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,
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