A Moment By the Sea


I’m at the beach, lazing on a beach chair with a book loosely held in one hand and sunglasses trained to the undulations of the ocean. I love its smooth rise and fall, the curl of its waves, the fan-shaped spread of its watery hands.

The book I’m reading isn’t very interesting, so I am people watching and constructing small stories in my mind.

Take for instance that young father who is bobbing up and down with his son some distance away. The child is screaming with delight each time they bob up over a wave, but I notice that Dad has his eyes trained toward the deep. Perhaps he is looking for a big wave or… yes! He’s afraid of sharks. And he thinks: I just read about a shark attack somewhere near here. Maybe it was right here on this beach. The waves are darker out there, and a monster might be lurking. The ocean is a treacherous thing. It’s not our element. We have really no business being out here. I’m endangering my son. We have to get out of here!

So much for this poor man. I turn to a skinny teenaged girl in a red swim top and baggy shorts. She’s with her mom and at Mom’s urging is dragging herself toward the ocean. Mom is excited, but I can almost hear the girl’s whine. Why do I have to go in? I don’t want to get wet. Salt everywhere, and then I’ll have to put sunscreen all over again, and it’s a total yuck. Who needs the ocean? It smells bad, and the shells hurt my feet, and if I step on a jellyfish I’ll throw up.

Characters give vastly different personalities to places. And imagined characters give way to plots which circle lazily through my mind. Sometimes a plot touches down, and a story is born. Other times they slide past me and are lost in the ceaseless motion of the sea.

Oh, look, a woman with her young son is standing at surf’s edge. The little boy is pointing at the waves and clapping his hands, loving this huge, blue-green bath tub. He’s not sure he wants to put his feet into the water, but he is brave enough to run to the water’s edge and then scurry back when a wave comes. The lady smiles and takes photographs. Someday, I hear her thinking, he’ll grow up and it won’t be cool to love this place as I do. It’s so serene, so natural. He loves the shells, now… oh, look at him! Perhaps he’ll come to love the ocean, too. At least, I’ll have these photos…

Such a charming scene. But now, a new character arrives, a small, spindly-legged little girl with spiky curls. She wears a two-piece swimsuit which she is tugging uncomfortably, and she keeps looking seaward. At first I think she is watching the swooping pelicans, but then I realize that two people—a man and a woman—are having the time of their life in the swells. The little girl looks at them wistfully then puts a foot into the water. She draws it back. I don’t dare go out there. The waves are so big and scary… I’ll drown. But I want to go out there. I want to. I want to…

The young couple finally tires of their sport and comes back to shore. To my surprise, they are the little girl’s parents. I am indignant. What kind of parents would leave their small child alone on the beach? But I try to withhold judgment and watch as the man bends to talk to the little girl while the mother adjusts her own stylish black bikini. Then, almost reluctantly, Mom gives a hand to the small girl. Dad takes the other hand. They walk into the water, but the little one balks. Oh, no, I’m scared of the waves. If Daddy would carry me… but he drops his daughter’s hand and dives into the water. His wife does the same—and they leave the child standing there!

She takes several steps into the water, looks sea-ward,  calls to them. She tries again and goes up to her knees. Why won’t they turn around? Don’t they know the sea is a scary place? The waves are bigger than I am. Maybe, if I’m brave I can go out to them. Maybe then they’ll play with me… but the couple never look back, and the child walks away from the ocean, her small face puckered and woeful.

I almost go to her, but I hold back. Strangers can’t heal broken hearts or change the fact that this child will most certainly grow up disliking and distrusting the sea. Perhaps she will grow up disliking herself and distrusting everyone.

No, strangers can’t do much but feel… and write. And yes, I think I will write about this small moment by the sea.

            Child by a great sea

            Shadowed by sad memories…

            Ah, the broken heart.





About Maureen C. Wartski

I’m Maureen Wartski, writer, artist, wife, mother, grandmother; you can see that I have many of the bases covered. I was born in Ashiya, Japan, a (then) small town which lay cradled between sea and mountains. In the evenings, we would walk along the road that ran past Osaka Bay, and a great moon would rise out of the water to turn the world to silver. I’m told that my first words were, “Big moon!” All my life I have felt the tug to write something, draw something, put together something with fabric, string and color, and the urge to create has grown through the years. I suppose, then, that it’s a natural thing that this blog be full of the things that so many of you enjoy doing…drawing, making something with fabric, and writing. Yuri's Brush with Magic, my newest book for middle schoolers follows the adventures of a brother and sister, the magic of words, and the incredible magic of the natural world. I'd love to hear from you! You can send me a note at: maureen@wartski.org/ My blog is here: https://maureenwartski.wordpress.com/ Or friend me on Facebook!

19 responses »

  1. Maureen,

    Your people watching by the sea has me longing to be there. A great way to create stories based upon what we observe, using our own perspective. It is great for exercise and for inspiration. Your art of Lorelei is terrific too! Is she named for someone you know? Definitely one of my favorite names.

    • Hi, dear Linda–
      You see? Sometimes I get it right. 🙂 Thank you for your interest, insightful comments, and for reading… and most of all thank you for giving me a reality check once in a while. Only good friends do this!!

  2. Hi, Joan– I love the sea, also, and I people watch on occasion (usually the book I have with me is more interesting!). Usually the ‘stories’ I write in my head come and go, but this incident of the little girl still bothers me! That’s how we writers operate, no?
    “Lorelei” is a water color I did some time ago… no one I know, but I think it’s easy to become pensive on the sea shore!

  3. I feel like I was sitting right beside you observing the whole scene. I just finished a book on child abuse so the incident with the little girl made my heart ache. Thank you for sharing your stories Maureen. I love to read them.

  4. I can’t get the idea of this lonely little girl out of my head! I would have wanted to intervene too, but like you I would probably have stopped myself. Let’s imagine that she has a friend, a cross between a guardian angel and an imaginary friend, who keeps her from feeling too lonely!

    • Oh, I do hope so, Carole… I still see that little face and those unthinking, foolish parents! I kept thinking of my own boys and my dear daughters in law who nurture and love their children to bits. So sad.

  5. Oh, goodness, my sister and I had the most fun people watching and making up stories. I thought everyone did it, but my husband and kids are mortified when I begin, “I wonder …”
    “Mom, don’t,” they say.

    The beach is great for people watching. I take my kids and write after I’m done swimming. Shhh, I make up stories about them too.

  6. Thank you, Vijaya– super that you make up stories about the children. When they have kids of their own, the grandchildren will love those stories! Isn’t the sea a wonderful place to just… think?

  7. Beautiful watercolor, Maureen. You are an extremely talented lady. Now you’ve got me thinking about a gentle lady who goes to the beach and paints beautiful watercolors (using salt water, of course) and then comes home and makes quilts rom the pictures using silver threads.

  8. Lovely musing, and yes, that scene with the lonely little girl is worrisome to me as well. My own memories of seashore are full of warm family sharing with the youngest (and oldest) family members at the center of it all!

    • Thanks, Annie. Isn’t it sad that some parents just don’t seem to ‘get’ it? I am still haunted by that little girl. What will happen to her? What will she be like when she grows up? I may have to write more about her…

  9. Dear Maureen,
    I loved the characters you drew from your experience at the beach. It is indeed sad that they left the little girl alone. I like the picture you drew of her as an adult. Interesting and beautiful.
    Enjoy your day being your sweet self.
    Joan Y. Edwards

  10. Thanks so much, Joan! The little girl haunts me, still. Isn’t it strange how our minds pick up one incident and play with it, worry it, and make it our own? But then– what are writers for, eh?

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