In the summer of 1988 my family moved from Starkville, Mississippi to San Luis Obispo, California. We drove for days in the big brown van and had many adventures, but that is a blog post for another day. We arrived in San Luis in the wee hours of the morning, and since none of us seven kids had ever seen the ocean, my dad just kept on driving until we did.
We pulled into Morro Bay on a surprisingly sunny and fogless morning. We all piled out of the van, bleary eyed and tousled and ran toward the surf. The tide was out and the beach was covered in sand dollars. Thousands of whole, unbroken sand dollars everywhere you looked. Magic. We filled our pockets and piled them up, loading the van with handfuls of the fragile shells, few of which survived the journey.
We lived in San Luis Obispo for 5 years, and after my family moved, I regularly visited. Every time I went to the beach, especially when I went to Morro Bay, I looked for sand dollars but very rarely found one. They became the ultimate prize of shell collecting for me. I started to wonder if my 11 year old's memory of that first trip to the beach was flawed, if there possibly could have been that many sand dollars on the beach. It started to seem more and more impossible as the years passed.
And then we went on our RV trip. We got a later start than we had hoped on Sunday, and it was already dark when we pulled into our campsite in Pismo Beach, just a few miles south of Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo. In the morning we ate and got dressed before heading out on the nature trail to the beach. It was a gray and misty morning, but our spirits were bright and our walk was beautiful. We finally crested the dunes and saw the ocean, and my children ran toward it just as I had all those years ago.
I followed behind, enjoying the walk and the fine, powdery sand. I didn't remember how soft the sand was at this particular beach, though I did remember being pulled over for speeding on my cousin's ATV on that same beach when I was 12. And then I looked down.
Thousands of sand dollars, as far as the eye could see. Millions perhaps. It was exactly as I remembered it from all those years ago. And like a child, I filled my pockets and piled them up, separating out a few that were still alive and returning them to the ocean
. Again, many didn't survive the journey home. But the ones that did, the ones that did. Magic.