Joy from an Unknown Artist 

Photo: William Barth, Jr., MD

Joy and beauty are elusive in this post pandemic, divided, burning world we inhabit. Elusive, but not gone. 

I swim for many reasons; first among them, to reach a state of concentration, rhythm and flow sufficient to turn down my emotions and stress—stress left from global viruses and our divided country, from the wildfires and floods streaming in my news feed.  With a blanket, a thermos of coffee, a wooden chair, a wetsuit and swim goggles, the town beach is my therapy room.   

The cold water of the Atlantic, a view of the ocean floor, currents enough to keep me focused, and nothing but a vast silence interrupted by the voices of gulls – Singing Beach on early mornings is extraordinary. 

Last weekend, I rose before dawn, filled a thermos with coffee, and drove through the fog to an empty parking lot.  I was alone … not a soul on the beach.  As I began my pre-swim coffee and banana, the routine warnings flashed through my mind – careful when swimming alone (no lifeguards on duty), and if there are seals in the water, there may be sharks in the water.  But this morning was splendid.  The water calm, a grey green glass.  The sand washed smooth from the night’s outgoing tide.  

After the initial shock of the cold, I found my rhythm and swam the length of the beach, from rocks to rocks and back, about a mile.  As I left the water and walked toward my chair, I noticed that the sand was no longer washed clean and smooth.   

As I practiced my favorite form of mediation–ocean swimming, it seemed another human had practiced theirs.  Someone on the beach had carved a continuous line of flowing six-foot curls and waves into the sand with their bare feet.  The waves encircled my beach chair, and some of them formed heart shapes.  The artwork ended by vanishing into the dry sand above the high tide line. 

This beachfront “Banksy” came, left their mark, and disappeared as I swam.  Beyond their generosity of spirit, the only thing I know about this person is that they have five toes on the foot that draws.  I sat and relished the beauty of the moment, knowing that the drawing would soon vanish with the rising tide, and that I might be the only soul to witness it. 

To the unknown artist, thank you!  Solitude in the natural world can be beautiful, and human connections can avert loneliness, but this liminal space in between was sublime! 

William Barth, Jr., MD is a resident of Manchester.  Do you have an idea for an “Musings” essay on local life?  Email us at news@thecricket.com.