© Copyright 2021 by June Calender
The older I get the earlier I wake up. In fact, I often think I need less sleep because I not only wake up early but may spend an hour or two awake, usually between 2:00 and 4:00. I’m usually awake by 5:30 or sometimes earlier but my clock radio alarm is set or 5:50 so that I can wake up to ten minutes of classical music before a brief local broadcast of the day’s news. Local information, not national unless something unprecedented happened overnight, local sports scores and finally — the real reason I have the clock set a little before 6:00, the weather forecast. They are usually correct.
Now that summer is about to finally arrive not only in terms of the earlier light in the sky and the sound of birdsong, especially the sentinel crow that perches on high branches of a tree across the street announcing morning has come: caw-caw-caw-caw-caw! Yes, five caws in a row. If there is differentiation that other crows can understand, to me it’s all one call. He will repeat his message in a few minutes., maybe a total of six or seven times.
The real summer warmth won’t be here until after the solstice, we are far east and get the first light but far enough north that we don’t get the warmth until summer is truly here. Oh, a few day will suddenly climb to 80 degrees but they will not cluster. They are simply a reminder that it’s time to find the sun glasses and the remainder of last year’s sun tan lotion, if there was any left over.
I need coffee immediately and make it as soon as I go to the kitchen. Sometimes I simply add toast, sometimes a scrambled egg with something to take away the eggie-ness of the egg. This is the second period in my life when I have found myself drifting away from animal products — except for cheese.
Now with the warmth and the beach parking sticker I drive only a bit over a mile to a quiet beach, little known, not the big pick-up center that the large public beach is know to be. This beach is a longish peninsula at the very end of the bigger one, a quiet stream makes up the second side and the ocean itself makes up the main side. During the years I lived in a city I did not go out until at least 7:00 when a comfortable variety of people were on the street. But here, in a quiet bit of New England, I am aware of a homeless population and have heard of a drug-using population but they do not hang out at this beach. I feel entirely safe. I meet other walkers—several with dogs which are forbidden during regular hours. Some health-conscious speed walkers chug along, lightly closed fists leading the way, elbows working forward and back. I think good for you—you’ll live a longer life … if it doesn’t lead to a shorter life.
I like the mornings when the tide started out about the time the sun rose. It will have created a firm strip of sand near the water. I take off my flip-flops, stow them in the pouch, just the right size, slung across my body. A pocket for my car keys, room in the bottom for lotion which I rarely use this early and the flip flops. About half a mile out, away from the entrance to the ocean side shore, the land makes small turn so I can find a place at the beginning of the one and only strip of dune, covered with rosa rugosa and, for a while in the early summer, sweet pea flowers, I step back closer to the dune unburden myself of the pouch and spend at least fifteen minutes doing Tai Chi Easy or the Tai Chi Chih. Both are ersatz versions of true Chinese tai chi. They have none of the martial arts flavor. They are closer to an active yoga but do not involved stationary poses. I’ve done yoga for many years of my life and believe deeply in its healthfulness but have found the movements of these “tai chi”s satisfying. I would like to do qi gong but have not found a convenient class.
However, early in the morning, the sky often an unbroken blue, the ocean peacefully doing it’s daily exercise, the ferry to the Island on the eastern horizon, little can be more peaceful than breathing the fresh air, letting whatever breeze there might be caress my forehead and cheeks, looking to the horizon where blue meets blue is the most peaceful way to begin a day. Now and then a fisherman who was at the far end of the beach clomps by, rarely with fish in hand, only the rod and a small tackle box. Sometimes we say “good morning” often not.
