My friend turned her head from the driver’s seat, craning to see the last of the sky stained with plums, pinks, and purples as we climbed the steep road that led away from the beach. I knew she wanted to stay, to stay and watch the changing play of color like nature's version of a Rothko painting—a color field on the horizon writ by sun, clouds, and dust in vivid hues. It was wonderfully windy that day, with the sand and cloud formations mirroring each other, but I was cold and she being the kind soul that she is said ok and we left the beach, and the special play of light that graced the evening and us.
But the way she turned her head, turned her head sideways into the light as we walked on the beach that day—perfectly evocative of the poet David Whyte's phrase, "turn sideways into the light"—tugged just so on the sides of my own heart. She turned toward the light, over and over, even as we drove away. It was her turning, her sheer looking that caught my eye and mind as it seemed to have a longing in it (or so it seemed to me). Or maybe it was just deep appreciation. At this time in her life, I think she needs to see that beauty, to remind herself that it exists, that she exists, and to take it all in. But isn't that true for all of us? That we can soak up and nurture ourselves with nature’s dappled beauty like the essential nutrient that it is. And she does this knowing, I think, that this moment's light is what it is—a passing thing, an ephemeral thing, like the wispy clouds that she remarked on again and again as we walked along the cool damp surface of sand.
The seals’ heads made us squeal with delight as did the little birds that she said were called snowy plovers. They did their feeding dance on the sand before flying suddenly upwards in perfect formations. She was waiting for this moving sculpture, saying she knew it would happen at any moment. She kept saying, "it will happen, it will happen." And it did to my surprise because it happened so suddenly, and so perfectly! How do they do that? Why do they do that?
The pelicans were diving for fish as we walked. It was dinnertime for all the beach creatures. And we saw white ones, great white ones, bigger than any pelicans she had seen before. They sat as a group at the end of the long expanse of sand, which spread out like an odd lunar landscape once you reach what feels like an end. The moonscape we found ourselves on that day was a wet one, dotted with puddles and great white pelicans. We watched as they took off like huge jumbo jets rising slowly in their weightiness, the heavy white birds, with bright orange feet all full and fat.
Those big birds looked so bright in the light as did the tiny snowy plovers that dotted the air like confetti when they, too, took flight. Graceful were these birds, both pelicans and plovers, but the plovers had a special skill as they rolled smoothly on the surface of the sand like little peas on a table (my friends description). Their round bodies so very still under rapidly moving feet!
She turned sideways into the light many times that afternoon and I watched her watching. My friend is not in an easy place right now, and yet she still looks out, and sideways, into the light, into the beauty. She turned her head yet again to catch an eyeful of lavender against turquoise, and to marvel at the many purples apparent that evening.
She was an artist taking in the soft green of the grasses, and the life that was teeming and expressing itself everywhere and in its own wild way. I felt her artist’s presence and it brought me closer to my own.
I love my friend. I love how she sees the world. I want her to keep turning her head in that way that she does, her eyes open to the light, and to the world in its beauty. I want her to give it back to us through her vision, and her art, through her teaching, and with her presence. She makes the world a better place. She made me better that day.
Maybe I will turn sideways into the light as she did, in spite of my cold fingers and toes and take time to take in the color-stream of ocean and sky. Maybe I too will turn sideways, even when walking, to look, really look, with eyes that know just how slippery the silver clouds are on any given evening, and how delicate is the wash of color on nature’s canvas, and just how round, like a rapidly rolling snowy plover, our little life really is.
Images (except top photo) from Drew Doggett's series "Ephemeral Shores." www.drewdoggett.com.