The island dawn is one of nebulous grayness, the sun an oblique white disc shrouded in veils of clouds. Painted from a palette of pearl, silver, and slate, the sand, the sea, the sky are starkly monochromatic, like an old black-and-white-movie. The temperature is indeterminate, neither hot nor cold. The morning is not uninviting nor inviting; it simply is.
As I make my way past softly rolling dunes of long grass shivering and undulating in the wind, I think only of the ocean, the opportunity to savor its splendor in relative isolation, away from commercialism. I expect to see a die-hard beachcomber or two; surely this a shell-collector’s paradise.
I do not expect the tree.
There it is, up ahead in the sand, directly in front of the path where dunes give way to the shore, with the shimmering, empty Atlantic for a backdrop.
How curious. I’ve not seen a tree smack in the middle of a beach before.
Are there others? I scan the shoreline, as far as I can see, on the left and the right.
This is the only tree.
Did it grow here, somehow? I investigate. I suspect not, as the sand is built up around the tree’s base, although I can’t discern human handprints. Or footprints. I don’t even know what kind of tree this is, although I saw numerous others like it lying in the Pamlico Sound on the Hatteras side of the ferry ride to Ocracoke. I should have asked the crew what kind of trees these are and why they lie so far out in the water.
It stands here on the vacant beach with its thin, snaky branches twisting skyward. Shells dangle from some of the vine-like tips, reminiscent of castanets on fingers. Or earrings.
I am enchanted. I’ve a sense of standing in no-man’s land, except that someone has clearly been here. Maybe someones, plural. Mystery people were inspired to plant this bit of driftwood and to decorate it with what was near at hand.
The tree is dead. Shells, for all their intricate beauty, are but skeletons. I marvel at the human heart, its great desire for creativity and play. At the ability of the inner artist to see that random pieces of things no longer living, broken things, can come together in such an unexpected way. Whimsy in the wind. The beach tree stands as a mystical reminder that all is not lost, that all has value, that there’s beauty beyond the brokenness if we are willing to rearrange the pieces. The extraordinary lies not beyond the ordinary, but within it. Not beyond us, but within us, within our very grasp, if we just reach.
The ocean sparkles despite the obscured sun, like the twinkling of an eye when someone’s just about to smile.
Note: The title is a deliberate play on that of a previous post about my son’s trip to Iceland – both attempts at capturing the essence of place: Mythical morn.