Dog walkers usually come later although I like seeing the dogs off leash as they are not supposed to be but which is the only truly natural way to walk with a dog. Last summer I made a friend one July morning. I walked a bit further than usual because I saw something yellow at the edge of the beach. I guessed that it was a kayak and as I approached I saw that it was indeed. The owner was sitting at the edge of where the dune grass and roses began and the dune was a couple of feet higher than the ocean. He may have chosen the spot hoping not to be seen, or maybe he wanted some slight perspective. He was an “older” man with a well trimmed beard, mostly white, what hair he had was also mostly white both on his head and on his chest where it seemed to have once been much thicker—or so I thought without much evidence. He was wearing only trunks, displaying a noticeable paunch and sitting in a semi-lotus position. He had no shoes and was sitting on a plain white towel of bathroom size. I think he must have seen me coming; but maybe not. His eyes were semi-closed, but I knew he was looking at me. If they had been closed I would have passed by without a word. But I did a tented-hand gesture and said “namaste.”
He didn’t move except to open his eyes and fully look at me. I took a step away. “Sorry,” I said.”
“Hi," lips lifted in a small smile, “Namaste?” he said to me. I took another step away but I thought he wanted to say something.
“What does that mean?”
“It’s a hello and good-bye word, like shalom and aloha.”
“Shalom? Aloha? I never thought about it. I don’t say it either.”
“I’ve read that namaste means I recognize the spirit within you. I don’t know if that’s true. But the people who use it bow to one another.”
“Shalom is Jewish, aloha is Hawaiian. What is Namaste?”
“Buddhist, I guess.”
“No, but I thought you might be. I’m sorry to interrupt your meditation.”
“I’ve been told to try. But I don’t know how.”
“Did the person who gave you the advice tell you what to do?”
“Sit quietly. Empty your mind.”
“No. I’ve tried off and on but it’s hard.”
“Can you empty your mind?”
“I don’t really want to. Walking here is close enough to empty.”
“I’m sorry to interrupt you.”
“You’re not. I talk to people who talk to me.”
“I want to ask a lot of questions, I don’t know what to ask. Do you come here every day.“
“I try to.”
“If I come back tomorrow with some questions, will you talk to me?”
“Yes, but I’m not teacher or an expert.”
“I need to go home, the Powers That Be — my wife and my son — will be worried.”
“Where did you come from?”
“I mean in your kayak this morning.”
“I’ll be here about this time.”
“What time is it?”
“You don’t have a watch or a cell phone?”
“Not with me. It was six-ish when I left,”
“Me too — no watch, no cell but it was six-ish.”
“We’re really out of it, aren’t we?”
“Yeah. I like it that way.”
“Scares me a little. But I just didn’t think about them this morning. They think I might be losing it. They’ll worry and get all hyper. They might be right. That’s scary.”
“Then you better go home. You’ll remember where I am tomorrow.”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, if you don’t come tomorrow, I’ll be here pretty regularly. Maybe I’ll sit myself down and do a little meditating right here. I wish you well.”
He tried to get up, but he was having difficulty getting to his feet. I held out my hands to him and tugged. He got up and walked a bit stiffly to the kayak.
“Cotuit’s that way. Just follow the shore.”
“I know. I think I’m all right.” He went down to the kayak and got in. “What did you say?”
I thought a minute.. “Oh, Namaste.” I bowed to him with tented hands.
He tented his hands and said “Namaste.”
I watched him paddle away. He was doing all right.
You’re going to think I am going to say I never saw him again. But I did. I saw him three more times last summer. He never remembered Namaste, but we had some long talks about meditation and about what happens to aging minds and about the weather, of course, and the horseshoe crabs that fascinate me and that he never thought much about.
He never asked my name and I never asked his. If I had a lot of time I’d write out some of what we talked. If I want to write a novel I could fill it out, give us each a full and unexpected life, get philosophical and maybe metaphysical. But I don’t want to write such a novel.
Some day I’ll see an obit in the local paper with his photograph and I’ll learn he was an important person, or maybe simply a man who lived a full life and had a wife and son who cared for him. I think about him when I walk past that spot and once in a while I sit down there for ten or twenty minutes and think about the many people I’ve met and how few are curious about things like the meaning of Namaste.”