Anne Hodges White
The beach is a bellows
The close observer can watch the beach breathing.
But for a few lone walkers with coffee mugs, the early morning beach is empty. The sun is barely above the horizon; the moon is at its quarter, pale and losing its light in the west. The sea is September-flat in its Atlantic basin, and without the July surf that awakens those of us who turn off the A/C and sleep with the windows open, quiet settles on this wide beach.
I choose to walk in the thin skin of receding waves as they slip back into the sea. Everywhere pocking the wet sand just above the tide line are nail holes, those tiny openings, dark against hard packed buff — think of them as passageways to a deeper place. And little volcanoes, larger holes surrounded by miniature lava flows — think of them as evidence of interior forces. And mounds filled with air that are past the nail hole stage but don’t quite make it to volcanic explosions — think of them as reservoirs.
I study the nail holes and volcanoes, but I can’t help myself: I step on the mounds — a soft and hollow give, a quiet pooft!
Walking is an effort. Full of air, the sand is soft underfoot. Deep footprints trail behind, proof that the beach breathed deeply last night. As the tide withdrew, air replaced water in its vertical passageways and horizontal connectors, and held it in its reservoirs.
Now the tide is coming in. The weight of seawater, reaching higher and higher, presses upon the broad breast of the beach, fills the nail holes and volcanoes, forcing air up from below and out into pearly strings of burblings. Water replaces air. Think of opening a bottle of seltzer water. You can hear them releasing what they've saved during the night. The beach is a bellows.
Now I am on my knees. Curious and willing to sacrifice one large volcano to investigation, I dig quickly beneath the receding wave. How deep is this thing? I dig and dig; still the bubbles burble. At last, at twelve inches, the sandy hole pushes out its final spurt. Twelve inches: as far as nose to lung.