Land and Sea

February 19, 2024 Gabriela Stanimirova
 Land and Sea

This essay was originally submitted as a written assignment in ENG 3441 American Nature Writing with Professor Olga Nikolova.

In late summer I travel to the Greek sea and stay there for a week. For the majority of  my time I stay right at the seashore. The view is in such sharp contrast with the landscape of  the city that it feels like I have discovered a new world. It has nothing to do with the grey  rugged tall buildings, only occasionally interspersed with an acacia or a chestnut on the side  of the road. I wonder if it is the same for all the people who travel to the Greek shores. It  would seem so, seeing that the beach is always crowded. Still, in the early morning, I find a  window of time when the beach is almost empty. Then, in the quietness, I can enjoy it all by  myself: the sound of the waves, the salty smell, the view, and the sensation of the wind, the  sand, and the water.

The waves of the sea in this quiet summer morning are rather short and harmless. The  mighty sea has relocated all its vigour elsewhere and for the time being, the tides of this  particular beach have lost their menace. Yet there is no such thing as rest for these soldiers,  the waves. They are always at work. At no point is the sea so quiet that its surface evens out  completely, like a giant mirror, or a smooth silver plate. There is always movement,  animation.

The water comes forward, then recedes, then comes again, endlessly. It dashes with  such intent and speed, it foams at the mouth. It possesses the fervour of a conqueror. It roars  as it charges forward. Its innumerable bubbles and water droplets cover as much as eighty  square metres all at once. In the blink of an eye, my feet are wet. As it gathers more and more  momentum, such a wave seems unstoppable, rushing in from all sides. And then suddenly it  stops. Before I know it, the water has reached a climax and gives up. It quietly returns, as  quickly as it came, with almost no sound at all, as if ashamed of itself for rushing so. Indeed,  the wave does not recede in a slow manner, but makes a run for it back to the sea. The foam  is no more, the conqueror I have seen just a moment ago is no more, and so is the roar. The  water folds into itself like a giant origami and the beach is now larger by roughly eighty  square metres. However, no peace treaty lasts forever. A mighty nation of water droplets such  as the entire sea could never be contained in too tiny a space, and the waves declare war on  the land yet again. A new wave of bubbles appears and spreads along a stretch of roughly  twenty metres. Then the process repeats itself from the beginning. The cycle never ends. Yet  for all the seeming repetition of the movement of the waves, to sit and observe them is never  boring. Each wave is unique and at no point have I “seen it all”. I am convinced that if I were  to record the sea for an entire day, then go over the footage, I would find no wave to have  repeated itself. If no two snowflakes are the same, despite their multitude, I believe the same  goes for the waves.

It is not just the water that never seems to rest. Though it is usually the sea that we  associate waves with, the sand has waves of its own too. As the water comes hurdling over, it  picks up a thin layer of sand and brings it to shore. When it recedes, another layer of sand is  swept along. And so, right at the borderline between land and sea the sand moves in waves as  well. If the water and the foam were invisible, its motion would be clear: back and forth, back  and forth. However, unlike the determined waves, the sand’s movement is slower. The same  happens with the sand farther into the sea. Indeed, when I swim far enough offshore, and if I  happen to find a spot on the seabed where no seaweed grows, I can see them: the ripples of  the sand. They mimic the water above. As the water tides push forward and fall back, they  stir the sand and make a mirror image of the ocean in it. Small dunes form, like a miniature  version of a desert landscape. This is the only evidence I have that it moved, for it is  impossible to observe up close and see how the granules get carried over. As I swim, I make  waves of my own in the water and even the smallest movement scatters the granules of the  sand. When I try to reach the bottom, the picture that the sea had painted there disappears. I  ruin the dunes before I know it. They will form again, I am sure, but even when the pattern is  restored, I cannot come to look at it. In trying to reach the bottom, I rob myself of the  opportunity to even take a glance. It is as if I am both the seeker and the keeper of a secret. I  can only ever look at the sand waves from afar.

This fragility of the sand is akin to a person who has lost their way. If the waves are  warriors, the sand is a mere bystander, a purposeless migrant. Its resolution has been  dissolved long ago. Each granule was taken captive, beaten by the sea, and transported to a  new place. Long ago, the sand might have tried to keep its place on the rock it came from, but  could not. Its new home is a graveyard. Each granule is surrounded by millions of others and  all of them are the ground remnants of the rocks. They are together, yet completely alone, for  there is no structure that keeps them together: no glue, no moss, no clay. A granule is so light,  it is easily swept away. The smallest movement of a fish or a crab passing by, turns its world  upside down. On land, a passing man, or dog, or bird, or even the smallest breeze of the wind  can sweep the sand to a new location. Even so, all the sand at the beach has yet to be lost.

There is always enough of it.

For all the movement of all the tourists that come and go, it is as if the beach learned  nothing of it and will not remember the people when they have all gone home. There is a  sense of peace in knowing that the next time I come, the sea will still be there and so will the  sand. Perhaps they will be different, perhaps not, but their presence is like a pledge that  cannot be broken.