My grandmother told me that I had angel faces in my knees. She gently pressed her finger against the angel’s eye and traced the chin of the angel at the bottom of my kneecap. I looked at her, solemn. The strap of my navy-blue swimsuit inched down my left shoulder. My arms hung loosely at my sides. I trusted her.
All these years later, I trace that angel’s face as I contemplate how to haul myself out of the beach chair. My body not as supple, my joints a bit cranky. I manage to rise gracelessly. “Look,” my husband says. I raise my eyes to see a heron in needle-nosed flight across the dunes towards the marshes. My eyes lower to meet Ed’s. “You ready for lunch?”
We flip the beach chairs onto our blanket and grab our shoes. My feet press into the warm sand. Breathe, I tell myself, take in this moment. We make our way across the pebbly asphalt to the car. Ed lifts the hatch and we perch, brush off our feet and discuss what to leave behind. We will walk the Marginal Way for a late lunch in Perkins Cove.
The Marginal Way is a 1 ¼ mile walkway that threads the coastline between Ogunquit Beach and Perkins Cove in Maine. Seven years ago, walking the Marginal Way was my pilgrimage to a place of deep family memories, a connection to my matrilineage. A place to remember the few summers my sisters and I vacationed with my parents and my grandmother. A pilgrimage to view the icy blue sea with its dark line of horizon. “The Acklantic,” my grandmother chuckled as she told us how her mother declared that the family crossed the Acklantic from Queenstown, Ireland aboard the SS Cymric in 1913.
In this moment, with my husband, I am walking the Marginal Way as a pilgrimage to the rocks.
Rock formations along the Marginal Way, tan-colored quartzite and darker phyllite, are crosscut with basalt. Threads of granite and feldspar, and glints of mica appear in an irregular pattern. Most stunning is the angular basalt. Dark and dense, this volcanic rock is commonly found on oceanic islands. The ocean waves break upon the sharp edges, and sends skyward a white foam.
As we walk briskly along the Marginal Way towards Perkins Cove, we chat about the rosehips fattening in the autumn sun. The intrusion of bittersweet. The day is warmer that we anticipated, and my mind is distracted by the discomfort of my jeans and dark shirt. I pray for a shady spot to sit, thinking more about patio dining in Perkins Cove than the white foam smashing against the dark basalt. Relief washes over me as we are seated at Barnacle Billy’s, well-shaded by magnificent butternut trees. The lacey leaves gently fan us.
We people-watch, and remark on the bustle of the wait staff. “Claire,” says Ed, and I think he is talking about his sister. No, Claire is our waitress. Ed pays close attention to name tags. After all these years, I should know this. We split an order of fried clams and linger over our brews. A local beer for him, iced tea for me. As we head back to the Marginal Way, I tell my husband, “I promise to slow down.” “You’ve been walking fast all day,” he confirms.
Midway back to Ogunquit Beach, we find an empty bench. I sit.
The wind caresses my face. The waves roar as they approach the basalt. Seawater slaps down on the flat surface. Rhythmic. Again, and again.
Still, my mind is too busy. I am remembering the Paul Simon disc that Ed slipped into the CD player during our drive from Massachusetts. In the first track, Simon sings “I am a Rock, I am an Island. And rock feels no pain, and an island never cries.” Several tracks into the compilation disc, Simon tells us that his mama loves him like a rock. Which is it, Paul Simon? Do rocks have no feelings? Or are rocks our most steadfast friends?
In the second tune, Simon references the Christian hymn “Rock of Ages”.
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Cleanse me from its guilt and power.
Below me, the basalt cleaves. The sea water rushes in. My grandmother’s hand presses my head toward her breast. Her nails scratch my scalp. Loves me like a rock.
I breathe steadily. My thoughts rush into the crevices and rush out again. Slap down hard and rise skyward. Glint in the sun before returning to the icy blue sea.
The wind on my face. The roar of the waves. The slap on the basalt.
My mind steadies. I take one more deep breath and stand.
“Ready to head back to the beach for a nap?” I ask Ed. He nods.
He loves me like a rock.