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HOLDING BACK THE SEA
August 19, 2005
 
It's too far to the beach, Rosie said. It's at least twenty minutes.

Oh, please. That number had to be Rosie-esque hyperbole. But sure enough, we walked and walked and walked before we reached the water, much farther than we walked last time we were here. And I remembered, as we trudged, that the coastline changes shape, changes quickly. None of the maps we have are accurate; they're all out of date the minute they're printed.

The sea is the mighty sculptor of the land, erecting sand bars where there were none, throwing up tall dunes that march toward the surf like waves: waves of sand meeting waves of water. It carves deep notches into the beach between the great jetties of jagged black boulders that the Army Corps of Engineers has stretched out into the water, and blasts powerfully against the sea wall: it has stalked the lighthouse for 150 years. And one day, the Corps' best efforts notwithstanding, it will overtake it.

No island is permanent. They will sink into the sea, lost Atlantises all, hosting life they did not know when they were here under the sun. Fish will swim in and out of banks and stores, oysters will cling to the porch railings and windowsills, corals will grow in the parking lots.

And everything is really an island, is it not? The visible edge of something unseen, something much bigger than itself. The things -- even the people -- we encounter are just the smallest signifiers of who they really are, who they were. We know only a fraction of any of them, and that fraction is sinking into the sea of time before our eyes.

And still -- no sea is permanent, either. The Grand Canyon was a sea once. The fossils of tiny sea animals layered in its rock walls now see light they never knew in the short course of their underwater life. And the tumultuous beginnings and endings stretch back even further: what is now the base of the Canyon was once a mountain range that may have been as high as the Himalayas.

The moment of your life is short, and it will never come again. The place where you were will become a mountain and an island and then it will sink into the sea -- the place where everyone else was will do the same. Is this a sad thing? Is it sad not to see the whole story unfold? To be only a moment?

Oh, it is awesome, but it is not sad. It is a joy to be here at all, to be part of the endless movement of people and things, in and out of life in its different forms, running, birthing, dying, hydrating and composting. Holding back the sea.
Copyright © 2018 Barbara Crafton
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