brian Scott Casey

Autumn falls across the Blue Ridge mountains in a blaze of glory, a fiery riot of color announcing the arrival of the dying of the leaves. It is beautiful beyond all telling, but it is a beautiful death. It is the year closing in on itself.

Here in the mountains Fall means one thing: Leaf Season. Soon all the mountains will be patch-worked with color. The higher elevations have already erupted into shades of red, orange and yellow.

Yellow leaves set against a blue sky in Western North Carolina in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Photograph by Brian Scott Casey

There is still plenty of green holding strong, guaranteeing many more weeks of prime leaf watching to look forward to this year.

Winter looms on the horizon of Fall, when the leaves will all be gone and the world will look naked against the hard blue sky. The trees will stand gray and sad in the chill of the season, and green will be but a dream far off and waiting in a distant spring.

Now’s your chance! Keep reading for tips on how to plan a trip of your own to see Autumn fall across the mountains.

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Help keep the Cherokee Storytelling Bonfire alive!

This photo shows Sonny Ledford at the Cherokee Storytelling Bonfire in Cherokee, NC on the Qualla Boundary.  It originally appeared in the Mountain Xpress, and is courtesy of Kristy Herron, a representative of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation.

Photograph courtesy of Kristy Herron.

As we gather around the fire, the sound of the Oconaluftee River warbles in the breeze.

Dressed in traditional Cherokee garb, a statuesque man gestures expansively at the park that surrounds us.

“You are in our church,” he says. “It is all around us. As long as we have grass, water, sky.”

His eyes fill with a reverence for this place that rises to the peaks of the mountains and plunges to the depths of the valleys, encompassing everything.

Sonny Ledford, a member of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee nation stares into the distance, reverence for the land evident in his expression.  He participates in the Cherokee Storytelling Bonfire on the Qualla boundary, is a member of the Warriors of Ani Kituwah traditional dance group, and is an ambassador for the Cherokee people.

Photograph by Brian Scott Casey

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