“You’re not running away from something, you’re running to something.” I am not sure these words a friend said to me are true, but some days walking is easier if I have a destination. Yesterday I met some women for lunch, and planned my day so I could walk there. It meant leaving almost two hours beforehand, and arriving a bit disheveled, but because of the appointment I walked more yesterday than I might have otherwise. Walking to places like Sebastian Inlet or Cocoa Beach sounds outlandish to me, which is exactly why I am entertaining the notion.
My longest beach walk so far has been from my mom’s place in Indian Harbour Beach north for almost seven miles to Patrick Air Force Base. (I’d need to double that to walk to Cocoa Beach.) Barefoot sand walking has speed curtailment built in, a benefit to those of us who may experience difficulty slowing down. Two dollar thrift store shorts, a tank top I’ve had for many years, a multi-purpose bandana, a Patagonia fleece I can’t bear to replace despite its increasingly threadbare state, and a red day-pack with a phone, shoes, a bag of peanuts and hydration were my supplies. My companions for the day would be revealed to me.
I would surely have missed the first human-created beach art I passed if a couple hadn’t indicated it to me. They could tell I would miss it because of my right-at-the-waterline walking position, as it was higher up on the beach, near the dune. If the beach had been more populated they might not have made the effort, but since it was just us in sight at that point, they directed my attention. By the time I walked up and examined it, they were dissipating figures and I was alone to wonder. A moat? A feather headdress? A shell collection? I didn’t know nor did it matter.
Lucky for me, I discovered another human-made beach art project while it was being completed. A woman wrote the word HOPE in the sand, each letter carefully constructed from a different material – one made of feathers, one made of shells. I admired, helped look for shells in the colors she needed, and we each snapped photographs. When I told her I was walking to Patrick Air Force Base, her spirit was captured and she agreed to walk along with me for awhile. We talked about dreams, and lifestyle, and duties set aside. Also a visitor here, she lives a mile or so from my daughter and son-in-law in Littleton, Colorado, and wondered if I would want to hike out there with her sometime. I agreed, because when a woman who writes hope in the sand asks to hike with you, you say yes. We cajoled a fisherman to take a picture of us together, she got my number and we parted so she could walk back to where she started.
The third human-made art I encountered on the beach was a performance piece, the type that folds you in and makes you a part of the creative expression taking place. I stumbled into it out of curiosity, which began with observing a raptor of some kind perched on the corner of a seaside building, facing the sand, flicking his head around like a preteen girl with bangs. Pelicans, cormorants, gulls and many kinds of sandpipers are the birds I see here most days, so a hawk grabbed my focus, and I watched him as I passed in front of his six-story perch. I drew my eyes away to prepare to navigate under the lines of two fishermen, their surf-casting poles up high, line billowing out to the water, when I realized one of them was pulling in a catch. I paused to see what he was dragging in from below the surface, when I noticed the hawk now in flight, circling us. The fish had hooked itself pretty severely on the man’s lure, so he set it down on the sand to go get his pliers, and the hawk shrieked and circled in closer.
Holy crap! I think I am about to see a hawk snare a fish already caught, which wasn’t going to be good for the hawk or the man, not to mention the ill-fated fish. Instead, the man returns, which deters the hawk, and as he gently works the hooks out of the throat of the fish, I remark he almost lost that fish to the hawk. He had noticed, as well, and seemed interested in the dynamic, so I asked if this is the type of fish he would keep, or throw back, knowing from my own experience the fish wouldn’t live long either way. “I’ll probably throw this one back.”
“You could feed it to the hawk, if you want.” We both glance up to the corner of the building where the hawk has landed and is staring at us. He tosses the fish into the sand instead of into the water, and we watch as the hawk sets its gaze—and just then a pelican shows up, aiming for the sand-stranded fish, and we think the hawk is going to lose out. The raptor launches from the building, stoops into a dive, and the pelican is flushed away as the talons extend out in front of the hawk and grasp the fish, who had been telegraphing its helpless state to all predators within sight. Lifting off, the hawk rises, sweeps over the water, then over us, then out of sight over the dune to find a private place to consume its bounty. The fisherman, his buddy and our several spectators are grinning in wonder. “That was badass,” I say as I resume my amble down the beach. “Yes it was!” the fisherman says.
When I walk, I carry inspiration. My history of sitting slowly fades under the tutelage of friends who don’t own cars, who walk everywhere no matter the weather or circumstances, or those who set out as walking pilgrims across northern Spain. Six point six miles in the sand, followed by another one point three on pavement a little later in the day, is hardly spectacular in the world of serious walkers. (The fact I measure fractions of a mile, or measure at all, shows me to be the amateur I am!) The four and a half mile walk to have lunch yesterday isn’t even remarkable, in some cultures. On the other hand, I carry with me friends who would love to do what I am doing, and due to diabetic neuropathy, or heart palpitations, or an injured hip, or time constraints, or child-care issues, cannot. On this barrier island, on this particular shore engraved with hope, under the eye of this one hawk, at this point in my life, I can. So I do, and I return with more hope than I left with.