The problem with the ocean is that there’s too much of it. The whole thing just seems endless, without a finish, just far too much to grasp.
My preference of mountains over oceans has, I suspect, something to do with this scale of possibility. Mountains are huge and appear endless as well, but they hide that from you – covered in trees and rocks as they are. You can stand on a trail on a mountain and be pleasantly surrounded, embraced one might say, by the wilderness.
On the beach at the ocean, infinity is just all splayed out, uncovered.
A mountain hugs you. The ocean forces you to contemplate the void.
But we do what we must as parents, so when the ladies of the house insisted we go to the ocean over Labor Day weekend, I packed the sunblock, water bottles, change of clothes and blanket and off we went.
My wife grew up in the Midwest, and thus has an affinity for big sky. For me, the horizon is best left to the imagination.
But to Little Bean, none of that matters; not the ocean or the sky or the sand. To her, there’s one reason and one reason only for going to the ocean.
“Crabs, daddy, lots of baby crabs.”
At low tide, we find a pull-off (not exactly legal, but it’s fine, just don’t tell anyone) and tromp on down to the rocky shore. We set up a little blanket on the stony shore and watch as the water recedes. I like low tide best because it means there’s less ocean.
The day is glorious, warm and clear, and a slight sea breeze musses Little Bean’s hair and keeps away the bugs.
Momma sits out in the sun while Little Bean and I tromp down, down, down, over the slippery brown and green rocks, chasing the tide, chasing the snails, chasing the water spiders. She has a blue bucket that matches the color of her sundress.
I’ll let her describe her plan: “I’m going to create a terrarium in this bucket and then capture tiny crabs to live in the bucket.”
“Uh, are we taking them home?” I ask.
She gives me a look of the sort that reminds me of the sort of look I sometimes receive from her mother.
“No, we just let them go after.”
“After we’re done, daddy.”
She has the plan. I’m just here to help her implement it.
The enormous seagulls eye us warily as we make our way toward the sloshing water, sometimes skipping, sometimes slipping over the rock slime. She’s barefoot because even as a little girl, when it came to the outdoors, she never cared about getting muddy. Or wet. Or covered in seaweed.
“This is a good spot,” she says. She’s found a little tide pool perhaps twenty feet from the ocean where the water is clear and there’s plenty of rock seats. I squat down next to her and she directs me.
She fills the bucket with some sands and pebbles, a random piece of seaweed and a couple sticks. Then she points to a rock, which I lift up and she scoops up some sand and sifts through for tiny, black crabs. She collects three or four, plopping them into her bucket eco-system.
She even finds a baby shrimp, or at least it appears to be a nauplii. (At least I hope the translucent creature with beady eyes is a baby shrimp.) She laughs and shouts every time a new creature gets placed in its temporary home.
This goes on a for a while, nothing new here, nothing that hasn’t been done a million times before, just a dad and daughter finding crabs while a mom watches, until the tide appears to begin its trip back to shore.
“Ok,” she says, “I think it’s time.”
She gently lowers the bucket back into the rising water and tips the little world back into the ocean, the crabs scurrying this way and that.
“That’s it?” I say.
She nods. And like the coming and going of the water and wind so, too, do we leave the ocean to its crabs and shrimp and sand; a relentless horizon, a ridiculous sky, and a little girl, unafraid of the endless.