One long-ago February, when winter’s white enveloped the north, one of our daughters came with her family to visit us in Florida. The favourite activity for our grandson and granddaughter (the third of the clan being still an infant, unable to express her opinion) was going to the ocean, to the beach.
Our usual routines were fairly standard. We’d park and unpack the car, each of us carrying the beach necessities according to our age and abilities. We’d trudge the access path, through the dunes adorned with sea oats, pass through the rickety snow fence, and pick a spot that suited us all.
In short order, the umbrellas would be unfurled, the chairs unfolded, the blankets spread, and the toys strewn across the sand. Peace would reign for Nana and Grandpa, watching the sleeping baby while her parents and older siblings hit the water.
On one such occasion, a small incident occurred which didn’t have much significance at the time. In retrospect, however, it has become quite meaningful for me.
My daughter, my wife, and I embarked on a walk along the beach after the kids had finished splashing in the ocean. Their dad stayed with them, helping build grand castles in the sand.
We decided to hike through the dunes on the way out, and come back along the shoreline. I led off, sinking ankle-deep into the soft sand, feet clad in sandals to protect from the heat and the sandspurs. After a few minutes, we came upon tracks in the sand, apparently made by some small creature, perhaps a mole.
What made the discovery unusual was that they suddenly stopped in a small depression in the sand, as if the mole had simply vanished. The tracks ended without a trace.
My daughter suggested what might have happened. The mole, she reckoned, had been taken by a predator, likely one of the falcons that frequent the area. Indeed, on closer inspection, we could detect brush-marks in the sand, caused by the beating of a bird’s powerful wings.
We wended our way slowly, backtracking along the poor victim’s trail. It occurred to me that, a scant few yards before the depression in the sand, the mole would have had no inkling it was about to die. It was alive until it wasn’t.
Apparently, though, it knew it was under attack, for we found another, earlier depression in the sand where the bird had struck unsuccessfully. The mole had jumped sideways, scurried under the protection of some sea-oats, then emerged again to flee along the sand.
Our backtracking ended when the trail curled away from the beach, into dense, long grasses, whence the mole had come. We soon forgot about it as we continued our stroll, eventually heading back along the water’s edge to our grandchildren.
A few days later, I chanced to hear someone on the radio airily proclaiming that, if we all discovered the world was to end tomorrow, telephone lines everywhere would be jammed by people calling home to say all those things they had forgotten to say while there was still time. Social media sites on the internet would crash from the traffic. It made me think again of the mole whose tracks we had seen in the sand.
When it left its burrow for that final time, did it have its life in order? Had it said all those things that matter to those who matter? Or were there things it had left undone that should have been looked to sooner?
And I thought of myself. Does my journey through life leave tracks in the sand for some other eye to see? Am I subject to a mortal strike from some hidden foe? And if, or when, it happens, am I prepared and at peace with those who care about me?
When I got right down to it, I didn’t see much difference between that mole and me. Except one. I’m still making tracks in the sand. I still have time to ready myself for whatever is to come, and to be at peace with all who matter.
Such are the thoughts that arose as a result of a stroll along a sunny beach in Florida.