Foreword by Maggie Barrett

We come over a hill or round a bend and there it is, that great pulsing, glinting creature, and we can't wait to be out of our cars, out of our shoes, out of our worries.

To be at the Water's Edge is to be forever young. We stand on the edge, yet we are safe. In front of us is infinity immortality. Our backs are turned to civilization, to our jobs, to responsibilities. All is behind us. Ahead lies the wide?open expanse of the future. And so we stand at the Water's Edge and look to that other edge, the horizon, and it becomes ours, broadening our vision at the same time that it shrinks us physically. We are tiny yet everything is possible. And with each wave lapping at our toes, we are filled and emptied. We are children again. It is perhaps the only place we can be what we are and what we were and what we might be.

In the morning the sun rose over there, waking the surface of the sea to another day, perhaps creating a slight blush on the horizon, as though we had caught it unawares. It could be the beginning of all time. The water pale, still, safe. Yesterday's footprints erased by the night tide. By lunchtime some clouds, and the water a dark blue now. Perhaps it will rain, but we don't mind. What difference a little more water? What would bother us anywhere else leaves us alone here. Besides, we have something to prove. We are on the edge, and we are fearless.

In the afternoon the sun is scorching, the water dancing in a diamond?studded sapphire gown. Children run back and forth, daring and squealing. We get up every few minutes to test the water, and it tests us. Will we go in, brave the first chill? Will we go farther in at the same time that we are going farther out? Or will we just stand at the edge and dream?

Perhaps it is this that makes the water's edge so compelling; where else can one be at the edge yet safe? The very word "edge" implies danger: the razor's edge, going over the edge, the edge of insanity. But here we are at the edge of infinity. We can see forever, yet we won't fall. We can play with it, but we won't get hurt. Here we need only the courage to dream.

If we are fortunate enough to spend a week or a summer or a lifetime at the water's edge, we will be constantly amazed; it will not fail us. It will bring its gifts to our feet every moment that we care to be there. Today, after a night of wind and rain, the edge is not where it was yesterday. The sea has carved a ragged line closer to us, and we realize it is possible to be swallowed up by that edge. It could have taken us in our sleep, whitecaps racing through the night like stallions. But we have survived. Instead, the water has placed at our feet strange belongings stolen from others, like gifts from Neptune. The rubber thong, a whiskey bottle, a child's shovel, a punctured beach ball, a lobster buoy, and a piece of wood that has drifted for how long, visited how many other shores on its way to ours? We may get lucky and be served a shard of fine china or a hoard of turquoise glass. And we will imagine the stories that belong to the owners of these objects, and in our minds they will live on the other side, over there beyond the horizon. Tomorrow, after two more tides, all will be removed. A reminder of how fleeting our lives are, how quickly time is washed away. And we will tell ourselves to remember this, to value every moment: that although the water's edge will be here tomorrow, it will never be the same again. If we are wise, we will take this knowledge with us and apply it to those we love, this sense that what is familiar can also be discovered anew each day.

In the meantime we are living on the edge. The edge we think we can define: here the water, there the land. From a distance it is so simple to see where one starts and the other ends. But up close we see only a frilly edge of lacy bubbles that disappears before our eyes. Now the edge is here, now there. It is the edge but not the edge. We behold t but cannot capture it. It is unfathomable. And because it plays with us, we play with it children and grown?ups alike. Where else do you see a seventy?yearold, his trousers rolled, or her skirts bundled around her thighs, standing ankle deep, kicking salt spray into the air and giggling?

By midafternoon the sun is so hot we return to our rooms for a nap. Even with our eyes closed we can hear the gentle slap or surfbreaking pound of water on sand. We drift off on the edge of sound, a lullaby An hour later, bodies lazy with heat and dreamy with sleep, we sit up, look out the window, and there it is, twinkling like jewels through a lace curtain. Or perhaps we forgot to pull the shade, and sky and sea are huge before our eyes, so that for a minute our little room becomes a ship and we, the mighty captains. We go outside, stand on the deck, and savor the slight remove. And all the while that great body sways and sashays, saying, "Look at me. I am the same, yet different." We mirror ourselves in it and dare to reinvent our lives.

