by Vi Jones

To see the world in a grain of sand
and heaven in a wild flower.
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
and eternity in an hour.

So wrote William Blake in the eighteenth century. I feel as one with the poet when he wrote these inspirational words. The world literally can be found in a grain of sand and the beauty in a wild flower is truly a gift from Heaven. Infinity is all around us, and Eternity, well, we are but a tiny part of all things eternal. Recent long and lonely walks along the beaches of the Northwestern United States brought to mind the truth behind the Poet's words.

Those of us lucky enough to live on the coast are able to take long, invigorating walks every day no matter what the weather. The rest of us visit when we can. Some come for play or relaxation, some to watch colorful kites ride the wind. Others, like myself, find the shore a place of renewal and healing. I think of myself as a beachcomber, though I do not look for treasures to carry home in my rucksack. I search instead for the numerous and complex works of art that are to be discovered along the shoreline. I wander and view as I might in a gallery, admiring masterpieces that cannot be purchased, then forever hidden behind four walls and under a roof. Fleeting, though these works I seek are, they're displayed in the open, beneath the ever changing sky. They will disappear with the next incoming tide, or be lost forever by blowing sand. Some will be crushed, others scattered by human footprints. But, sad as that seems, tomorrow will bring new designs, patterns, and sculptures.

The best time for viewing Beach Art is in the morning, shortly after the tide has receded. If you are lucky and conditions are right, there will be just enough fog and filtered sunshine to bathe the scene in a luminescent haze. Such conditions allow the air to dance on your skin while the orchestra of wind and surf plays endlessly, a composition that is sometimes muted and gentle, sometimes heavy and ominous.

What, from a distance appears to be an endless stretch of empty sand, is transformed for me into a gigantic outdoor canvas, a potpourri of design and texture ranging from the intricate to the lavish. There is a blending of all that the tide has left behind, sea weeds, shells, and sand sculptures. A small wave washes around my bare feet. It's cold and I dance about, but that is before it slowly retreats leaving behind a rippled design not unlike a huge arrowhead. Looking farther down the beach, I see many such repeated patterns at the water's edge, here an etching, there a bas relief, all a mosaic of reflection and brilliance. An arrangement of kelp is reminiscent of onions on a kitchen counter. As I ponder the seemingly careful placement of the kelp, I realize that the hand of a true artist has been at work, a heavenly artist with a sense of humor. Beneath the kelp, a myriad of tiny organisms have found food and habitat, at least for a moment in their ever changing lives.

A tracery of delicate material is arranged in such an intricate design that it is difficult to believe the sea weeds weren't placed there by gentle and intuitive fingers. No garish color here, just a subdued shading applied by Nature's brush. The exhibit continues with a perfectly formed clam shell, a tiny, empty crab shell, a stray feather, and a partially buried Sand Dollar. Then, there is driftwood, always there is driftwood. As I caress its smooth surface I wonder from whence it came and wish it could transmit to me its life story. What historical events occurred during its lifetime in some faraway forest. Did it stand tall over a battlefield drenched in blood or was it witness to a lovers first kiss?

The discovery of a child's bicycle partially buried in the wet sand provides food for thought. In a way it too has become an ever changing part of the exhibit. The seat is gone, the handlebars are rusty. The wheels are twisted grotesquely as if squeezed by the hands of a giant, the spokes point haphazardly in all directions. I sit beside this now useless mode of transportation and wonder about the child that once owned it. Where now is the joy and excitement he or she experienced on seeing this shiny new bicycle for the first time, perhaps on a long ago Christmas morning? Could it be that I hear his laughter in the spindrift, still close to his treasured childhood possession? I think about my first bicycle and wonder what happened to it. Like my beloved Teddy, it occupies a precious corner of my mind.

Although the time has come for me to leave this Beach of Dreams, I shall continue to speculate about all that I have seen and wonder about the connectedness of everything. The kelp, the driftwood, the shells, the rusty bicycle, and even the child without a face are part of the mosaic. They will live on in memory, intertwined forever because they once were ... need I say more?

Vi Jones (c)2001