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While walking next to the ocean, one is supposed to reflect on a few trite yet apt platitudes: among others, the feeling of human minuteness in comparison to the vastness of the ocean, the metronomic ebb and flow that is a constant reminder of the inexorable passage of time, the soothing and almost entrancing sound of its waves crashing upon the shore.
As I strolled on the shore of Shackleford Banks, a remote barrier island off the coast of North Carolina, I felt painfully susceptible to these clichés. Nevertheless, I prioritized being blasé over succumbing to such sentimentality; I wanted to find a way to have a non-cliché walk on the beach.
I spent a while skipping shells, which was somewhat challenging. I first had to find a shell with relatively little curvature, wait for the calm between the peaks of two waves, and then sidearm it, convex side down and with clockwise spin, almost parallel to the surface of the water. Initially I threw the shells straight out into the surf, so that many of my stronger throws were prematurely cut off by the crests of incoming waves. I briefly remedied this problem by throwing the shells parallel instead of perpendicular to the shore, but found it less satisfying, so I began to throw shells directly into the surf again, come what may.
After the relatively static activity of skipping shells, I alternated wading in the water, which sprayed water onto my shins, and walking in the drier sand above the high tide line, allowing the water to dry. The evaporating water deposited salt crystals on my legs, which I sampled by wetting my index finger with the tip of my tongue, touching one of my legs, and then licking the salt crystals off my finger. I can affirm they tasted like sea rather than normal salt.
In a similar fashion, I dabbed my right index finger in the beach’s moderately fine sand in order to collect a layer of individual grains of sand on its surface. Instead of tasting the sand, I then held it up as closely as possible to my face, closing my left eye and squinting with my right. It was evident under such scrutiny that sand is not homogenous, but instead is made of disparate and multicolored shells pulverized over time by waves. This fact was borne out by the areas of coarse shell fragments, perhaps half a centimeter in diameter, that I occasionally strolled over. I found it uncomfortable to reflect on how much time it would take this sand in the making to become actual sand.
I eventually sat, and stared out at the ocean, feeling small and hypnotized by its rhythmic motion, for a period of time I lost track of. Perhaps, I thought to myself, sentimentality isn’t such a bad thing after all.
Juan V. Esteller ’19 is a Crimson editorial writer living in Straus Hall.
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