Wednesday, March 5, 2008

A Day at the Beach

Wyatt is chasing seagulls. A moment ago the birds stood with beaks into the west wind, their backs to the dog. It only takes one of them to spot the blur of black and brown and white, racing up from the waters edge. They begin to run, too, into the wind and away from the dog. Wings open and they take flight. Wyatt slows to a trot, looks over his shoulder at us. “Good boy!” we both yell. He accepts our praise and lowers his nose to a lump of seaweed left behind by the falling tide.

Byron and I walk along the waters edge, in no hurry to go anywhere. We are alone here on this cold, sunny March day. This is a winter beach; empty, open, full of quiet possibility. We pause and look out to sea. A lone fishing trawler, maybe three miles out, booms spread wide on either side, nets dangling beneath the surface gathering whatever swims unseen below.

The wind is at our backs, cold and steady. The ocean is almost flat. Byron says it first - “This would be a great sailing day” – although I am thinking it was well. Perhaps that is the habit of sailors, strolling along a beach when their boats are high and dry. Judging the day by whether or not we’d rather be sailing.

He leans in and whispers in my ear “Soon, we’ll be out there, sailing up the coast together”. I close my eyes and feel the rise and fall of his sailboat beneath my feet. I’m at the helm and he’s up on deck, turning back to smile at me. The west wind carries us north and then east. I see the charts, spread out on his dining room table at home, and remember how we traced the route last night, to the Statue of Liberty on day one. Up the East River, through Hell’s Gate and into Long Island sound on day two. Two more leisurely days along the coast of Connecticut then up the Thames River to New London. It’s not as though we’ll be crossing an ocean or rounding the Horn, but I feel like a kid anticipating the adventure ahead of us.

Wyatt prances along the water’s edge, watching ducks floating just twenty yards away, in a calm gully along the edge of the jetty. He does not like water, and has never seen waves before today. There is nothing in his genetic makeup to help him here. He is a cross between a hunter and a herder. Not a water dog at all. A wave retreats and Wyatt tiptoes after it, eyes on the ducks who are not paying him any attention. His body is all alert, twitching muscles, waiting to spring into the mess of ducks. A tiny wave rolls in and Wyatt turns tail, running up to dry sand like a human child at play. He is blessed with a short attention span and forgets about the ducks, burying his nose in the footprints of another dog. He lifts his leg, then trots on, nose down, following rich sea scents that are new, strange, exotic to his mind that before today knew only the smell of moss and dead leaves and the mud under melting snow. If he could speak, I imagine that tonight over dinner, he would say “This was a great day…one of the best ever”.

Byron puts his arm around me and whispers in my ear. His nose is cold. We kiss and I taste the salt of the sea on his lips. I remember the first kiss, the first boy, decades ago, on another beach, on another cold and wintry day.

I slip into a moment of grace. This is how I always thought it would be…my life at middle age…walking on a beach with a dog and a man I loved…content…warming one another against the cold winter wind…dreaming of sailing adventures yet to come.
It’s only taken half a century to get here, to the place where there is nothing lacking, where all is as it should be.

Later that night, I wake and lie quietly. We are both light sleepers and I don’t want to wake him. But it seems he is already awake. “Listen” he whispers. I hear it then. Wyatt is asleep in his bed, at the foot of our bed, but he’s dreaming. A muffled “woof, woof, woof”, he’s barking in a dream. I wonder what he dreams of. Perhaps he is chasing the sea gulls and this time, when they open their wings and take flight, escaping from him and the earth beneath his paws, perhaps in that moment he sprouts wings and flies after them.

I turn back the covers, awash in a hot flash. I stumble in the darkness to the bathroom. Wyatt wakes up enough to lift his head as I pass, then he drops it back onto his bed. All is well.

In the shared language of new lovers Byron says what he says almost every night when I rise with a hot flash “Hey hon, can you check the anchor while you’re up?” It’s a cold winter night. I hear the wind blowing outside, hear the slap of the halyard but it’s only the flag pole by the driveway, not a mast being buffeted by the wind. I’m glad we’re on land; safe, warm, together. I come back to bed and dream of hoisting the anchor on a clear and balmy May morning, heading north as the wind fills the sail. Then we’ll spread our own wings and fly.