I live in the desert but often think of the ocean; if not the ocean then I think of lakes, waterfalls, rivers, ponds, monsoons. I rejoice at the appearance of rain and the occasional snowfall. I know what I am missing – salt air, the sound of sea birds and waves and beach combing but not enough to go back. Going back now is in the memory of ocean days.
My husband and I were on vacation, those few hoarded days of summer that are gone nearly as soon as they begin. We are on Paines Creek Beach on the west side of Cape Cod, facing the Bay. We have heard or read that at low tide there is a sandbar out there, covered in giant clam shells and that you just have to wade out a few hundred yards and pick them up. Well, who doesn’t need giant clam shells? They make cute soap holders, receptacles for beach glass and smaller shells and decorative additions to the garden. In addition, we were curious about how big these clam shells really were.
The tide was out and we began wading to the sandbar we could see in the distance. The water was soupy-warm from the heat of the day and its shallow depth. As we pulled ourselves along the water depth varied from mid-calf to waist deep, depending on the troughs and berms of the ocean floor. It really didn’t matter how shallow or deep it was because soon we hit the floating sargassum of seaweed, slathering our legs, ribboning around us and surely hiding creatures who wanted to glide against our skin, take a bite and dart between our legs. Were there baby sharks with teething issues or even bigger sharks cruising under the green scum? Did we actually feel something touch our leg in passing? We thought about what our feet might step on – broken glass, rusted metal, sharp dead things.
I have always tried to persuade myself to not be afraid, to almost force the issue by walking into dark rooms, staying alone in old houses, picking up the phone in the same old houses and hearing whispers but not giving in to fear, whoever they were. We all have experienced that sensation of hair rising on our necks if we see a movement out of the corner of our eye when we are supposedly alone or hear a strange knocking sound at night. Our most basic defense mechanisms are our senses which tell us something is not right even when our minds aren’t paying attention. I did not like the feel of the seaweed and even more so not being able to see what might be underneath but I wanted those giant clam shells. Fear would not win.
My husband was only a few yards away from me. He is tall with enviably long legs. He began doing a most embarrassing but delightful thing to watch. He would lift one long leg at a time and leap from one opening in the seaweed to another clear spot where he would momentarily be free of its slimy swirl around his legs. He looked like a giant crane taking off in flight. He looked like Ichabod Crane at the seashore avoiding all those heads floating around on the bottom.
We made it to the sandbar, scooping up the giant clam shells only to drop them for even bigger ones just a few steps away. We then headed back, our hands now loaded with shells and my husband resumed his crane dance through the seaweed. I think his rationale for this behavior was based on simple physics: the more time he spent in the air, the less contact he would have with the green blob.
I could draw all kinds of allegorical conclusions here such as “it’s the journey that counts”, “keep your eyes on the prize” or “confront your fears to reach your goals” but I won’t sink to those depths. The only lesson to be learned here is how the crane dance is a good survival tactic when confronted with dangerous seaweed and that no matter how much you embarrass yourself and your wife, do what you have to do.