By Patricia Whitlock Stephanides
Someone once told me, or perhaps I read it in a fairy-tale, that my true love would find me under a full moon, at the turn of the tide. Living on the water, even as a child I knew life was ruled by the tides.
Dawn was still beyond the horizon when I opened my eyes, fully awake in a second. The only sound was the crashing of the surf just over the dune. Even at age twelve, I knew that there was nothing to fear in the quiet, or in being alone. In shorts and a t-shirt and bare feet, the light of the setting moon streaming in through the uncurtained window over the sink was enough for me to find the big yellow flashlight on the kitchen shelf. I settled it in the crook of my arm, but then, on second thought, switched it on for the briefest of moments to read the brass tide-clock beside the door: it was low tide. I put the flashlight back up on the shelf. I caught the screen door as I let myself out so it would not snap shut and give me away to those inside, or out.
As I stepped lightly down from the splintering boards of the porch steps, the sand under my bare feet was cooler than the August air. The sand dunes were blue shadows against the night sky; at my feet the moonlit path shone like a trail of fairy-dust between the low bushes of beach-plum and bayberry.
Full moon in August, when the tide is out as far as it ever goes, is as close to magic as you will ever find. I was not disappointed. The foaming edge of the surf fluoresced with moon-jellies, leaving a sparkling ghost trail after the breaking of each wave. I walked one foot behind the other along the narrow rut through the cut in the dunes, the sand shining bright as day to my dark-accustomed eyes.
I stopped at the top of the beach, where the last long tufts of beach grass give way to the purple sand that sticks to your feet. Tire tracks on the upper beach stood out starkly in the moonlight, and driftwood cast black moon-shadows on the slope above the high-tide line. The breeze off the ocean lifted my hair.
Four does stood motionless on the beach, four pairs of ears stretched wide to hear the intruder. Then four heads turned and ears swiveled to a point about200 yardsto my west. I slowly turned my whole upper body to the right and saw the young buck as he made long, sliding strides down the white face of the dune. His antlers looked gilt in the moonlight, a modest four points. As at a signal, all five started to run, willy-nilly, leaping and kicking, until I couldn’t help but laugh out loud for the sheer joy of it.
They froze, and turned their heads and big ears to me in unison before they flew, in an instant, back up and over the dune, disappearing with a flip of white tails.
It is part tradition, part superstition, which leads me, now that I am grown, out into the light of the full moon. I still don’t fear silence, or being alone, and though it’s long years since I saw the deer dance on the tide-flats, I still keep a tide-clock on the wall beside the door. And when the moon is full and the tide is low, I go down to the ocean’s edge and wait for the magic.