I walked as far as I could see.
The tide worked its way out, leaving shallow pools of clear, still water in its wake. Early morning sun baked my bare shoulders and the backs of my legs as I alternated between meandering slowly along the soft sand high up on the beach, pausing now and again to pick up a shell and inspect it before tossing it back into the pile, and strutting purposefully on the hard-packed sand near the water’s edge. When no one was looking I would tear into a flock of seagulls staring intently out at the breaking waves. A small. blonde Professor Jones without an umbrella, I would wave my arms wildly, laughing, and watch them fly over my head, squawking their utter displeasure.
I nodded at the elderly trio encased in their plastic armchairs, drawn down into the surf. They gripped their books and turned their dark bodies into the sun as a single unit. A quarter turn. A quarter turn. A crab scuttled away from the lifting and planting of my clumsy feet. I watched him move quickly, sideways, deeper into the water where it became murky.
I thought about the butterfly effect my presence had on the delicate ecosystem around me. Was I setting off a chain reaction when I picked up a hermit crab, firmly ensconced in a borrowed whelk’s shell? Would he have kept going up the beach to die? Did I deprive a heron from its intended dinner when I set him back in the water and watched the wave tumble him over and over again?
When I dug up tiny clams with my toes and watched them dive back into the sand, I was clearly the reason some of them washed back out to sea, unable to dig their tiny muscled foot back into their bed fast enough. Who was I to play God with the beached pufferfish, still gasping for breath, when I nudged his soft underbelly over and over again until he rolled back out into the water; one last lurch of his body and out to sea? Perhaps he was meant to lie there in the hot sun until his scales flaked and his eyes dried out–a welcome lunch for the hungry gulls, still cawing at me for disrupting their eternal vigilance.
Or perhaps it was preordained that I, a single human, out for a morning stroll along the beach, would come along and shake things up. The heron could get his dinner elsewhere as the hermit crab moved happily along the ocean floor; the tiny clams became food for the next link in the chain of life; the puffer fish may well wash up another day, but today he lived and ate and swam and did those pufferfish things.
I turned up a piece of styrofoam, eroded, with shells embedded in it. Washed up after the violent storm of the previous night. Long since discarded in the ocean, still intact, still styrofoamy. Grimacing at the abundance of trash–a Dunkin’ Donuts cup here, a plastic bottle cap there–I thought to myself that I should bring a bag tomorrow; not to collect shells, but to collect trash. The detritus we humans leave behind in Paradise. That would be a more effecient way to leave my mark behind.
I nodded. Turned my face into the sun and smiled. I lifted my arms and praised Creator for this singularly perfect moment in time.
I looked up and I could see further yet. So I just kept walking.