A solitary walk at low tide at Deception Pass reveals not just the handiwork of the forces of nature, but also the evidence of human intrusion along the shore. Piles of driftwood from winter storms lie beached, creating worn wood barriers between sand and burgeoning dunes. Amidst the chaos of the storm tossed logs and branches, man-made forts dot the landscape in various stages of build and styles of architecture.
Passing by as I meandered alone along the low tide shore, I marveled at both the complexity and simplicity of the designs and, in some cases, the tenuousness of the driftwood structures.
But another part of me wondered, as my gaze shifted to the expanse of sand and sea, why we humans feel a need to improve upon the work of the forces of nature we cannot control?
Perhaps on some blistering summer day, a need for shade inspired the construction of one pyramid created from planks shaved and bleached by the rolling tide. Perhaps someone with fear of the dark tentatively shaped the sides of another with vast spaces in between.
Or perhaps it was simply a need to place our signature everywhere, to announce, “ I was here… I am significant.”
My solitary musing was interrupted by a young child who was carefully picking up rocks and delivering them to someone I suspected was a grandma carrying a small bucket. With each stone thrown in, grandma expressed delight, which provided all the encouragement this little girl needed to find more rocks. She, too, was finding significance as she ventured out and back, being rewarded for her efforts by grandma’s praise.
Passing them, I overtook a solitary woman also bending low, seeking treasures. She carried a small plastic bag, and I stopped to ask her about the contents. She looked up at me, her eyes clear and calm, her face weathered and brown.
“Sea glass,” she said holding the bag up to the light. “The sun makes it easy to see them. I am an artist, and I will take them home to create sculptures to share.”
Her face was relaxed and soft, and she fit this landscape of sea and stone as though it were her own. Wishing her well, I turned back to head for home, and after a few moments, I encountered once again the grandmother and the small girl. The girl was running across the sand towards one of the wooden forts, and when she stood in the entrance, she called her grandma over to her to bring the rocks.
“That’s a mighty heavy pail,” I joked with grandma as she trudged towards the fort and awaiting child.
“She’s been collecting rock treasures… but only the shiny ones.”
We exchanged those "knowing grandma" glances, and as I walked the gull saturated shore, it occurred to me that maybe I had missed some lesson entirely. Maybe this building of things on the shore was not a desire for attention after all. Maybe what cluttered these shores were sacred moments of creation and connection.
A family seeking rest from punishing summer suns built a driftwood fort and declared their shelter good, leaving it as a refuge for those who would come after. A little girl climbed into a driftwood doorway caressing carefully chosen shiny rocks from the shore and felt delight. And an artist with the bag of glass tumbled by the sea will return home to create a recycled masterpiece and experience joy in its creation.
So perhaps it is not a signature of significance we seek to leave on these shores after all. Perhaps we do this not for applause or accomplishment or prosperity, but simply to create. Perhaps we build driftwood forts, and become collectors of shiny rocks, and make art from frosted glass because on a cellular level, to do so brings us closer to the heart of God, who created it all.
And perhaps, just as God did, we then pause in delight and joy and, in the end, view what we have created and simply announce, “It is good.”