I spent the past weekend near the ocean in Wilmington, North Carolina. It’s a two-hour drive from our house, and we used to visit once or twice a year. It had been a few years since our last trip.
We hiked in Carolina Beach State Park for the first time and that was a lot of fun. We climbed massive live oaks (Quercus virginiana)! And that was even more fun! I grew up climbing trees and still do every chance I get. If I ever go missing, there’s a good chance you might find me sitting up in some tree branches.
We drove to Wrightsville Beach and walked out on Johnny Mercer’s Pier–a beloved local landmark. The sun finally came out so we walked on the beach. There were a lot of people out. Young kids splashing in the water with parents nearby. Teenage girls lying out on towels, shivering but trying their best not to show it, lest they look uncool. College-agers playing sand games and drinking beer. Large families laughing and talking, grandmas wrapped up in blankets. Surfers, fisherpeople. Lots going on.
I stooped down to look for seashells, one of my favorite beach pastimes. After I carefully chose and gathered about twenty-five to thirty of the prettiest shells that washed up near me, we made our way back to the parking lot–our meter time was about to expire.
I placed my treasured shells in a used coffee cup, and we went on our way to the next thing. Coffee and dessert, I’m sure.
I’ve written about collecting seashells and one of my all-time favorite books: Gift From the Sea. (You can find that post here.) In this classic meditation on women’s lives, Anne Morrow Lindberg muses about the real gifts that she takes home with her from her seaside vacation. It’s not the shells she has collected; she returns most of them to the sea before she leaves. Because, do we really need to collect and take more things home? No. She concludes, “It’s 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.” What I understand that to mean is the acceptance of all of life, in all of its cycles. Or, as they say, warts and all.
Back at the hotel, Chuck and I shared our first ever White Russian, compliments of the hotel bar. It was fairly strong, and we were glad to have only had half.
It was a mostly rainy weekend, but not a loss. We hiked, we dined, we made it home safely to four adorable kitties. And I got reminded of an important lesson after throwing away the “empty” disposable coffee cup that held my seaside souvenirs–my collected and treasured seashells. I had completely forgotten about them being in the cup, which got thrown away on our return trip home. Now, I remember why I quit amassing large amounts of shells while on vacation. I don’t have to take things from where I observe them. I can enjoy them while I am in their presence, and then simply leave them be. I didn’t beat myself up too bad, but I wish those shells were still on the shore, instead of in a Circle K Gas Station trashcan. But I accept my blunders, the rain, the sunshine, all the cycles of life–warts and all.
March 2019, Wilmington NC