Perhaps the tide slipped out while we were sleeping, leaving behind sandbars, beached boats, and sea wrack. We feel abandoned, impelled to walk out to where the water's edge has taken up its low?tide residence. Now we are even farther from civilization. Now we stand where this morning we swam or boated. Now the water's edge is a solitary experience. We turn and see tiny figures on the beach, the town.

An impressionistic line across an abstract canvas of sea and sky. A flock of gulls carpets an adjoining spit of sand. We think we'll keep them company, but they leave the minute we arrive, and now we are on a deserted island and maybe we'll stay forever. But the tide is coming in. Eating away at the edge of our property we are evicted. On the way back we stop to inspect tidal pools, where hermit crabs and starfish play at our feet like creatures from a nursery rhyme.

We've been out to sea too long: time for an ice cream cone!

Donning sandals and shirts for our return to civilization, we wander down the street. The sea follows us, lacing in and out between houses and shops like hasty embroidery. How we envy the people in those houses, now that the sea is not quite ours. Now they are at the water's edge, and we assign to them all the luck and privilege that was ours just a moment ago.

Suddenly the air is perfumed with roses and honeysuckle mingling with brine. In another few blocks fried clams and salt?water taffy will tickle our senses. Summer bodies, careless and carefree, fill the street. No suits here, no briefcases, no hurrying. We take our cones to a shady bench outside town hall and watch as people come and go like the tide. And all the while the Water's Edge is over there, just behind that row of cafes and shops, and. we can be there in a few steps, no rush.

We've been away too long. Just an hour ago we were content to stand and stare at the sea; now we want that T?shirt and that mug and a piece of silver jewelry and our portraits in pastel and how about this trinket for Aunt Julie? And just when anxiety is about to consume us, we catch sight of the water, a turquoise tease between two buildings, and it is as thrilling and alluring as the very first time. Quick, let's go!

Spending summers by the sea, we learn to live our lives by the tide instead of by the clock. Days drip one upon another. We live in swimsuits and the same old pair of shorts. Instead of purchasing rare antiques, we decorate our tables and ledges with beach treasures and live well in sparsley furnished cottages, rich in spirit and happy to have no distractions but the sea outside the window; and each time we look out to sea, we rest a little deeper, grow a little stronger, sleep a little more soundly. We cannot imagine life any other way, make promises to live this simply when we return to the city, wonder how we will ever survive without the sound of water caressing the sand, the wail of the gulls, or the foghorn in the night.

For those of us born to the sea or lucky enough to spend our lives by it, we covet the seasons when we are left alone with it. When the last tourist leaves, and the herons arrive, we will go down to the water's edge, pay our respects, and pray to weather another winter We will be up at the fiery dawn to walk the beach, to hear the ghosts of summer as we walk briskly in down coats, like prehistoric birds. And we will watch throughout the day as puddles of light pour through winter's clouds, placing silver stepping? Stones upon the ocean's cold body. We will watch as rains pelt its surface, hammering a million momentary dimples into its heaving skin. And deep in winter, we will be awakened in the night by the visitation of snow. We will stare in awe as it blankets the beach, like one virgin atop another Perhaps the harbor will freeze over and we will suffer the illusion that we can walk on water And when we cannot bear another day of howling wind that keeps us indoors, the sun will emerge one morning and stay for a few hours, the sky so blue, the sea so calm, that we will think spring has come early, and we will race out of our homes and down to the water.

Whether we have only a day or a lifetime, we won't leave the water's edge until the sun has set. We stay as the tide returns and the air grows damp. And as the sun begins its slide into the sea, we huddle close on a blanket. In pairs or groups, in families or as solitary figures, we dot the water's edge with our humanity, sharing the moment, with our hopes and dreams, humbled before the ritual. We feel the connection now to each other and to the universe, the gladness that in this harried, often disturbing world, there are still people who care to come pay homage to one planet bowing to another. We might even applaud. And we will be comforted knowing that people still do this, still stand at the water's edge and give thanks.

© 2003-2006 Joel Meyerowitz Photography, LLC. All rights reserved.