This weekend, I took off for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic and headed for the coast. When I long for renewal, the water has always drawn me, especially the ocean, My last trip was exactly a year ago when my younger sister, Peggy generously planned a trip for us when I needed a lot of support.
Because I’ve had so much time alone since the beginning of the pandemic, I hesitate to say I’m on a solo journey–as I have over the years. Most of those trips came in the summer when I was off for two months from my work as a school nurse. I couldn’t wait to get to the quiet after the stress of bustling middle school hallways.
This year, I needed to be near water and to see something besides my Durham home where I’ve spent so much time sheltering in. I have to be cautious because I’m in that over 60 category– which one author refers to as the ‘young elderly’ (how do you like that?). Also, for three days each week, I provide childcare to my two grandsons–the younger just 3 months old.
After checking their pandemic precautions, I felt safe going to Fort Caswell Coastal Retreat & Conference Center on Oak Island, North Carolina. While it is owned by the Baptist church, they allow non-Baptist to use their facilities so I was able to book a room. My friend, Delores and her husband, who’s had health problems, just stayed in September and noted that the staff carefully followed protocols. October’s there off-season so there are a lot fewer guests.
The campus of Fort Caswell overlooks the Atlantic ocean and inland waters at the mouth of the Cape Fear river. In 1824, the Federal Government selected this site for the establishment of a fortress to protect North Carolina’s biggest port and city. Fort Caswell was constructed over a 12 year period and completed in 1838. During the American Civil War, Spanish-American War and World War I, it provided protection from enemy forces (From the Fort Caswell website).
When I arrived on Friday, I couldn’t wait to get to the water. I walked across the Caswell grounds in between the historic houses, passed the meeting spaces and gymnasium, grassy open space, through the scrubby vegetation that was dotted with orange butterflies, bright yellow goldenrod, and small purple morning glories. Finally, I arrived at the path over the dunes, with the afternoon light shining on the sea oats.
My first glimpse of the ocean caught my breath– that expanse of blue Atlantic as far as I could see, the waves strong and rushing in at high tide. I inhaled the salty air and felt washed in gratefulness to have returned to the sea. So many milestones in the past year; so many challenges and victories.
On the breeze I heard, “Come to the Water” and remembered the chorus of a song we often sang in youth groups during high school and college. (“For Those Tears I Died written by Marsha Stevens-Pino in 1969):
And Jesus said, “Come to the water, stand by My side,
I know you are thirsty, you won’t be denied;
I felt ev’ry teardrop when in darkness you cried,
And I strove to remind you that for those tears I died.”
That invitation to Come to the Water reminded me of my need for renewal. There are many references to water in the Bible including bodies of water, drinking water, baptismal water. While I know that not all of my readers are Christians, I think that most people find being near water is very rejuvenating– no matter your beliefs.
When I considered the invitation to Come to the Water, it lead me to the question, “What am I thirsty for?”
I think that just being in a different place, with time to look back at all that I’ve come through, is part of what I needed. Sometimes when I’m in the midst of everything back in Durham, life feels compacted, intense. It’s necessary to draw away for a while to let go of what has been and to open up to what will be.
There was a chair beside the path and I sat and rested in the comfort of the water’s edge. I watched the boats; a Coastguard vessel from the Oak Island Station just down the road, Bald Head Island ferry carrying passengers from Southport, and pleasure boats cutting through the water on a Friday afternoon; all were part of the daily rhythm of this place. It was nice to be away where the expanse of water and bodies of land were so different from my home.
It was a clear day and beneath the dome of the azure sky, I saw a small plane. Its hum reminded me of my act of courage when I was twenty and staying on this island, further south at Yaupon Beach.
On a cold and crisp January weekend, I joined my older sister and brother-in-law in taking a ride over the ocean in a small plane; it was my first time flying. I didn’t think anything of paying the twenty dollars and climbing into the craft without as much as looking to see if they had any kind of license to operate at that small air strip. My date, a ‘tall drink of water’ at 6′ 6″ didn’t want to get in that plane. I don’t know if it was because he thought he wouldn’t fit or he was afraid of flying. He was content to wait for us, standing next to the landing strip holding our things.
Flying over the shoreline, looking out over the expanse of ocean and monopoly-game-houses, I felt like the entire world opened up to possibility. Now, it made me wonder what step of courage I need to take at this time to open up possibilities.
Since arriving at Fort Caswell, I’ve often heard those planes. Last evening when I drove over the bridge to pick up Italian take-out, I passed that air strip that has grown to multiple recreational businesses. That small air strip has remained and even expanded over the years.
Today is day three of my trip. Finally, I’ve settled in and I’ll work this afternoon on my memoir sequel that I promised Mattie Belle (see post Just Enough Encouragement).
I will Come to the Water and draw from it like lowering a bucket into a well of ideas. They will be needed to put journal notes and rough drafts into chapters that inspire and encourage. I will need my cup filled in order to pour out creativity onto the page. Writing a book is another kind of journey and the path will be revealed as I take each step forward.
In between those steps, I’ll need to rest; that’s part of what drawing away for a little while reminds me to do. Drink freely of the water, rest, wait for possibility to open up, then take those first bold steps forward. Come to the Water.
Today Fort Caswell carries its protective legacy forward, but as a place of peace, beauty, and personal growth instead of war. I have felt that peace, seen beauty all around me, and trust that I’ve grown this weekend.
I end this post on Sunday morning. I’d counted on taking pictures of the bright sunshine on the sea oats. Instead, I sit at my kitchen table and watch the rain. Maybe it’ll be sunny before I leave tomorrow. If so, I’ll post my pictures on my business Facebook page at Author Connie Rosser Riddle.
May the week ahead bring you peace, beauty, and a time of personal growth.
How About You?
How can you respond to the invitation to Come to the Water?
What are you thirsty for at this time in your life?