The ocean is a marvelous place. It is literally a place of marvels. People travel from deep in the interior sections of a continent just to spend a few days in its proximity. As they near it, their hearts – if not their voices – resonate with that of William Clark who cried at his first sight of the Pacific, “Ocean in view! O! The joy!” We are willing to spend a massive premium for the privilege of an ocean vista, disregarding the dangers it poses.
It only takes a few minutes at the beach to realize that there is more to it than sand and water. Peter Kreeft, prolific author and professor of philosophy at Boston College, has caught this vision. He says that by God’s design, “the ocean is a perfect toy: always there, always willing to play with you, just dangerous enough to be exciting, never needing replacement, unbreakable, never boring, and you don’t even have to put it away when you’re finished playing with it. Watch how little kids treat it; they know what it’s for.”
Indeed, no one seems to appreciate the beach like a child. The little girl has no need of a “beach book” or a radio to pass the time. Her younger brother isn’t concerned with making a fashion statement or getting the perfect tan. The sand, shells, waves, sun, and breeze all provide more than enough distraction for the most innocent among us. And if they have the proper tools, who knows what imaginative creations they may construct in the sand?
My preferred portion of coastline on the Vineyard, in spite of its often overbearing crowds, is South Beach. The power of the surf there is humbling, more than once leaving me tumbling in its foamy aftermath. The shoreline goes on almost to the vanishing point in either direction. One can stroll its shifting sands in peace for hours. (In the absence of the breach, a stroll to Chappy is even a possibility, if a stretch physically.)
You never know what wonder you will encounter along that stretch of shoreline. There is a seemingly endless variety of birds to watch – some skittering in the shallow surf, some repeatedly diving headlong into the waves foraging for a meal. While lacking an abundance of shells, there are yet some prizes to be found for the diligent. Patience and a keen eye may also reward you with a rare seal or dolphin sighting.
Those who lug their laptops, cell phones and iPods to the beach will have their reward, I suppose. I prefer to follow the lead of the little ones. When it comes to the ocean, they know the magic it holds better than I do.