Opening Up/ Warming up to a bird's-eye view
I am wearing shorts and a T- shirt and walking on a beach in Florida. No hat, no scarf, no mittens, boots or parka. Freedom! I can't quite believe the sensations of warm sun on my face, the breeze at my back, the pull of the soft sand in my calves.
Just yesterday, I was surrounded by mounds of snow that I couldn't see over, walking along a road so narrowed by dirty fringes of ice that if cars were coming from both directions I'd have to fling myself into a snow bank to let them pass. Wearing my heavy boots with the Yak Trax on them, I picked my way through the rough and smooth ice patches, alert, determined to remain upright.
Now I wonder: Do I want to walk in the dry sand up higher on the beach or in the softer, cool, wet sand at the water's edge, feeling the water as it curls around my ankles? (I choose the latter.) Instead of the rumbling of cars and trucks I hear only the soft slosh of the ocean waves sliding along the sandy beach and the cries of gulls. There's nothing here I need to watch out for. For the first time in a month, walking is not a life-threatening or possibly limb-shattering experience.
I try for some speed. After all, this is My Walk, right? I do this for fitness, and I'm determined to make the most of it. My calves are letting me know that I won't be able to maintain the usual home pace, excluding when I'm picking through ice and snow -- I just can't -- but I force myself to move with some forward strength, pushing hard into the sand.
Since I have no idea about distance on this wide-open, nearly empty beach, I check my watch in order to calculate a half-hour walk. Fifteen minutes out and 15 back, I figure. That should do it. Soon my legs are really feeling the pull of the squishing, wet sand, and I am breathing pretty heavily. I glance at my watch. What? Only 10 minutes? I've been walking for only 10 minutes? Feels like a lot more. I toss my head at the blue sky, catching a glimpse of clouds scudding in the wind and press on. I am going to do this! But, OK, perhaps I'll go a bit slower.
Just above the water's edge, the receding tide has left a wavy line of brown seaweed, and mixed in the weed, dying jellyfish -- man of war, I think. Those blue, almost iridescent, orbs lie in the seaweed like tiny deflated balloons. Marooned by the tide, they are doomed to be fried by the sun. It's over for them, hundreds of them along this shoreline. I wonder if I stepped on one, barefooted as I am, if it would have any juice left with which to sting me. I doubt it.
Ahead of me, I see lines of seagulls standing in the sand at the water's edge. There must be hundreds of them just standing there, ocasionally jostling each other but not much. They are facing me, their bills straight into the wind. Some are ordinary gulls, the kind we see in Connecticut, and some are different, smaller, with long, bright orange bills and tufts of black, fluffy hair at the back of their otherwise smooth heads, looking a bit like toupees that have slipped backward. The black tufts ruffle in the breeze.
I stop for a moment wondering what it is that the gulls are doing Why are they are just standing there, doing nothing? Are they resting? From what? For what? I stop, too. And, stopping, I notice four tiny sandpipers working their way through the indifferent gulls, speeding towards the wet sand left by each receding wave in order to stab deep for food and then, their skinny, red legs a blur, whizzing back up the slight bank as the waves return.
I plunk myself down in the sand just above the lines of gulls to watch. So much for fitness walking, I think. I'm in Florida, for God's sake! The sun is glorious, the beach is beautiful and look at these birds. They aren't going anywhere, they aren't worried about it; they are resting, relaxed, easy, gathered comfortably together. What's my problem? Am I so grooved to this pounding, habitual, walking thing that I can't break through it and just sit here? Can I allow myself to stop, to simply enjoy the moment when there is something lovely to watch, something wonderful to contemplate?
I sit, and I watch. My bottom is getting wet, and I don't care. The sun is hot on my face now, and I don't care. I am relaxed into the warm sand, saturated with gratitude for being here on this beach right now, right in this moment, with these gulls and these busy little sandpipers.
Cecily Stoddard Stranahan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.