Contributed by Beth Trissel ©2007 Beth Trissel

I stand on the edge of this sacred land the Shawnee people call the Great Turtle Island, where the water meets the shore. Salt spray brines the air. Gulls wheel, crying, in the blue and pelicans bob on the waves as the ocean rocks me like a primal cradle. In and out rushes the endless tide, frothing the glistening sand with millions of tiny diamonds. That eternal sound is always in my ears, calling to me. People from all walks of life are drawn to this ancient place seeking some gift from the sea.

Sunburned men with a beer in one hand and a pole in the other fish as though their very sustenance depends on it. Bikini-clad women lie like beached whales basking in the sun, or jog along the shore. Three teenage girls dressed in long navy jumpers wade into the surf squealing in delight. Perhaps this is their first visit to the Carolina coast, or any other. Near them stands an old man, pants hiked to his white knees, gazing out at the waves with contentment on his face. He has come home. Curly-headed children dance in the tumbling foam. One little red-haired girl plunges bravely in while her chubby-legged brother flees to his watchful mother and snuggles against the baby in her arms.

Young builders cluster on the sand with buckets and spades, intently fashioning castle turrets and digging motes. Is there anyone as utterly contained in the present as a child at play? Parents join in the fanciful creations and for that moment lose their cares in the sea. A shark emerges under fingers, large and small, with harmless teeth of splintered shells––as ephemeral as the day. No lasting work is done, yet they build on while people paddle on rafts or dive into waves. Seekers all. The orange sun sinks low in the cloudy palette of colors and casts fire on the waves. People linger, reluctant to go inside. What do you search for? What do I?

Our family has always sought gold doubloons from sunken Spanish galleons in the battered shells left behind by the tide. Not a likely find, though we heard of one man who did. Still, we look for the coins and passing whales.
One day I saw great fins and splashing tails, a whole pod of whales. Not because they were truly there, but because I chose to. Led by me, my mother and teenage daughter saw them too and were disappointed when they had gone. Schools of dolphin really did skim through the wake behind shrimp boats, but I fondly remember the whales and keep an eye out for white-sailed clipper ships.

The ocean is a fertile place for the imagination, also to find healing for the soul. Journeying to the beach is annual pilgrimage for many families. What of yours?


  1. Anonymous // August 21, 2007 at 3:32 PM  

    What a wonderful post. Thank you for painting such vivid pictures with your words as to take me to far away places, memories, dreams. My family, too, has traveled to places such as this, and I feel as though I've shared such a similar experience to the one you posted - I can almost taste the salty spray on my lips! Thank you for your story!

  2. Mona Risk // August 21, 2007 at 6:18 PM  

    Beth, I live right on the beach and feel what you're describing. Looking at the ocean everyday and breathing the breeze charged with algea and salt have become as necessary to me as eating or drinking. Thank you for a great article.

  3. Beth Trissel // August 21, 2007 at 10:25 PM  

    Thanks, Mona! I love visiting the shore, although my first love is the Shenandoah Valley and the mountains.


  4. Mary Marvella // August 22, 2007 at 3:41 AM  

    You reminded me of summers at Tybee Island in Georgia with my parents and sibs. I loved battling the waves at high tide and imagining historic adventurers.

    Ah, the memories.