My friend Joan and I went foraging on Friday, not for nuts and berries, but for intangibles to ease the burdens of winter. Sunshine for when the icy temps cut through our layers of flannel and wool; waves lapping a beach to balance December's fierce whistling wind; hot sand on bare feet for numb toes wrapped in two pair of socks and heavy boots; an unlimited horizon to remember when faced with mountains of imprisoning snow. These are things we went looking for when we piled the puppies into her Caravan and drove two-and-a-half hours to North Hampton Beach on Friday. We found them and like squirrels gathered all we could, burying them deep in memory's storehouse for the bleak times. We hit the jackpot.
The day blazed with the heat of July offset by a gentle ocean's breeze. The melancholy of a changing season hung in the air as pungent as the salty sea. We held our breath absorbing through our pores the last embers of summer. The crowd was sparse -- too old ladies wobbled on unsteady legs to the water's edge, bending over to pick up sea-smoothed rocks, tossing most back in. A man and his daughter brought father and child-sized fishing rods, casting them into the ocean. A toddling sister-and-brother darted into the surf, squealing from delight and cold.
Joan set up camp overlooking the water, watching the seagulls totter across the sand, observing a retriever frolicking among the rocks. She set her face toward the sun, shut her eyes, absorbed it all. I waded in the water until my toes were January numb. Sun, sand, surf road veins to my heart. I love the ocean. My mother grew up on the water. It is in my blood.
"We better remember this come winter," Joan admonished. We sat, I sketched, until the sun drained away and Joan reached for a jacket. I let my bare, sun-kissed skin greet the cold, unwilling to call it a day. When Joan could no longer take it, we packed the chairs up and I went back to the Caravan for Griffles and her puppies. Leashing her neck, I crated her puppies, toting them to the sand. There, I set them free. They jumped out of the crate like bunnies, hopping through the sand like snow. Some buried their faces in it.
We drew a crowd. A woman stopped with her 12-year-old Shepherd mix. He lowered his head and one of the puppies stood upright to sniff his nose before collapsing and resting his own head on the big dog's paws. Another woman gushed that she had a pug at home and two Doberman. She was a photographer, there to take pictures of a wedding rehearsal with the wedding scheduled for the next evening. She worried that she would lose the light and it would become too dark for picture taking. Two skirt-clad members of the wedding party approached and the puppies wouldn't leave them alone, bounding along after them as they tried to leave.
"Is there anything cuter than puppies on a beach?" one woman asked, just as a young mother tottered toward us; a baby girl in pink beach hat, magenta onesie and tutu, strapped to her chest. Puppy and baby stared at each other in a cuteness smackdown. Not sure who should win, I called a tie. An elderly woman held one of the puppies to her chest not wanting to relinquish it. Griffles shivered. Perhaps from chill, perhaps from nerves as so many people grabbed her puppies. We gathered them to us and returned to the van. We held treasures from the day. At the heart of winter, I will take them out and count them like precious heirlooms in a hope chest: the heat of sun, the roar of the ocean, a puppy's kiss. These are enough to keep me warm.
For more photos of the day, check my facebook page at www.facebook.com/kjgiffordphotography