When my mother moved from sunny Southern CA to San Juan Island, Washington over twenty years ago, adjustments needed to be made. Mental adjustments; psychological adjustments; wardrobe adjustments; major lifestyle adjustments; spiritual adjustments? :)
Probably you couldn’t pick two more diametrically opposed locations to live if you tried. Both gorgeous in their own right, both delightful, but entirely different. For one, beaches in Orange County by and large are vast stretches of soft inviting sand, where the sun shines all goldeny and warm more days than not. The water, though *kinda* chilly in the winter months, is almost always peppered with swimmers and surfers. Up in the Pacific Northwest where the land bravely juts into the wild Puget Sound on the back side of San Juan Island, the beaches are lined with massive deposits of bleached driftwood, wildlife, and rocks of all sizes. The wind and water crash onto the shore (and you) with tumultuous force whether you’re there in July, or January. For this reason there aren’t many folks smattering the seaside - just eagles, and if you’re lucky, the orcas will dazzle you from offshore. It’s not uncommon to be the only human traversing the water’s edge. Rather than a swimsuit and a beach towel, you arrive at these WA beaches in 4 layers of clothing encased beneath sturdy North Face outerwear. Instead of leaving salty and sunkissed, you leave with windblown chapped cheeks, teary eyes, and hair that’s been whipped into impossible knots.
My mom made a friend who was an artist and a photographer on the island. She had an exhibit of heart shaped rocks displayed at the school library where my Mom taught grade school. Many of the photographs were from a beach on the south side of the island. Hearts, she told my mom, were everywhere. You just had to look. My mom started taking her dog to the beach for his daily walks and quickly discovered she was right. You simply had to look, and hearts were just about everywhere. It became a bit of an obsession. My mom would come home with her pockets weighted down with heart-shaped rocks of varying shapes, sizes, conditions, and colors. Some were so perfectly formed you just couldn’t believe it; some were jagged, asymmetrical, and hardly recognizable; some weren’t yet all the way formed, but you could tell with time they’d get there. She filled countertops, containers, and big dishes with her collection. She gave hearts as gifts, spoke and wrote about them poetically… and eventually, the stone hearts became a metaphor for something much larger. They were everywhere. Just as love itself was everywhere if you looked carefully enough. Not all hearts were perfect, but even the imperfect ones were worthy - maybe even more so, because of what they had to endure to become that way. She gave everyone at my wedding heart-shaped rocks. Many of the guests tell me they still have theirs. This, of course, has been the origin of my own inclination to look/seek/find hearts in nature. I do it instinctively now and have for years.
Over there, I took them home with me. One of my favorites is a green one Brooklyn found after I shared with her that I was really hoping I’d find a heart the color of the forest.
A few weeks ago I was thumbing through a swiveling tower of unique cards at a shop in town when I came across one that caught my breath. It was a photograph of two hands gently cupped in the shape of a heart holding what looked to be beach sand. I bought it, and sent it to my mom, knowing she’d appreciate the image. She called me a few days later in utter disbelief to tell me the card I had bought and sent to her was artwork her friend created - the very one who had introduced her to searching for hearts in the first place! It was the fullest of full-circle moments.
This ritual has and continues to give such sweetness and depth to my life. Over the years, whether riding the most buoyant wave of undiluted joy or trudging through an inevitable turbulent storm, the hearts are there - the love is everywhere… still, just waiting to be discovered. This ritual, that was passed down to me, has fostered a sense of deeper meaning, connection, and comfort that will last a lifetime.
Over time, the takeaway has evolved to >> what you look for is also looking for you. What you look for, you will find. And sometimes, when it isn’t there at the ready to be discovered, it’s possible to create it all on your own. It’s a ritual and practice that is rooted in my mother, that has now been passed along to my kids. On the last trip we took with my mom to the Oregon coast, all three generations of us were out on the beach hunting for hearts, repeating this beautiful ritual.