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Beach Combing

by Ferida Wolff

Well, another weekend was spent not buying that beach house I always say I want.

I am surrounded by friends who have taken the plunge. They all love it. They tell me how they enjoy long, lazy days on the sand. They tell me how sweet the air smells when the wind blows in from the ocean and the grand hours they occupy beach combing. There is nothing like it, they assure me.


So once every couple of years, my husband and I go out and look at houses. We almost bought a large, five-bedroom Victorian in a small shore town last time we house-hunted. It had everything I wanted: many bedrooms, a wrap-around porch, closeness to the beach. I could already feel my toes wiggling in the cold Atlantic. But the night before we were to commit to it, neither of us slept. The few times we were able to drift off, we would suddenly awaken in a cold sweat.


I understood that taking on another house was a big responsibility. It meant assuming another mortgage and doubling up on the furniture. We would be hosts to drop-in guests when we wanted privacy, an inevitable consequence of shore ownership said our friends, but not unpleasant. Is that what was holding us back?


We examined our motives but didn’t feel that any of that was sufficient to keep us from buying that second home. What was it then? Maybe we should do it anyway. After the second sleepless night, however, we let our dream house go. We didn’t know what had stopped us but we decided to listen to the feelings we were experiencing. Grief and relief alternated within us.


We took a vacation later that year. It wasn’t to the shore. We went to Africa on safari. We had two glorious weeks of  connecting with nature in its wild state. It was only two weeks. We traded year-round beach combing for this? we asked ourselves. Yes, we did. Had we bought the property, we probably would have stayed home and bought furnishings for the new house. It would have been fun but we would not have watched cheetahs on the hill stalking a lone impala. Or drank champagne ten feet away from lounging lions. There would have been no elephant charging us in our backyard either, and no incredible African sunsets.


For the next year or two we took our two-week vacations and never thought about the shore house. We love traveling but soon it crept up on us again, the longing for the shore. So we ventured back into the real estate market. We discovered that the house we almost bought was now worth at least twice what we would have paid for it. The market had changed since our last foray into it. Did we regret it? Maybe a little. We looked at listings and checked out neighborhoods.


Once again, at the possibility of buying a house, we turned to each other with that unanswered question in our eyes. 


My thoughts drifted off to the places we had been to and those we had yet to see. There would only be those two weeks and, if we were lucky, another week somewhere in between. We would have our photos and our memories and the new friends we made but it wouldn’t be the consistent, comforting presence of a place at the shore. Yet we both knew. This would not be the year for the house. 


I still love the shore and one day, sometime when the greater world isn’t so insistent, perhaps we will settle into a sandy place of our own. Until then, our definition of beach combing will have to be broadened to exploring more than the coast at our fingertips. 


When the travel brochures come in the mail, we look them over eagerly.  We will take our time reading them. They hold treasures inside like the shells that encase the tiny sea creatures that wash up on the sand. For now, these are my beaches. I can’t wait to start combing again.


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