He faced his future with some trepidation. The fact that his father held his hand didn’t seem to matter. The water moved. It pushed aggressively against his 2-year-old ankles. Then there were the waves, rising up an inch or so and slapping water above his knees. This was not to be borne. The boy frowned and began backing away from the water’s edge. His father urged him forward. “Come on, let’s jump the waves!” the man said, holding fast to his son’s hand. Carefully, with great solemnity, the child lifted one foot, then the other, setting each down with a determined splash. “Jump!” and the man and his son, each according to his talents, hopped a minuscule wave. 

Meanwhile, two young girls and a dark-haired boy were waging a concerted struggle against the oncoming tide. Their expansive structure of packed sand and carefully placed shells was under siege. “Get more sand,” one engineer cried to the other. “Pack it down here!” The trio pushed sand ever higher along the battlements and bailed the water that crept around them. “Oh no!” said one — a surge of water pushed by a breaking wave swept over the walls. The castle tumbled sleepily into the water. Undismayed, the three children proceeded to stomp on the melting sand, then moved higher up the beach to begin again. 

By the tidal pools two boys were flinging loose rockweed and other seaweed at each other. Their shrieks rose and fell in volume. Closer to this observer’s vantage point, a young scientist was closely examining objects under the water. He picked up a snail with one hand, tapped its shell with his other, then tossed it casually behind him. A captured hermit crab waving tiny claws required a longer examination before being dropped back in. Like a small sandpiper, the boy waded slowly along the beach’s edge, dipping his hand periodically in the water. 

On the dry sand toward the top of the beach two adolescent girls lay on their backs on towels. Their plump pink bodies remained utterly motionless until suddenly, as if each girl was called by an invisible command, they sat up. Slowly they rose from the towels and slowly sauntered toward the water together. They radiated the teenage hope that admiring eyes were watching them on their short stroll. And then the spell broke. The moment the two reached water up to their knees they began to laugh and splash and quickly returned to a younger age. Within moments they were doing somersaults beneath the waves. 

The rituals of the beach in summer are immortal. What your grandparents did when they were children, what your parents did, what you and your siblings did at the beach is likely going on today. At the meeting of sea and sand something indefinable brings out certain simple routines in each generation, most of which require no additional equipment and certainly no electronic appliances. You build a castle, you dig to China, you etch evidence of your presence in the sand. You squabble with your mother about wearing sunscreen, you capture a crab to take home, you body surf on the largest of waves and emerge triumphant from the water.

The sun was dipping behind the houses that line this small midcoast beach. The sea’s horizon looked slightly pink and dusty blue. A woman called to a small boy who skipped among the low-tide rocks, “If you don’t get back here there’s no pizza tonight!” He ignored her, keeping his eyes toward the ocean as he made his way among the slippery rocks. He moved toward the water, as we all did, many years ago, when the summer was ebbing and the future moved toward us like an oncoming wave.