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The cool, fluid sand fell away around our feet as we trekked across the beach, sculpting perfectly the arches and bends of our toes like Degas sketching his ballerinas en pointe, then shifting its shape as the slight evening breeze stirred around us. Every hollow in the surface melted into a new curve of sand; there were no edges or limits, no rules to its unexplainable form, a puzzle to even the most expert of artists. Each arc absorbed a shadow of the slowly vanishing sun, tinted orange and crimson and pink and gold. The sand moved gracefully, silently, like flurrying snowflakes, and I marveled as I had so many times at the sheer vastness of it. How many grains of sand had settled on this beach? How many tiny, glittering particles clung to this earth to create such a velvety, mercurial blanket beneath us? The enormity of this thought dizzied me.
We approached the spot where slick spans of rock had begun to project from the sand, creating craggy splits in the lush sandbanks. A few feet further along the sand slid away completely, replaced by firm stones that caught the waning topaz light in their crevices. We slipped off our ratty sandals and clambered onto the rocks with surprising agility; before us the Menemsha Beach jetty extended into the sound like an apocryphal yellow brick road leading us to paradise.
The two of us made our way barefoot down the domed ledge of rocks, careful not to lose our footing on the awkwardly sloping ridges, laughing as we thrust out our arms for balance and our loose hair swirled in the sharpening breeze. To our left the jetty created a partially enclosed harbor, much less polished than Edgartown Harbor or Lake Tashmoo, both plentiful with powerful speedboats and pristine yachts; this little wharf accommodated real fishing boats that rocked lazily in the shadowed, rippling water. To the right, however, we looked upon the Vineyard Sound. After walking about twenty yards, we climbed down carefully onto two rocks just above the water and huddled beside each other, knees drawn up to our chins against the tide that sent a soft spray of water against the rocks and infused that familiar dry, salty smell into our skin and hair. Despite the chill that had begun to saturate the air, we felt perfectly warmed in our jeans and sweatshirts as we watched the sun.
Neither of us had ever watched the sun set before, from the time in early evening when it still smoldered vividly in the sky, to its final moments of fiery illumination on the horizon. We had come to the beach after a satisfying meal at The Bite, an actual crab shack about half a mile from the beach that served the best fried seafood and clam chowder on the island, maybe even in all of Massachusetts. Our stomachs full and our minds peaceful, we gazed at the sky in pensive tranquility, alternately speaking and ruminating. Wispy slants of cloud splintered the sun into puzzle pieces of ochre and buttermilk tinged with pink; the clouds blushed deep orange and peach, silhouetted by purplish shadows. The water itself glowed with an almost eerie incandescence, as if its light came not from the dazzling ribbons of sunlight that broke over the undulating swells, but from some luminous source below the surface.
When a semicircle of sun remained in the sky, staining the horizon line tangerine and red, I scooted back and stretched my legs out, lying back against a smooth section of marbled pink and grey rock. Emily lay down beside me, her hair tucked under the hood of her hockey sweatshirt, our eyes soaring upward. The feeling of being surrounded by sky, rather than covered by it, struck us both; the dome of cotton candy colors around us seemed to stretch infinitely up and out. At home, I had never seen any sky below the thickets of New England foliage, and to see it in all its multicolored, shimmering glory stunned me beyond any comprehensible words. Emily breathed slow and quiet beside me, and I knew she felt the same sense of wonder.
Much later, when we retired to our shared bedroom for one hysterical, sleepless night before she returned to Wilton and I continued my annual island ventures with my family, I pulled on my pajamas and wrote a poem about that moment: the almost indescribable sensation of feeling so small and insignificant inside a snow globe of sky, the sense of containment and contentment I had felt lying with my friend on those rocks at my favorite beach, watching my first slow sunset and inhaling the heady, salty, inimitable aroma of ocean.
we sat on the porch at midnight
in sock feet and sweatshirts
beneath the sky. a meniscus of black
dusted with jewel bright stars.
those celestial eyes winked coyly at us
mockingly, because they were mirrors:
blinking from the heavens
and all we could see in them were
our reflections, small and hopeful,
enclosed in the sparkling bell jar of sky.
what i would not give to live like this:
with the sky around us
instead of above us.