Taking note: Days at the beach
The gentle crash of the ocean waves seems to hardly stir the sands of the shoreline, which extends dozens of miles in either direction without a single building to be seen.
The wet sand glimmers, darkened by the tides, while the dry portion of the beach is almost bleached white by the sun rays.
The salt-laced winds carry the calls and cries of shoreline birds.
These scenes are always what comes to mind when I envision camping for two weeks on a 60-mile stretch of national seashore with my parents so many years ago.
These scenes serve as a backdrop to memories of days and nights exploring the beach, sleeping in my little tent, dipping my toes in the ocean, beachcombing, and riding bikes down the wet, firm sand when the tides were just right.
But still, those aren’t even my favorite moments of the experience.
My favorite moments were helping my dad create sand sculptures of otters and other little creatures.
My favorite moments were helping my dad create a miniature log-cabin style house made with twigs and sticks scavenged from the beach, complete with an arched roof, windows, a fenced-in front yard, and a path created by rock and seashell pavers.
My favorite moments involved creating many other little structures and monuments of rock, sand, and twigs with my dad on that beach.
However, these structures would all disappear after high winds created a powerful storm of fine white sand.
The wall of wind and sand effortlessly crept in through closed car doors, erased the creations outside, and buried a pair of shoes so deep that they would never be found.
Those hours of sand and wind seemed endless to me as a kid in a van.
I grieved the inevitable loss of the little beach homes and sculptures, along with the day’s lost beach enjoyment opportunities.
But as always, my dad had an idea that would create another one of my favorite moments: creating a newspaper.
He helped me take plain white sheets of paper and divide them into various boxes and columns. We set up little spots for illustrations and made sure there would be enough room for the headlines and the stories.
We brainstormed article ideas, toying with headlines such as “Sand storm strikes” or “Whooping Crane spotted.”
We discussed how I could report my worries about potential jellyfish encounters, or describe the joys of riding bikes and exploring little tide pools by the shoreline.
This experience brightened that stormy, sandy day on the beach immensely, and creating this little newspaper with my dad changed the way I looked at the whole sand storm situation.
I found meaning, joy, and humor in creating it with my dad and chronicling our experiences while we were cooped up in the storm.
Through this little project, he gave me a new way of looking at my experiences and my world, as he has so often throughout my life.
I’ve always cherished that he’s so able to find opportunities for creativity, humor, and joy in the most unexpected places and times.
He can take something simple or even unpleasant — such as a sandstorm — and make it into a thing of beauty and joy.
His approach to life and the many intangible gifts he’s given me over the years have shaped me and challenged me to see beyond the surface of experiences and perceptions.
From counting boats on road trips and building tiny dams and rivers in the gravel after the spring snowmelt, to creating countless art projects together and finding all of the natural world’s little oddities through the lens of a camera, my dad has helped me find the bright spots within everything throughout my life.
And although the little sculptures we made on that beach so many years ago have long been swept away, that little newspaper remains, serving as a memento of all the intangible gifts my dad gave me at that moment, on that vacation, and throughout my life.