Schooled by the Universe

David and I like to  paddle at Hammocks Beach state park. It’s beautiful there, with an easy launch, and clearly marked paddle trails. We normally time our paddle with the tides. We go out on an outgoing tide and come back with the incoming tide. This makes  the paddling much easier. However, we have learned that you need to give the tide a bit of time to turn; if you leave at the instant it turns, it’s not much help and the paddling is tougher. The tide needs time to hit its stride. Don’t we all?!

The last time we kayaked there, we decided to try a new paddle trail. Our main mission was to find a place with few other people, so we could enjoy the solitude of nature. This is not always an easy task on a Saturday at a popular recreation area, but, optimistic, we paddled off on the falling tide in search of  it. The paddling was easy; there was little to do but allow the tide to carry us along and adjust our direction as needed for the trail. We caught sight of the marker for the trail we wanted and directed ourselves that way. Confident we were on the right path, we looked for the next marker to guide us, but we didn’t see it. How many times in life do we think we are on the right path only to find out we have missed the mark?

In the meantime, David was casting a line, trying to catch a fish along the way, and we were chatting and enjoying the blue skies dotted with billowy, white clouds, the sound of the water shushing against our kayak, and the general warmth of the day. The tide was booking it, rushing along its journey to the sea,  and we were happy to let it carry us. After a while, though, we began to really wonder where the next marker was. Had we missed it? Were we on the paddle trail? Where the heck were we? Where would this tributary take us? It felt like the same kind of panic we’ve had lately in the midst of many life changes and wondering if we are on the “right” path. Finally, I said, “why don’t we just relax and see where it goes.” So we did.

We allowed the tide to carry us along. David continued to fish, and I looked for photo opportunities and, occasionally, we employed our paddles, like a rudder, to keep ourselves in the flow of the channel. In what felt like a short time, we came to a fabulous, unoccupied sandbar. We beached our kayak and basked in the beauty that surrounded us. We could see Bear Island in the distance, and all around us the channel moved along, cutting a path between areas of neon-green spartina grass. The sandbar was full of tidal pools with fish and crabs and all kinds of seabirds littered the landscape. Snowy-white egrets, and stealy-blue herons ever-so-slowly moved along the edge of the grass looking for their next meal. Pelicans flew low, gliding to a stop on the water. Masses of seagulls flocked at one end of our personal little island, gossiping the afternoon away. Everyone out there was just making their living following the natural rhythms of life. 

We swam in the deep part of the channel, and walked along the sandbar island marveling at the buzz, hum, thrum of life in this salt water estuary, and talked about our own life. Gently passing clouds meandered above, the look of them in such stark contrast to the brilliant blue of the sky it took our breath away. 

For a while, time didn’t exist; we just were. We lingered in that place until time caught up to us, and we knew we needed to head back. We had given the tide time to turn and truly start its return journey, and we were hitching a ride. We loaded our kayak, hopped in, and away we went. Again, the journey was effortless as we let the tide carry us along. We marveled at the ease of movement and the miracle of life – birds, fish, crabs, the swaying spartina grass, clear, salty water peeling away from the bow of our kayak… A feast for the eyes lay before us without end, and our hearts were full of gratitude.

Once we made the turn into the channel, toward the docks the wind was also our ally. We keep an umbrella for harnessing the wind, when it is in our favor, and this day it was. David held the umbrella up, the wind filled it and pulled us with ease all the way to the dock, where someone said, “I like your sail!” In this journey of life, the more allies, the better! 

As we drove home, I couldn’t help but think about how the whole outing was a wonderful metaphor for life. We’ve experienced tremendous change in the last three months, and at times, our life seems unrecognizable. We left the job and place we lived for the last ten years, moved into a 5th wheel camper, took our daughter on a coastal NC tour before getting her settled-in at college, and then moved ourselves to a new location at the beach. Now, we have new jobs to figure out, a permanent place to live to figure out, a whole new area to learn… What will we do? How will we do?  We have been in a bevy of uncertainty and struggle,  like going against the tide.  

In this uncomfortable place it is natural to want to push things, get it all figured out: now! But our kayak trip had me thinking maybe we should just relax, and go with the flow. When you go with the flow, like us paddling with the tide, it’s all easy; there’s no struggle. You get where you are going, and you still have energy to enjoy it. 

The next time we kayaked at Hammocks Beach State Park, we wanted to go to the same sandbar, so we employed the same logic, but guess what. It didn’t work the same way: just like life. Have you ever heard the expression, “you can’t step in the same river twice.” Things are always changing, and even when you do the same thing that was once successful, you may get different results. 

We were a little earlier in the outgoing tide cycle than last time, and when we got to where our sandbar should have been, it was still covered over with water. We expected it to be revealed as the tide finished its cycle, but though we stayed until the tide was completely low, the sandbar stayed covered with water. Why would this be? Every tide is a little different and sometimes it is higher than other times, like when there is a full moon. This made me think about the importance of timing. If this had been our first time paddling to this location, we wouldn’t have known it became an exposed sandbar, making a private little beach. We would have missed it. How many things in life are like that? Timing! It’s important in storytelling. It’s important in life. 

I felt like the Universe was schooling me. “Listen up,” I seem to hear. Sometimes you stray from a preconceived path. Breathe and go with the flow and you’ll get where you need to be even if it’s not where you were planning to be. And, it might be better than what you had imagined to begin with. Honor the gifts you have been given – notice them, appreciate them, and even more will show up. Let go of expectations that things will be the same; change is the only constant. The question is, what can you learn from change? Most of all, relax; it’s going to be okay. 

Yep, I thought, who am I to argue with the Universe?!


  1. I love this story Sherry because of the truth in it. As usual in my life when I strive to make things be or manipulate them, I feel almost exhausted. Then the other days when I deliberately let it go life become much more enjoyable. Finding that sweet spot, the balance of life. Hugs, Keith Moir


    1. Thanks for reading the post, Keith! Nature is a constant and truthful teacher, if we are willing to pay attention. And the older I get the more I realize how important it is to live in the now and love the now. Love you, my friend!


  2. Great story, Sherry! Life takes us where it wants to. We can fight the current or we can go with it with some gentle paddling to get ourselves where we need to be and enjoy the sights along the way.


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