Tonight, I sit for long spells in a wakeful hush while sudden memories encroach upon my world, and lines stretch across the pages of my journal. Sleep abandons me. My eyes are open to a time and place from long ago. I ride my breath in and out as if it were the swells of a sea. Although my body grows calm from sitting still, I rock slightly with the pulse of my heart.
I drift away on a memory.
A thirteen-year-old girl is sitting cross-legged in a tent no larger than a closet, reading. The tent is on a beach along the Black Sea coast, a place so quiet she could hear the pulse of the earth, the moaning of the sea. Not her ideal getaway, but Mom insisted this was what the family needed. A long vacation to the sea, in a tent. Camping. All summer long, Mom said, so bring lots of books. Sure, the young girl loves reading, but why travel three hours by train and spend a whole summer in a tent on a secluded beach with her books?
Nature is fuel for the soul, Mom said. We’re separated from it by walls of concrete and steel, too busy for family bonding time. This vacation will make up for that.
Now, here they are in Navodari Beach, an untouched plot of coastline off the beaten path. A stretch of Romanian seashore devoid of much human intervention, accessible via a narrow, partially unpaved road. One of the quietest places on earth, no doubt. Navodari is the campers’ beach north of Mamaia — the seaside resort where four-star hotels line the boardwalk.
They don’t leave the campgrounds, and depend on what they brought along and the bare necessities within the camp. There is daily walking on the beach, swimming, fishing. Storytelling by the campfire. When not playing, or helping with chores, the kids read.
Camping all summer takes adjusting, but the sea has ways of calming the mind and working things out. The endless stretch of fine sand that sparkles under the sun adds to a sense of increased vitality. Energy. The very presence of the blue immensity under the sky helps ward off feelings of seclusion and boredom. Nature calms the mind. The sea becomes the story.
At night, with the help of her flashlight, the young girl reads about the sea as intersection of culture, the dramatic role it played in world history, all the way back to the Great Flood. A wonderful creation of nature still in the process of change.
Since the Black Sea is connected to the Atlantic Ocean by the Bosporus, Sea of Marmara, and the Mediterranean, she feels connected to the whole of the world. A comforting thought, this human-water bond along the world’s shorelines. Explains our tendency to travel to the water’s edge, our obsession with water — listening to waves lap against the shore, swimming or fishing, writing, and creating memories along its edge.
More kids arrive in Navodari with their parents and tents. Some traveled here from landlocked countries like Poland. They study each other in the manner kids from different countries and backgrounds do; realizing they’re not that different. Soon, the shyness melts away. They strike up tentative friendships. The young girl teaches her new friends Romanian words, and learns how to say sea and wind — among other things — in their language. When all else fails, they alternate between improvised sign language and broken English.
What starts as sensory and stimulation withdrawal turns into a heightened awareness of the elements. They listen to sounds the wind picks up from afar — broken sounds, but easily heard. To the lapping of the waves, the sea whispering its own language or that of creatures inhabiting its depths. Sitting on the beach for hours, they try to decide if the whistling sounds came from dolphins or some other fish. They laugh so much.
Before falling asleep, the young girl tucks away memories in safe corners of her mind. One day in the future, they’ll flash before her eyes like wonderful, old movies.
Drifting back, I close my journal and lie awake in the still night, holding on to the mental images a little longer. Soon, the day’s toil prevails. My ears fill with the pulse of crickets and cicadas proclaiming their desires. Breath and the clouds ride the same wind. Sleep lulls me away, but not before I see a young girl, in a tent, on a far-away beach, listening to the waves of the sea as she falls asleep.
It all started in a sixteenth-century library in Romania, during one frigid winter. In East Europe, libraries are the perfect shelters from the cold and the world.
Silvia Villalobos, a native of Romania who lives immersed in the laid-back vibe of Southern California, is a writer of mystery novels and short fiction. Her stories have appeared in The Riding Light Review and Solstice Publishing, among other publications. Her novel Stranger or Friend (Solstice Publishing) was named best mystery 2015 by P & E Readers’ Poll. When not writing, she can be found blogging at Silvia Writes.