On most visits to a coastal margin, I make something I call a “beach offering.”
Beaches are places to find all manner of mysteries in object form. Like children, dogs, and many adults I know, I like to pick those things up.
If the picking up is mostly curiosity, the giving back – that’s the beach offering – is mostly gratitude. I carry those interesting rocks or shells or seaweed bladders in my hands or pockets for a ruminative while, and then I wait until my feet find the right space of sand, and I give them back. I spend some time arranging these gifts both to and from me, and then I leave the collaborative art I have made for the waves to reclaim.
I’m a big fan of ritual, but my culture doesn’t have too many of those. The rituals we do remember don’t always fit or feel right. They don’t often serve the sacred. Those that do sometimes don’t go far enough into our daily lives.
So beach offerings are a ritual I’ve created for deep attention: to a place itself, to time I’ve spent there, to mysteries encountered and burdens shared. The curiosity and the gratitude are both important. There’s another way to talk about this kind of presence: meditation.
Yesterday, I had a lovely field-ramble in the glorious autumn noon. I’d collected a half-dozen fallen leaves from wood and hedge before I recognized my beach-offering pattern. So I thought I’d make, for the first time, a field offering.
The spot that felt right lay in half-foot-high grass at the base of a hawthorn hedge marking a field-boundary. I spent a few minutes weaving big-leaf maple stems into the dying grass, then hawthorn, hazel, and what I think are some kind of cherry leaves into the tiny holes eaten in those sweet-dust-scented macrophyllae. It’s not very accomplished art. But I enjoyed it.
The wind this day had already brought us rain, and it promised more. Meantime, it was playing, like a child or a dog on a beach, with the fallowing fields and the jay-blue sky. Before I could snap a picture, it had found my offering, investigated it, and begun to sift and taste and rearrange each component. I don’t usually get to see this process of what I would like to construe as acceptance.
Of course that interpretation is a species of fancy. But imagination is not the opposite of truth.
In some sense neither ocean wave nor farm-field wind care a maple’s seed-spin what I do. But in some Other, deeper, older way that perhaps I might take as manifestation of Mystery, my deep attention matters to my bit of earth.