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  The Berm  

e settle in on the beach, picking a place right where the sand slopes down to meet the water. The boys run off and start throwing rocks. We dump the bags and set up the umbrella. We push the sand down to make a berm, a protection from any stray wave that may encroach. “The best thing at the beach is making a place for yourself,” he says. We make a place for ourselves.

The boys dig their feet in the sand, wiggling their toes while the water rushes over their ankles and legs. They hold their arms out, keeping their balance. They are new best friends and have been inseparable for about two weeks. The logic of the universe revolves around their double planet. They yell to each other across the sand, their feet buried. My son is slightly less tanned, younger. His son is bronzed and taut.

The boys build tunnels through the berm. The tunnels serve to keep the mound intact, a sort of release valve for the water to go instead of eating away at the downhill slope. They soon tire of the tunnels and want to go on a hike up some rocks. “Hold the fort,” he says, taking off after them.

I sit, my feet against the berm. I am here spontaneously. I have brought no books, no paper, not even a hat. I wear a borrowed hat. I watch the surfers hover out by a rock jutting up from the water. The waves roll the smooth stones down on the beach. I sit. A frantic person suddenly stilled.

The tunnels the boys built fill over and over. Their top arches collapse. The water begins to encroach on the walls of the berm. It is becoming obvious that some maintenance is in order.

I get up and start pushing sand against the walls to fortify them. The water licks away the sand. I place one of the round rocks against the downhill wall. The rock holds the sand in place nicely.

I have a plan now. I start putting rocks all along the front wall of the berm. There are now three distinct areas – the tunnels have expanded to be wide throughways between the two outer walls. I practice stacking the rocks in a way that will keep the defenses strong. I think of my stepfather, a stonemason. I love the feeling of building something strong, even though it collapses at a rate slightly slower than I can erect it. I range further away, picking out just the right kinds of rocks. The water still encroaches.

Just to be on the safe side, I build Berm #2, upslope about three feet. Since Berm #1 is under steady siege, I want to be sure to protect our blankets and bags. I redouble my efforts on Berm #1. The wall is looking good. The reds and grays of the rocks blend together, forming a whole. I start building around the edges, to protect the steadily dwindling mound of sand. The berm is now almost entirely made of rock. I find a strand of bulbous yellow kelp and festoon one wall with it. I stand back for a moment, thinking how good it looks, thinking I may take a picture of it just to remember. Then a wave comes and wipes it out in a fraction of a second.

I run up the sand and grab our things, moving them to higher ground. The second wave comes in and demolishes Berm #2. In three minutes there is nothing left except scattered rocks and a limp line of kelp.

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