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The writer’s imagination turns a pile of driftwood into a pirate ship

Whoosh, whoosh! The wind whipped my hair. Seagulls struggled to fly against the wind. They were like kites getting flung around, as flimsy as rag dolls. I lay on my back in the cool sand, looking up at the clouds. They looked like gray grandmother curls. The waves restlessly crashed the shore, gliding over the sand, making it smooth and sleek.

No one was there except me, my mom, my brother Michael, and a single lifeguard. People may have turned away from the beach today because it wasn’t sunny. That, I thought, was strange. Or maybe I was strange. In my opinion it was beautiful in its own way. Sometimes gray days are better than sunny ones.

Sometimes one thing is better than another at the right moment. And the perfect thing to do right now was to go for a beach walk.

Whoosh, whoosh! The wind was blowing in huge gusts. I felt like I was going to sail up like a piece of paper! Not the best day to swim. A perfect day for a beach walk, though. You would never know what you would find.

I pushed myself up from the sand. Then I brushed some of the grains off my knees and stomach. It was bright. I rubbed my eyes and stretched.

“Mommy, would you wanna go on a beach walk?” I asked. “That would be nice, honey,” she said.

Mom was wrapped in a beach blanket, like a shawl. Shae was wearing a Red Sox cap on her head. She had on sunglasses that reminded me of butterflies, even though it wasn’t sunny. She had on the pink cover-up she always wore. She sat in a beach chair reading The New Yorker. This was such a Mom image.

“Michael, honey, would you like to come with us?” Mom asked my brother. “Sure, I guess I will come with you,” he replied.

He was lying facedown on the ground. Classic weirdo Michael. He got up and brushed off some sand, even though most of it still clung on to him.

Then we started our walk.

Whoosh, whoosh! We made our way down the beach, only occasionally passing a dog walker or couple. It was windy out, and the dunes would blow off little dry clay pebbles that would explode when they hit the sand. When there was a big gust of wind, sand would hit the back of my legs. It reminded me of a classic western movie with tumbleweeds and dramatic wind.

I laughed in my head, and my thoughts started drifting away as if they were sitting on a barge on the giant lake of my brain.

Whoosh, whoosh! I was deeply absorbed in my own thoughts when I stepped on something hard and grainy. Rocks! I looked down, and millions of little rocks lay before me. Every shape and size, color and texture. It was beautiful. I loved to beachcomb. When I was not swimming, I was staring down and walking along the beach, looking for one that I truly loved. Then I would take it home and add it to my collection. My mom and I slowed down and started sifting through the sand. You never knew what you would find.

Whoosh, Whoosh! My hair went this way and that while I was staring down. It reminded me of the golden color on a lion’s mane. I laughed in my head, and my thoughts started drifting away as if they were sitting on a barge on the giant lake of my brain. I shook my head, trying to regain my focus. Daydreaming is good for you, I thought. And I was good at daydreaming.

Whoosh, whoosh! Then something glinted light blue in the faint sun that was trying to peek through the clouds. It was mostly unsuccessful. I picked through carefully not to move the glimmer of color. That is pretty, and a bit odd. I wonder what is there? The excitement and curiosity was building inside, like a glass slowly filling up to the top. I returned my attention back to the shine in the sand. Cautiously, I scooped it up and popped it in my palm. Cool and clear like the ocean. A rare treasure. Something that was worthy enough to put on a queen’s crown and wear. It was a beautiful piece of transparent, turquoise-colored sea glass.

I showed it to Mommy and she took it from me and slipped it in her pocket.

Tap, tap, tap. She patted it affectionately.

“I’ll keep it safe for you. I promise, Rach, honey.”

We made our way onto where the tidal pool usually was. Right now it was dried up. It had crevices and dips, passages and pools. I ran down to it and galloped along the smoothed-over sand. Michael was behind us.

“I am going to stop here,” he called.

