I have returned from a four-day stay out at Cape Cod, rested and indulged. In the back of my car sits a bagful of mementos from the coast. Rocks. No, more appropriately beach pebbles. What am I going to do with them? Except for my clothes in the closet and the one dresser and the stacks of books and papers cluttering Tom’s guest room, everything else I own is in storage until 2017. In less than two months I leave for my twenty-seven month gig with the Peace Corps in Thailand. What the hell do I need a sackful of stones for?
As I walked the beaches of Cape Cod, I couldn’t help myself in stooping to pick up the colorful stones being washed by the gentle waves. By the time I picked up the fifth one the justifications for this senseless exercise were in sync with the rhythm with the waves hitting the shore.
“Well, the storage unit is already paid for.” Pause as the wave goes out.
Another waves tumbles ashore. “You know they won’t take up much room there.”
And another. “Surely there’s a little space in one of those plastic bins.”
And another. “Not all the bins are full, remember?”
And another. “And when you get back they’ll be perfect for that little Zen garden.”
And another. “Maybe you can even take one or two with you.”
Yes, I say to myself. I could pick out one or two of the most perfect specimens and pack them with my toiletries. It will be nice to take along one little smooth black stone, a memory of the New England coast, a remembrance of the tranquility of this time and place. That memory could easily be slipped into my pocket at the beginning of each day. It’ll be there to comfort and soothe me. I’ll rub it subconsciously whenever I get stressed or frustrated. It will bring me peace and serenity. After the thirtieth pebble enters my pants pocket, I’ve convinced myself that Thailand is bereft of rocks, especially pebbles as perfect and precious as these. It’s 2000-mile coastline must have other charms, but it surely won’t have beauties like these.
On this mid-November day there are a few boats in the distance, toward the horizon, and the sea is quite calm, the sky quite blue. The waves lap gently to shore. I leisurely walk close to the surf and see that a couple of gray seals are watching me, fifty, sixty feet out from where I stand. I saw them Sunday and again Monday and now Tuesday as they swim up and down the coastline looking for food, looking in at me as I look out at them. I look down at the surf and at the pebbles as they wash in and out with the waves and the tides and I wonder where they have come from. I wish I had retained more of my high school and college geology, then I could figure out which stone was which.
I sit upslope from the water’s edge for a while; the tide is coming in. I am the only person in sight and have been for the three hours I’ve been here. I gaze out to the horizon and try to think about the future and the past, but my eyes naturally drift back to the shore, to the breaking water, to the now. I watch the waves hitting the sand and the spume retreating back into the sea. I am restless and I stand and walk again to the surf. What is it that attracts me to these pebbles? Why this one and not that one? Is it visual or tactile or spatial? Is it the look of the stone in the water, the way the light reflects and shines and accentuates the vibrancy of the colors? Is it the colors themselves, the greens, the pinks, the blacks? Is it the roundness or the flatness; the size or the shape? Is it the layers or flecks of other materials in the stones? Is it the feel, the texture, the sleekness, the perfectly rounded edges? Is it the combination or singularity of these traits? Is it the appearance of nature’s destruction and beauty in one little package? Is it the reminder of life’s transience?
I have picked up quite a collection and my pants droop from the weight of the stones as I head back to the car. These pebbles join their brethren, the ones I collected the day before and the day before that, and they await the final pocketful I grab on my way out of town before I cross the bridge to the mainland and to home and in a few weeks to Thailand, oceans and waves and tides away. I still don’t know what I’ll do with them.