Tidepools and the art of paying attention

Because I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, it’s extremely easy to get to the ocean.  That must be why I never go.  Seriously, it’s been almost two years since I last stepped onto a local beach.

Thankfully, my shockingly long stretch of coast-less days ended last Saturday, when the four of us went tidepooling.  We were invited to go by the parents of Matthew’s best preschool chum, who are frequent visitors to the beach, and it was a fabulous experience.   It was the kind of late afternoon/evening where the sun alternated with the clouds, creating a marvelous atmosphere; at times, you could practically see the distinct linear rays of the sun beaming down to earth,  looking like an old holycard picture of heaven.

And when was the last time I went tidepooling?  When I was in Girl Scouts?  They’re truly amazing, those little pools.  They are worlds in and of themselves, peopled with crabs and pinkish coral and purple sea urchins and astonishingly large anemones.  (Matthew very endearingly called them “enemies,” but there’s nothing hostile about these beauties.)

My ability to examine the pools was impaired somewhat by the wild tantrums of Luke, who was greatly perturbed by the fact that we required him to hold our hand at all times.  (Slippery rocks, fragile ecosystems, and a three-year-old with the grace of Godzilla?  There was no way our little rhino was going unsupervised.)  But even with the sound of his wails mingling with the crash of the waves, I had a blast wandering about, peering into the shallow waters, noticing the huge starfish partially obscured by rocks  and the spiky sea urchins wallpapering the crevices of the pools.  You’d never guess, from far away, what kind of wonders can be found in this reddish-gray stretch of seaweed and rock.  There is a lot you can miss if you don’t get way up close, if you don’t take the time to stop and look.

But that’s life right there, isn’t it?  In every seemingly barren situation, there is still some lovely little thing to notice and appreciate.  Even in my frenetic evening routine, when I’m wrung out from a day of teaching and have to settle sibling squabbles, make dinner, and deal with a stretch of exhausting chores scrolling out before me, there is still that impish little smile that breaks out on Luke’s face as he catches my eye across the dinner table.  There is the way I catch a glimpse of Matthew, dancing clumsily but with great joy, to the music of Schoolhouse Rock.   There are the roses on my table and the moon rising into the skylight in the ceiling above me.

I could pass right over these things, just as easily I could step over a tidepool,  or just as readily as I could spend years ignoring the gorgeous beach that is so close to my home.  Or I could  take a moment to pause and see what is right there under my nose, the little wonders that are just asking to be noticed and savored.

I know which one is the better way.  I hope I always choose it.

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