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Jun 23 2010

The evening of the starfish

starfish beach angleBy Jessica Rodriguez

As a child, I remember staring out of the window and thinking summer never came quickly enough. Though many things have changed as I have gotten older and become a teacher and a mother, I still can’t wait for summer to arrive. When it does, I find myself as excited as my children anticipating an entire summer outside of the school halls and classrooms.

My daughter, Hanna, has been spending winters and summers at the beach since she was a baby. Now that she is older she gets ready for the beach by packing her own suitcase with a list that she has made herself. As I peek in her bag to make sure she has everything she will need, I come across her neatly written list entitled, What I Need to Pack for the Beach!: 1. Swimsuits, 2. Socks, 3.Books, 4.Flashlight, 5.Picture of mom, 6. Pajamas . I couldn’t help but smile at the list and my heart warmed as I saw number five: picture of mom. The next morning we woke, jumped in the car and were off to our annual family beach vacation on Kiawah Island. After four and a half hours of a cramped car ride we finally made it, and of course the first thing we did once we finished unloading was to throw on our Rainbow sandals and stretch our legs out on the beach.

Later that evening we went out to the beach again. The sun was beginning to hide itself and there was a slight, refreshing breeze in the air. The waves were crashing on the sand and we saw shrimp boats on the horizon. The stunning natural visuals that surround us never cease to amaze me. As an artist and an art teacher I could not help but see everything around me as something meant to be captured on canvas or photographed and preserved.

As I sifted the warm, smooth sand through my feet and looked at my daughter exploring and finding pleasure in the simple items around her, I took pride in the picture that she created. I could not help but feel a connection between viewing the culmination of a beautiful day amid the sand and shells and salty blue-green water with its white crested waves, the deer standing patiently still in the sweetgrass as pockets of water reflect the pinks and purples of the sunset above, and my creation: my daughter, with the sun flowing through her hair and the sand all over her sun-kissed arms and legs. There is something extraordinarily exciting about both.

Artist M.C. Escher once said, “At moments of great enthusiasm it seems to me that no one in the world has ever made something this beautiful and important”. As a human on this planet I feel that way looking at the nature surrounding me, and as a mother I feel that way looking at my daughter in a moment of peace and perfection. Each visual is unique and this moment with my child will never happen again, so I take a mental picture to cement it in my mind.

The next evening, my sister, Hanna and I decided to take our bikes for a quick trip to a nearby inlet to see what the receding waters have left for us to find. We rode for a short time while my daughter complained about her hurting bones and muscles. There was a scowl on her face as we tried to cheer her up by making designs in the sand with our tires or by singing in silly voices or making a guessing game out of how long it would take in seconds to reach the inlet. Nothing really worked, though, and she was determined to pout. Once we arrived, Hanna and my sister took off down the beach and I waded through shallow waters looking for a sand dollar. I found several broken ones and little creatures crawling around past my feet. As I made my way over to the girls, however, I looked down and there in the sand was an unbroken sand dollar. Smiling, I brushed it off began to show it to them when I noted that they were walking through a myriad of beached starfish. As I got closer, I saw my daughter and sister stopping and checking each starfish to see if it was alive. If one was still moving even slightly, they yelled, “I found one!” Then Hanna would scoop up the starfish and walks it back to the ocean so that it would live. They had formed their own Starfish Rescue Mission. Knowing my sister I am not surprised by this at all. I look around and there are so many starfish on the sandy shore that need rescuing. It was, of course, an impossible mission, but my heart warmed watching my daughter forget about herself and rescue all those starfish. She had a smile on her face and was genuinely concerned about their plight, so I join in the search for live starfish to rescue.

There is beauty in the process of life and nature as well as in a beautiful visual moment like I saw the night before. I knew the beauty in the evening of the starfish, and though many had died, a good many lived. Not all of that evening had been fun, but when I looked back it was wonderful because of all the events that had taken place. That day brought my daughter steps closer to becoming the woman I hope she will be one day, and that day gave the starfish other days to live and be a part of nature, a nature that grows and matures and changes constantly.

Life is what happens between the beginning and the end. It is what happens between childhood and parenthood, between birth and death. And the beauty of nature lies in more than just looking at a sunrise or sunset. It is all a part of a beautiful process.

About the Author: Jessica is an Art Professor and regular visitor to Kiawah Island. Her daughter, Hanna, is 9-years-old and just finished 4th grade. They both live in North Carolina. Jennifer Haynes, her sister, is a Photographer and a regular visitor to Kiawah Island, as well.

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