Walking barefoot along a sandy beach is a sublime summertime pleasure, but I always wear shoes.
In nearby Cape Cod, the sand is as deep as three hundred feet in some places, but not on this rocky coastline that is my home.
Pebbled with sharp stones, shells and coarse sand, this beach path is navigated much more easily and comfortably with sneakers or beach shoes, colorfully-woven elastic footwear with rubber soles.
There’s an old Arabian proverb that states: “It’s not the road ahead that wears you out, it’s the grain of sand in your shoe.”
Rocks that are exposed to water and weather break down and create a blanket of sediment that covers the coastline, and the sediment becomes the impediment. Whether lodged in the shoe or clinging to the soles of the feet, those grains of sand will make the traveler footsore by journey’s end.
Curiously, shoes seem to turn up on beaches, half buried in the sand. On my walks I find one-of-a-kind sneakers from pretty pink toddler footwear to expensive Nike athletic shoes. These shoes wear out uniformly, not just on the soles. The tides drag them back and forth; they are pelted by rocks and sand, sun and rain.
Fishermen’s boots also occasionally wash up on this shore. Sea-green and seemingly impervious to the elements, these vinyl boots are weighted down with sand. Calf and over-the-knee boots are essential fishing gear, and I wonder how the fisherman let this one get away.
Was the boot washed overboard in a storm at sea? Did the fisherman tear the fabric on a sharp rock and toss the boot like trash fish? Has he yet to realize that one has gone missing?
I am reminded of a particular clam expedition to the estuary when I was a teenager. The clam digger rests on my boyfriend’s shoulder, and a tin pail swings over my arm. He slips on my father’s new brown beach shoes that my mother let him borrow and nervously paces while I locate the rest of the gear in the shed.
We stroll hand in hand to the creek. The tide is at its lowest. He takes off the shoes and begins raking the tool in the wet sand. Slowly, I begin filling the pail with supper. We lose track of time as we work but are forced to quit by the rising tide.
Staring in disbelief, we watch my father’s new beach shoes float gracefully out to sea.
There is a well-known spiritual poem about a dream, in which we are walking along a beach accompanied by the Lord. Sometimes we see only one set of footprints visible in the sand, leading us to believe that the Lord abandons us during times of trial. But the Lord assures us that it is during these times that He carries us.
Since childhood, I have walked countless miles along this beach in sun and fog, snow and rain, wearing sandals, flip-flops, beach shoes, sneakers, snow boots and occasionally, no shoes at all. But I have never walked alone.