I drove down to Stratford Seawall last Saturday, as I do most every morning. The sky was stunning shade of blue. The snow blazed a dazzling white against the sand. The water was a calm dark blue at low tide and the gulls were calling to each other up and down Russian Beach. These are the colors and sounds of my invitation. I come here every day as I have for the past 25 years. Sometimes I can only stay for only a few moments, other days I spend a few hours. Always I feel the pull, the call, the invitation to just BE in this place.
When I first moved to Connecticut, my parents used to bring me to the wall after church, especially in the spring and summer. When friends and family visited from out-of-state, we always went to the seawall and walked the beach. After my dad passed away, only twenty months after moving here, I started to ride my bike to the seawall almost every day. I often did so without permission but even at 14, I found and felt something different in this place. Something I wasn’t finding in church or at home or anywhere else for that matter. I didn’t understand it, but I couldn’t stay away from it either.
I’ve explored the bluffs and the rocky Stratford Point. I’ve walked all the way around the point and up the Housatonic River to Short Beach. Some days I’ve walked in joy, in grief, other days in anger. Some days I’m feeling lost. Other days I’m hoping to get lost. Somewhere along the line “the beach” became “my beach” and the east side of Stratford Point became “my chapel”. I’ve watched many seasons come and go. I’ve walked my beach immediately before or immediately after storms, when the air is pregnant with the smell of rain. I’ve walked through snow squalls and biting cold. I’ve seen and photographed rainbows, sunsets, moonrises, the first star of evening, stunning cloud formations and even an odd translucent white figure. A fellow wandering beach soul perhaps.
My beach became a tangible metaphor for my life, ever-changing and always in motion. No two days are ever the same. The broken sea glass, worn by wind and waves fills vases around my office. Seeing something shattered, broken and jagged that has been transformed into something smooth and beautiful has brought me comfort. Seeing the birds soaring on the updrafts has brought me a sense of freedom. No matter what the weather or what storms come, my beach is always wild and untamed. It has become my custom to listen to music as I walk, keeping the volume low enough to hear the shifting sand beneath my boots and the waves lapping at shore. My soundtrack allows me not to think beyond the words of the familiar hymns and with the mp3 player on shuffle, there is no expectation of what I’ll hear next.
Saturday was different. All my walks are different really, but this one was keenly poignant. I haven’t been strong enough to walk all the way out to the spot I call my chapel since March 2010. I had my work cut out for me just to get to the beach. The snow is piled up higher than the seawall and the sidewalk and steps to the beach are not cleared at all. As I walked, an osprey, whom I rarely see outside the marsh, was flying long low passes all along the water’s edge. He fascinates me. How could one creature contain so much strength, beauty and grace? I was being given something to ponder as I walked.
It took me longer than it used to but I reached my chapel. The view was exceptionally breathtaking. The sun beat a path across the water until it kissed the four boulders that make up a natural altar when I had laid a pyramid-shaped stone and pieces of seaglass that I’d picked up along the way, a simple offering of joy and thanksgiving for such a beautiful day. I stayed at the point only an hour, a time spent in silence, the music turned off and the mind too, if only for a little while. I sat perfectly still and just breathed in the light that was all around me. I saw the tide turn and after taking a few photos, I began my long walk back.
I don’t know when I’ll be able to make that walk again. I know that there will come a time when I will not be able to make that walk at all. Hopefully that time is long, long way off. But when that day does come, I have my private reflections of all that I’ve experienced over the years and I have my photos of my beach and my chapel. The light that I breathed in a week ago has not left me, although it is not something I can hold on to any more than the rocks can hold on to the water. The water changes the rocks over time and I suspect the light is changing me over time as well.