The beaches of Puget Sound, off the coast of Seattle, offer beautiful and intriguing gifts when the tide comes in and makes its twice daily delivery. Piles of strange seaweed and sea monsters of giant kelp look like something from a sci-fi series. Dungeness crab shells and half-eaten small sharks float up. Huge pieces of wood and trunks of trees lodge into the sand. And stones, thousands of them, form a blanket of shimmering, giant gems across the beach.
Generous friends have lent us their home for over a month on Whidbey Island, right at the door to the Pacific Ocean. The sound of the surf through our open bedroom windows, awe-dropping sunsets of vivid reds, oranges, purples, and blacks, and crystal-clear views of stars, planets, and the Milky Way keep me wide-eyed and thankful. But at the top of my August and September gratitude list are the unpretentious beach stones. When they are still wet, vivid shades of green, charcoal, red, orange, white, and tan shine on the beach. I wish I had better words to describe their colors: apricot, sandalwood, sage green, mauve, frost, and puce are as good as I can find. Maybe the stones deserve their own color-spectrum vocabulary like lavanite or igneous black or volcanico purple. I ooh and aah at their textures and shapes. And the rustling, crackling, clattering sound of the tide cascading over the piles of stones is hypnotic and musical. I can’t ever remember being so captivated by something as ordinary and simple as a stone.
When we arrived at our friends’ house, they had left a bag of twenty acrylic markers and a pile of stones in a basket in the living room. Earlier quests decorated the stones with their names and the dates of their visit and left them in a basket. Acrylic markers were new to me; but since the day we arrived, I have spent hours on the beach doodling with them on stones. And some of the doodles morphed into prayers. And the stone prayers looked terrific on a big driftwood log. And the log became a prayer altar. I love that the names of the people I am praying are exposed to the salt and the sun and the stars and the sky and the whole magnificent expanse and constellation of God’s universe. Every day when I arrive on the beach and see the prayer stones, I pray again for the people on this visual prayer list.