Where does the land end and the water begin? It is a child's question and, as everyone knows, a child's question has no answer. But stand between tides and above children, as the sly, absorbed heron stands among minnows, and you will find the small empiricists at work. Those on the following pages happen to be in Bermuda where the mild, equable shore presents year-round opportunity for research, but they could be on almost any sunny coast.
It is a child's question, vast and innocent as the sea's great vat, which a child once soberly explained he was going to dirty by throwing in a handful of sand. And it is a child's country, which is described by the water's soft, ambiguous edge, and it is bewildering to stand sentry there, unsuccessfully disguised as a heron, with your large white feet sticking out, to listen to (and wistfully try to recall) the wild laughter, the shrieks, the singular tuneless tunes children drone as they march in intent circles; and to watch them groping into their shadows for shells on the roily bottom or building improbable fortifications to keep the ocean where it belongs ("What arc-you doing?" "Building something." "What is it?" "I don't know.") or digging collapsible holes to China or tumbling with abandon in the shiny surf which is never cold or just sitting, nursing their knees, holding, perhaps a plastic luxury liner, frowning against the sun and regarding gravely the horizon.
The land ends and the water begins and this is a child's country and if you walk softly and listen closely you may share it for a while.
"Look at me, mommy, I'm a mermaid." With sargassum fantastically garlanded in their hair, two delighted girls model weedy, disorderly wigs of algae in a temperate pool at Horseshoe Bay.
"Don't talk, silly, you make bubbles." Paddling over the shallows at Flatts, the children see through their masks, in the queer, quivering light, the soft and ancient bottom, the quick fish, the slow passage of their shadows.
"I like the big ones because they push me back." A wave breaks in a marvelous shower on the natural wall at Horseshoe Bay, dousing the children, those solitary, rapt, noisy and innocent proprietors of the shore.