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Shark Tooth Island

Shark Tooth island is changing in the water. Somewhere in the Potomac River just feet away from the border between Virginia and Maryland. It’s existence points stoically to the fact that all the borders around us are just imaginary lines as the sands continue to shift in time. So much so, that the chart finder reported that our boat was driving on land even though we were quite a ways off shore.

beached in the multiverse.

The map was indignant and insisted on the shape of the island as it stood a few years ago. But the island is shifting and disappearing altogether. A pang of earthen grief rose in me even before I stepped foot on that last life raft of land. Participating in the mourning and long sandy goodbye of the island in front of me. A partial ghost of a place. Halfway to a memory.

I threw a leg up and over the back of the boat and made my way down the swim ladder. The water was cool on my legs and caught me on the stomach. I sucked in a breath. It was a completely useless gesture since I was in the soup at that point. Adjusting my rate of entry while I eased into the water did nothing to change the oncoming chill, but the body does these things instinctually. I hiked my backpack up higher on my shoulders and adjusted my hat and slowly waded to shore. I took slow and mindful shuffles through the blue brown water and hoped I wouldn’t step on anything strange or sharp.

Gravity pivoted in degrees on my frame as I crossed the threshold of that sunbaked neverland. And though the island is strangely land locked it was a place enchanted and stranded away from civilization. I could hear it in the way the wind blew through the tall grass and the big gaping arms of dry and cracked driftwood. It was not the place I thought it was. It is a place that is flirting with time.

I paused to apply another coat of sunscreen to my sun ripened shoulders. The white hot rays burned up against the driftwood that was collected in abstract sculptures on the beach. A few more strangers inhabited the island for the day. A family down the beach, a couple with a tiny dog, and a kid padding through the small leaps of lazy waves. We nodded wordlessly as we passed each other. The shared experience was met with the comfortable and collective silence of people that were out of context and content to be so. There was a tip of the hat, a smile, friendly acknowledgement, and then we dipped back into our own consciousness. Slowly shifting weight from one bare foot to the other. Sand squishing under toes. Eyes entranced and fixated on the surface of the beach.

It was minutes or hours. I did not keep track.

The sun broached the rim of my straw hat and I tilted my head back to watch the time move in the stark blue sky. The sun traced its ancient arc as we bent down low to find the discarded teeth of ocean monsters. Sharks. Apex predators that have adapted to evade even the most catastrophic extinction events in our history.

I know that sharks lose their teeth because their mouths are conveyor belts of destruction, but I like to think that sharks lose teeth just like little toddlers with chubby pudding limbs and rosy cheeks. I imagine that sharks get the little tooth caddy necklaces from the nurse’s office like the kids at my elementary school. It helps me fear them less.

Luxuriating in the perfect nothingness allowed my mind to whir into a playful partial dream state. Without production or pretense. I was just a human in a place with other humans who were all taking their brains for a walk on the beach. Dipping into the recesses of our cortexes while our feet waded in the surf. I lingered further into the sandy suspension on the back of the island, but became aware of the feeling like the earth was missing it’s floor. A pang of recognition in my gut and then I turned around for fear of quicksand. I left the back of the island to the mysteries and chose higher ground and sturdier sand. With a handful of shark teeth in possession I dropped my pack and chose a plot of sand. My internal narration proclaimed ”This is my spot. This is where I live now.”

I unfurled the towel wrapped around my waist and laid it on the sand and decided that it was my kingdom and that I would reside and rule from my tiny turquoise towel. A queen to no one but my thoughts I grabbed a can and cracked it open. It was the loudest noise I have heard. I sipped the bitter contents and understood why it was abandoned with other party remnants in the back of the fridge. The can was a stowaway from a leftover life that I could barely remember. The buzz took over. I laid back and perched my hat atop my face and surrendered the rest to the sky. I imagined that the tangy bitter contents of the can were from a wild island fruit that I foraged with great hope and it tasted better in the rapture of my imagination.

I melted into the sound of the wind in the driftwood to my left side. The sand held my body and the grit formed against my skin. I was surrounded by the heat as it blurred the lines between what was me and what belonged to the rest of the world. I vowed to stay as long as the sunscreen held out.

And then.

After some time.

I returned, a different person to a different river.

Because I belong to the wilds of eternity.

And because we never step in the same river twice.

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