It was hot at the beach that week. Hot and windy. And we were enjoying every moment of it—lugging a wagonload of stuff to the perfect spot we’d staked out early in the morning, digging holes that we hoped would hold the heavy umbrellas in place for some respite from the heat, and slathering on gobs of sandy sunscreen over our burns from the previous days. It was just like any other summer vacation week—a chance to do what vacations are literally meant for—to vacate our lives and live in a temporary, suspended space of books and play and sandwiches and chips, with a view of a huge expanse of shimmering, loud, and sometimes violent water.

It took the kids a few days to get used to the idea of the water’s power. That you could be standing one moment and choking on a lungful of salty brine the next. I watched them go from excited adventurers cheering on the big waves the first day to angry, harried scaredy-cats after a few twisty knock-overs. But by this point of the vacation, they had righted their relationship with the power of the sea and learned how they best liked to interact. For Wally, this meant securing himself in a life vest or kids inner tube and learning the rhythms of the waves, diving through them for hours and hours. For Vivvi, this meant laying on her stomach where the water was just reaching at the end of its journey and holding her cousins’ hands tight until the waves won the battle. (They made this up on their own, but this is exactly the kind of play my sister and I would get up to when we were their age. It felt vividly nostalgic, reminding me about what was fun about being a kid at the beach with no agenda, and really nothing to vacate back home.)

It felt so normal—but still with an edge of reality. We considered a beach spot like a fence—placing objects strategically to keep the other beachgoers from setting up too close. When we walked the beach, we were winding in awkward paths in order avoid others (like the plague?). We weren’t just playing on vacation with my sister’s family—we were double bubbling. After months of virtual playdates or backyard visits on separate blankets, when I told Vivvi—who is the most huggy love language person on the planet—that we were going to bubble with her cousins for the week, she was thrilled: “You mean I can touch them?!”

I spent my days fussing with the setup, distributing snacks and drinks and lunches, savoring an afternoon beach beer, enjoying my sister’s company—and reading. In my normal daily life, I read a lot. And especially during the global crisis, I’ve found reading an enormous comfort. The world may be in chaos, but there are stories to enter, pages to be turned. Normally vacation is my opportunity to plow through 3 books—but this vacation I had a hard time diving in when we were at the beach. Once they learned to love the ocean in their own ways, the kids were so entertaining to watch. And the sand was calling me.

It started with the sticks. This particular week, the beach was full of them. They were a mess, and people avoided them when they chose their spots. Because of this, my sister, an excellent beach-spot-picker, set us up in the stick-iest places. And nothing screams “do something with me” like a pile of unwanted sticks. So we got to work. The first day we created M’Lady of the Beach.

We created her, and saved the boobs for last because that would be the most fun part. One of the girls came over and started forming them as A-cups, but I thought she was more of C so I redid them. I made those beautiful big mounds, we decorated them with shells, and she was complete. She was a last minute decision, and at a strange angle relative to the walkable part of the beach. The tide was coming in, and it claimed her back as part of the ocean before many people got a look at her. It’s okay—she was shy, and enjoyed her solitude.

The next day we got started earlier. I dug with a tiny shovel for 30 minutes before husband Wally took mercy on me and had a sizable pile going in 10 minutes or less. He became our digger, and eventually our styler of sticks. I saw what we should make and how it should take shape. My sister was the master of definition, creating shadows with fine lines. And my brother-in-law built a protective barrier at the end.

That day, we built Bob, a lazy beach troll who just wanted to lay back and relax. His big ol’ belly and chunky feet invited beach walkers to come take a look. We sat back on our spot behind Bob and enjoyed hours of casual admirers. They drew closer, took pictures, smiled, and laughed. Something about Bob brought the people together in a shared burst of joy.

Another day, we created an Olaf—a happy snowman, who finally did get to enjoy summer.

And then, one day, the piece de resistance. We got to the beach and black sand had washed up that day. Do you know the part of Lion King, where Rafiki sees a vision on the tree—and it’s the shape of a lion? I kid you not—the sand spoke in that exact same way. In a flat drawing, it showed me the head, the body—exactly how he should lay. As our resident digger piled up the sand, the back leg took shape with each shovel. I pressed on his face to pack in the sand, and his nose formed in the process. It’s almost like we found him in the sand—we excavated him, like paleontologists on a dig.

He was regal. He surveyed his kingdom. And he was our most loved sculpture of all—like the animals at Pride Rock, the people would come up and bow before him and pay their respects. He wasn’t a great and perfect replica. He was just a pretty decent, massive lion, made out of sand. But he transcended that reality into something words can’t express. Maybe it was the thrill of the temporary combined with the delight of the unexpected. A feeling by the walker by that it’s here, and then it’s gone—and I got to witness it only because this is where my feet led me. Whatever it was, the people loved him. We loved him.

And at the end of every day, the tide would come in. The water would come, reclaim what was always the beach’s to begin with. And there was something beautiful and right about the destruction. The art was temporary—only for the people who happened to stumble upon it that day to experience in its full glory. Here and then gone. Like life. Like pain. Like crises. Like summer. Like a vacation. Like a wave.


Lion in the Sand from Meet The Otts on Vimeo.

And then, just like that, the week ended. The sculptures were washed away, and—with our memories—we went home.

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