Florina Beach, Cocagne Island, Carmel

Maybe it’s the first day of summer

It’s the 20th of June. Maybe it’s the first  day or Summer, of maybe it’s tomorrow. We don’t have a calendar here that tells us. But the day starts out overcast and then the sun comes out, humidity building. Just before we set out for a beach excursion, it starts to sprinkle, so we decide not to go anywhere, but to stay home at Florina Beach.  It’s our beach. It deserves some attention.

It took me two times looking at this place to see the possibilities. The first time that I saw the sign “Florina Beach”, I thought it said “Florida Beach”. How silly, I thought, comparing this place to Florida. But Florina is the woman’s name who used to own this land. She’s in her 80s now and still lives somewhere nearby.

seagulls lifting off small beach

Our beach

The beach here is a small triangle. It’s much nicer and  there’s much more of it when the tide is out. The water is shallow and warm and the sand is fine. Little fingerlings jump at the water’s edge and flash in the sunlight. There are tiny hermit crabs here that live in snail shells and there are lots of clams, too. Tiny oyster shells from the oyster farming cages are scattered on the beach. It seems like a gentle place where baby sea creatures are given a chance to grow and get a foothold on life — a place of gestation. After a storm the beach is often piled high with seaweed that looks like shredded packing paper.

a small beach

Is the island splitting in two?

From Florina Beach, looking across to Cocagne Island, we are noticing a curious thing.  Until now, Cocagne Island has been two distinct forested clumps of land with a low, marshy neck connecting them. But this year we can see blue water and sailboats  on the other side of the neck — like it’s thinned. Carved away by the action of the surf? Rising water levels?  Eroded by the increasingly violent storm surges and changing currents?

Surette Island, nearby, didn’t used to be an island. My friend Jeanette told us that. She grew up here 70 years ago and at that time it was connected to the mainland. Could be that this whole coast is more dynamic than one would think. It’s taken us a while to notice.

So what if Cocagne Island is cut in two?  Will we get bigger waves?  A better beach?  Or will the beach that we do have be washed away? Will the oyster fishery in these gentle waters be ruined?

At one time there was talk of “developing” Cocagne Island with high end homes, a golf course and a bridge.  But the locals were against it. The island would be forever changed. So reports of vicious mosquitoes were circulated. Actually they are quite aggressive and bloodthirsty — so this was no lie.

Cocagne Island with oyster boats

The island is a living thing

To me  it’s important that the island stays wild with its oak forests where the herons nest and with great, untouched beaches on the ocean side. I even want to keep the mosquitoes. They’re food for the fish. They’re part of the abundance of life here. We need a repository of wilderness as a balance to all that is developed and changed by human activity.

But the island seems to be a thing alive. Alive and changing. Not only is it thinning in the middle, dividing like a cell, but the sand spit on the north side seems to be coming closer to the main shore. Left to its self-determination, and going at an island’s pace, it may yet willingly connect to the mainland.

woman on beach looking at distance island

My friend Carmel died this week

My friend Carmel died this week at the too young age of 59. I was waiting for her to arrive in these parts for her summer residence any day now, as she does every year. Instead I got an email from her daughter, “Mom died today.”

Things seem like they will always be the same, until suddenly they are no longer the same at all, like an island cut in two. We often don’t notice the subtle changes, and the slow erosion until in one dramatic and startling moment everything is different.

Carmel, we spent time here together. You were a part of my life. You helped me give birth to my daughter. You were a good friend. Today I see that our lives, our souls, are built moment by moment, grain by grain. And all of the grains are moved by forces like the tides and the wind, pushed, gathered, eroded, divided, scattered and reconfigured. We can resist or ride the currents with grace, flow and generosity. We can welcome the reshaping. We can become something else. I think that you would understand. We can reach toward connection with another shore, familiar yet unknown.