He sat down and then reclined until he was fully lying down. I looked back at him. He was comfortable and relaxed in his own space. Peaceful, like the day.

Mommy and I continued on. We walked quietly. Until she broke the silence. “Watch out, Ladybug. There are some big sticks and driftwood.”

“Where?” I asked.

“Right in front of you, silly,” she told me, with a quiet chuckle in her voice.

I looked down. In front of me were big wooden boards and sticks and pallets strewn on the beachy ground. Like a ship had crashed here. But not enough boards. Hey, that gives me an idea. A pallet for a deck. A stick for a mast. A bushel of leaves for the sail. A board for a plank. Perfect.

I would clean up the beach and let my imagination skitter away. “Mommy, I am a pirate. Shiver me timbers!”

“Where’s your ship, Miss Pirate?”

“I shall be making it with this wood,” I said in my best pirate voice.

I thought about Michael. He would be a good pirate, my sidekick. But right now he was half asleep. But a more exciting thing would be to say that he was out on a mission, finding treasure.

I took the pallet and dragged it to a nice soft, smooth spot. This would serve as the deck of the ship. Then I went back to look at more wood that would be useful in building the pirate ship. I examined some string tangled together. I picked it apart carefully. That would be useful to tie on the sail.

I looked through sticks for the mast until I found a good one. It was tall, probably about two-and-a-half feet. It was straight. At the top it split into a Y. This was where I would stick and tie the leaves in between the two poking-up branches.

I picked it up and planted it through a pallet slot. I stood on the pallet and twisted the stick in as deep as the sand, and my light weight, would let me.

Then I got the leaves that had fallen off a stick’s branches. They were dry and wrinkled like oversized raisins. I firmly situated the leaves and took the old rope in my hand. I swung it around the leaves and split branches and then knotted it to make sure it kept in place.

“See, Mommy Pirate, I do have a ship. You can join me on it when I am done working. But if you are not a useful crew member, then you shall walk the plank, matey. I will test you by putting you in the crow’s nest while I steer,” I said in my pirate voice.

“Well, that is harsh. I think you still need a tiller to steer and a crow’s nest. I am not sure that you will be able to fit me in your crow’s nest. Or that your mast will hold me up.”

Ship Up

I picked up two bent sticks. They both looked like U’s. I used the remaining string and tied them together. Then I bound them on to the mast. This would serve as the crow’s nest. I think Mommy was right. She would not be able to fit in the nest up top, high, searching the great seas. Handy deck member, though.

Next I went to the pile of remnants. I examined the sizable, chunky stick that I had been eyeing the whole time. It was a good enough tiller, if you looked at it that way. I heaved the significant piece of wood over and stuck it right through and under the pallet’s notches. To finish it off, I stuck a little twig at the end of the tiller. Almost done with the ship! Just the steering wheel now. I took a crossed stick and put it through a hole in the deck. Perfect. Finished.

The ship made me think of the whale we saw the other day. Bulky but smooth in the water. I would call my ship The Whale.

Now I could sail the seven seas. I could explore and think, dream and imagine. I let my mind unfurl. There were whole stories to create. I imagined I was sailing next to dolphins that could save me from evil pirates. I was finding treasure. I was saving remote villages in the middle of nowhere. I felt invincible! And I was!

Neither words nor feelings could explain it. I was golden. Imagination is indescribable. Nothing can stop it.

I let my hand skim the mast one last time. I knew I would never see it again, but I would imagine it. I would let my mind recall sailing across the stormy waters and finding treasure. And remember that not just gold or jewels are treasure— anything that matters to you is treasure.

“Ready?” Mom called.

I didn’t really want to go, but there was no point protesting. I wasn’t ready to leave and stop imagining. But I knew I would never stop imagining. Not ever.

“Mommy.” I slid my hand into hers. “Never stop imagining.” She kissed the top of my head.

“That’s right, Ladybug. That’s right.”