When the Sea’s Away

By Miranda Metheny

We stumble up a low hill of grass and pale sand to find the Wadden Sea spread out before us, shining in the sun and speckled with the silhouettes of children running and playing and lovers strolling hand in hand impossibly far out upon the surface of the water.

This is the sea,” Lena tells us. “When the sea’s away.

In sunshine, blue skies and white clouds reflected under our feet make us feel that we could fall forever into a second heaven. Light catches and glitters on every splash, each tiny current, on the shells of the little crabs that drift in the ankle-deep water.

Our feet sink into the soft mud and spirals of silt pushed to the surface by marine worms. Lena tells us that these bizarre piles are good for our skin, moisturizing and full of vitamins.

We snap pictures spinning, jumping, linking arms, falling. We play with perspective in an unnaturally flat and empty field, commanding with gestures and laughs a confusion of left, right, higher, lower, and eat distant ships like sub sandwiches and blow barges softly along the horizon. Farther away, where the sky starts bleeding into the sea, islands float like mirages.

The weather changes. Our sparkling, sunlit playground is transformed by a chilling wind that tears the surface of the shallow water. Weird grey-white light drowns out natural lines, hides the horizon, glows from above and below. With the best of the day behind them, horse-drawn wagons rush past us ferrying richer tourists back to the mainland. On the shore, red balls are raised as a clear signal: the tide is coming in.

We’re shivering as we emerge back onto the beach, against the swiftly rising water. We make our way towards a place where we can pull on clean, dry clothes from our backpacks. Dark mud and blonde sand coat our legs and feet in patches, rendering them alien, unrecognizable.

The salt and sand between my toes and in my hair would take days to wash out… and the sensation of walking on water would take an eternity.

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