(I believe this photo is of otter prints I discovered in the sand, I have only seen these wonderful creatures fleetingly. The photo below is of Tune's paw prints.)
One of the great gifts of my time at the hermitage is being able to walk along the beach at low tide. Because the tides shift from day to day I keep a tide table to guide me each day as to when I can break from my work and allow the words and images that have been swirling around my mind to settle into my body. A walk always brings me some new insight or shift, often something new breaks open within me as I put one foot in front of the other.
The beach brings another dimension to my walks. There are places where the sand is smooth and solid and I walk easily over its surface. There are other places covered with rocks that roll out from under my feet, making the ground feel unsteady. I sometimes come across great beds of sand dollars, hundreds of them buried just beneath the surface, and no matter how carefully I tread, I know some of these fragile creatures will be broken. Then there are the moments when suddenly my boot is swallowed by the sand and my foot sinks down ankle-deep or more and I have to pull myself out firmly. I often have to trudge ahead like this for several steps, each foot mired firmly in the ground.
Last week, when lucy visited, she wrote about this moment when we encountered the sinking ground. Sharing it with a friend I felt less panic than I sometimes do, and instead was doubled over with laughter. We were both frozen there for several moments continuing to sink, since neither of us had the strength to pull ourselves free in the midst of such giggles, especially when in lucy's gracious moment of reaching out to me to help she fell over backwards.
While I wish the ground were always firm and easy to tread, more often than not the earth beneath me suddenly seems to swallow or bury me so that I have trouble moving forward. Each step takes tremendous effort. I have that moment of panic, wondering if the earth will ever feel solid again or I find myself walking across fragile places where I try hard not to cause pain to others, but sometimes the wounds seem inevitable.
At each of these moments as I walk the beach I try to breathe in the gift of it. I try and become familiar with the landscape of struggle knowing I will be thrust into it again and perhaps tending to it here in the sand I will develop more compassion for myself when I can't just easily keep walking ahead. Or in a moment of grace, I open myself up to laughter — an act of humility and appreciation for being profoundly human.
-Christine Valters Paintner @ Abbey of the Arts