An unknown community of beachwalkers helped me

I noticed the light on the back of the waves and took this photograph

New Year is waxing towards full arrival. And I have an idea.

It’s not new. I tried it before. Well, an aspect of it.

About twenty years ago I rented a little house on the tip of Anna Maria Island (Florida) next to the beach. Newly divorced, I was beginning an ascent towards dreaming a new life. I had lots of feelings and I was addicted to covering them up.

I covered up feelings to forget.

There are a gazillion ways to do it. My two favorites: eating a bag of pretty much anything that is fluorescent orange (think Cheetos or cheese popcorn) and mindless working or being busy nonstop. Whoa! I yes'd and never no’d.

Not that cheese popcorn or work is bad.

It’s how I used these things to run away.

To not feel.

Well, that sweet little Anna Maria home about 100 steps from the beach was the setting for a small personal change. A step.

Steps really.

I decided I’d cross the street and walk the beach.

Every day.

I wove a teeny basket of palm fronds, hung it on the wall next to the front door, and took my first walk.

I walked slowly, breathed in and out. I began to look skyward. I noticed things. Like the breeze on my face, vociferous gulls, and the changing moods of the sea. And I felt.

I cried, laughed, cursed. I unabashedly shared with the sea.

I told. Gentle and ferocious laps of waves nurtured and encouraged me.

I noticed the duality of the sea, its ebb and tide, its calm and rough. I saw myself in this and gained the courage to fully feel.

I picked up an anomiidae shell to mark that first walk. They’re flat, pearl-like, about the size of a nickel and nicknamed jingle. There's often a hole in it caused by growth around the byssus. I placed it in the basket I made upon my return.

I don’t have that basket anymore. Nor the hundreds of shells marking each of my walks.

However, I still have the peace and strength I gained.

Okay. It’s today. This is what I want to tell.

This morning I recalled one of those early morning beach walks from that Anna Maria house. Only, this one I took with a girlfriend.

Somewhere along the walk, this came forth: “Let’s give the sea a gift!”

Near the tip of the island, we found a mighty sprawling almost driftwood tree branch. We planted its trunk in the sand safely away from the high tide line.

Like children in a seaside scamper, we each found a small shell with a hole (to string seaweed through for a hanging loop) and tied a wish onto our proclaimed peace tree.

We hugged, laughed, and skipped away, saying to someone we passed, “Hey, that’s a peace tree. Make a wish.”

But here is the part I want you to know.

The next day I took my usual walk. As I came upon our tree, I experienced a rainbow phosphene from rubbing my eyes. Mouth agape, I fell to my knees.

It was full. The tree was seafully adorned. Someone even circled its base with a mosaic mandala of shells and rocks. The tree leaned with a weight of wishes.

I cried joy.

And later thought about affectivity.

You know, we never really know the effect of what we say or do. Spiritual leaders say that our words and actions are our legacies. That day I got a peek into what it might look like.


  1. Thank you for offering up this lovely account for me to read on New Year's Day. Please know that I am adding a BC clam shell to the base of the tree.
    I've just finished reading "How It All Began" by Penelope Lively. A book my mom loaned to me it "deftly illustrates how our paths can be altered irrevocably by someone we will never even meet."
    No coincidence that you are touching on this as well I suspect.
    (Deleted first comment due to two "that" In a row!)

  2. "Our words and our actions are our legacy." Powerful sentiment that reminds us to be kind, thoughtful and generous. And not because of some reward we may get - because as you said we may never know the impact that our words and actions have on another person - but because it is the right thing to do, always.
    Thanks for sharing the beautiful story of you and your fellow beach walkers.

  3. This is so beautiful, Susan. I think I'll make the sea a gift as well. A peace tree!

  4. Kelly, yes a virtual British Columbia clam shell is at the base!

    I'm imagining Anne Morrow's reflection on shells and specifically a clam. A history of opening enough to filter the sea (all of it, no discrimination). And oh my what can be done with a grain of sand. And this heavy thought-- their bivalve bodies scattered opened all over the shore as if in a form of immolation for life (seabirds are grateful) and even to you or me walking by to pluck one to mark personal opening.

    I'm going to find Lively's book. Thanks for that.

  5. Oh, Mo. Yes. I think of our blogs in this way. We visit our spaces to be and let loose those words and ideas as gifts (humor, experience, inspiration).

  6. Oh Harmony, our peace trees will hold hands. From your NW shore to my Gulf shore. Thank you ripples.

  7. Susan, thank you for sharing your insights and wisdom gathered from years of shell collecting and beach walks. Your story resonates with me and I appreciate how you share it in such an articulate, brave and fun way. I too collect shells, have kept my collections though there is one big difference. I now also collect the imperfect shells. I love how life opens as we do. Thank you.

    1. Oh Wendy, yes--I remember your blog post at Summerhill and seeing the photo of your collected shells. Another yes to imperfection. To hang shells on the tree, they need holes. That worn existence is teaching. Thanks for your visit.

  8. There's so much beauty here to drink in - it fills my heart.

    1. Thank you Deborah for telling me you see beauty here. That's wonderful.

  9. Susan, your beautiful writing reminds me of my friend Jet's writing. You might enjoy "meeting" her at