When I was growing up I wanted to be three things: a mermaid, a pirate and the President of the United States. Post-election, I might be closer to achieving these dreams than I ever have before. My assignment for my American Literature class was to go on a nature walk for an hour with my phone on Air-plane mode. I spent the first half an hour trying to find a restroom on the boardwalk because a) I’m not about that “all natural life” and b) somehow I thought it would be a good idea to try Trader Joe’s turkey and stuffing flavored kettle chips to get into the Thanksgiving season. If God wanted them to be combined in chip form he would have made it that way.
While on this quest I was reflecting on my proposed career choices. Growing up my mom would take me to the beach almost every weekend. In the summer we were trying to escape the heat, a broken AC and my relatives. In the winter we would pack a picnic lunch, bundle into warm parkas and bring kites to fly. I wanted to be a mermaid because I would always be able to stay at the beach. Instead of immediately discouraging my proposed ichthyic transformation she asked how would she be able to call me in for dinner? Naturally she should just wave a red flag in order to grab my attention as I was swimming halfway to New Foundland for poutine. With mermaid out of the question naturally my next career choice would be pirate. I think “sailor” was closer to what I was aiming for but I was/am a huge “One Piece” fan so my priorities were not in order. Again, instead of discouraging me from my burgeoning nautical criminal enterprise she told me that if I was a pirate it would disqualify me from the presidential election. I couldn’t have that.
After successfully finding a restroom I decided to be honest and set my alarm for an hour from that point on. For a chilly day there was surprising amount of foot-traffic on the boardwalk. Despite it being three days after the election everyone was pleasant to one another. As I power-walked to sanctuary, strangers would wave to one another or say hello and exchange basic pleasantries about the weather. Old men were huddle together to talk about sporting events before my time, old ladies cheered each other on as they jogged their final half-mile and children whizzed by on two feet, scooters or bikes. The shore line was pulled back a good distance from the boardwalk that I would only encounter a few fellow walkers.
The walk to the shore line was …interesting. I’ve never mastered walking in the sand like Legolas walks in snow so I tried several ballet, tap dancer and Polish polka foot techniques to prevent me from losing my footing while thanking God this nature walk would take place in relative isolation. It became easier when I took my socks and sneakers off, like riding a bike. The sand had been baking in the sun so my feet felt warmer buried in the earth than they did in my shoes. It might sound cliche but I felt like I was connecting with an old friend. I was so far removed from urban noise pollution that all I could hear was the wind and pressure of my inner ears. The sand would scatter across to form stretch mark like patterns made from little broken shell pieces. At this point I was beginning to wonder if this nature walk meant I would start to see metaphors. As I got closer to the shore line I could finally hear the crashing of the waves. The sand became firmer under my feet as well as slightly cooler. Seagulls were dive bombing into the waves and from the sheer number of them in some areas there looked to be successful hunting. Seagulls are surprisingly smart birds and if reincarnation is true I would like to be a seagull, since mermaid is off the table.
Being able to start my nature walk in earnest, I wanted to start thinking about the questions suggested in the syllabus. How does our environment affect us? How does nature affect us? Does environment shape identity? I really tried but all I could think about was the election. It doesn’t surprise me that Hillary Clinton herself took her own nature walk after the election. My third career option was out of a desire to do good. President Hayes, the good not a sellout President Hayes, would make sure everyone had a roof over their head, food on the table and life membership passes to Disneyland. The silent pressure in my ears, rolling waves, lack of sleep, worrying for friends and every other American wondering ‘how did it come to this’ and seagulls flapping around was not helping. I started to cry. This was not some elegant crying but heave-ho snot, tears and kidney bean shaped mouth sobbing. I plopped down unable to really curl into a ball but sat with my legs out like a dejected five year old.
After crying for a good ten minutes I thought that the pattern in the sand looked like the White Cliffs of Dover, again with poetics. The dent of sand along the shore line greatly resembled cliffs in some way and I started to think about long periods of time. The great cliffs of the world might have been small dents of sand at some point in time. The ocean was here long before I was born lapping against the earth for millions of years before they were cliffs and will be here long after I’m dead and scattered in the ocean. I don’t like the idea of being put in a box and buried in fancy clothing I’ve never even seen myself in. I fixed my face with the tissues stuffed in my pullover, washed my face with the water in front of me and picked myself up in order to continue my walk. I know that some people don’t think that the planet would miss human beings if we suddenly disappeared overnight but on my walk I thought the ocean would miss us. It had to be a mixture of anxiety, too much salt in the air and in my heart to make me think such things but I started talking to God.
For an hour I talked to God, the seagulls and the ocean about my anxieties, fears, frustrations, wants, desires, dreams, goals, hopes, wishes and a whole bunch of things people would reserve for their best friends, moms, once every six year church confessionals, or secret diaries. Having no one around made me feel less like a creep and when I was in the middle of a strong rant a man zipped by me on a special sand-specific bicycle with a perplexed look on his face. If he was really so into his fitness regime he wouldn’t have cared about my issues. It was cheaper talking to the birds about my issues than an hour with a psychoanalyst who would then prescribe me depression medication. I’m not depressed, an orange was just elected president of my nation- I’m beyond depressed at this point.
My phone alarm went off to signal it was time to head back to the car. A few fisherman were casting their lines along the rest of the coast with marginal success. Growing up with Vietnam veteran who fished and a mom who fished religiously taught me one thing; do not walk behind a fisher while they are casting. Common sense would tell me do not walk behind someone while they are throwing hooks over their shoulders. At this part of the beach the sand dent was mid thigh. Instead of doing the logical thing and just asking the fishers to hold off on their casting till the sand leveled itself out I decided to climb the sand dent. Placing my shoes on upper level I tried to just sick my feet in the wall and pull myself up. Each time my foot slide down so that was no longer an option. After a few unsuccessful tries of doing the same thing I told myself I wouldn’t do, I swallowed my pride and belly flopped on to the sand. Rolling myself like a human sushi roll I eventually made it up onto the upper level of the sand. Dusting myself off was futile as the wind picked up blowing more sand in my face .
Due to the coastline being uneven, the walk back to the boardwalk was much shorter than the one to the water. The sand that had caked itself on the ankles of my pant legs was being blown off but I would be washing sand out of my hair all weekend. Being completely cleansed of negative vibes also temporarily removed my sense of direction as I was a good quarter of a mile from where my mom was parked. We resolved that this was a good idea and we should come out more often like we used to.
Our environment affects us in the way we let it. Emerson and Thoreau wrote about how we feel affecting how nature will be interpreted by us as well as respond to us. I went to the beach initially conflicted but willing to relax a little and I felt relaxed afterward. Nature affected me by being truly unbiased. It just Is and I think this is why I began to talk to God, this was like Emerson’s version of God. I didn’t feel empty or connected to nothingness, I felt connected to everything. Being by myself made me feel suspended in time, nothing really mattered anymore but my own breathing. I think that a person’s environment helps shape their identity. If you are surrounded with immense wealth and overly indulged you might not understand the value of a dollar or feel empathy. On the other hand you might grow up with a deficiency of material wealth but be greatly loved and have a support network. Having the beach and knowing the beach will be there (if we don’t manage to totally destroy our world) has always been a comfort. Someone 500 years ago looked at the same sun over the ocean as I did and hopefully someone 500 years from now will be able to too.