Listening to the Sands

Nicholas is the last person in town who knows how to listen to the sand. There used to be a time when every boy, at least every oldest boy, was taught how to understand what it said about the weather and the tides.

Nicholas remembers when there were a bunch of old-timers who knew how to listen, and they would gather together to share stories of the talents only they had. There was the time Henry Atwood most definitely saved a few lives by warning of an upcoming nor’easter. Mike Singer liked to tell about the time the sands had told him there were storms off the coast, sending a sizeable school of fish to local waters.

But by then, few folks felt they needed to know how to listen anymore. We had radio, television, and newspaper forecasts that got more accurate every day. And the sands weren’t always accurate. Every time one of the “listeners” made an inaccurate prediction, like when they misled the town into thinking a blizzard was coming in the early 1950s, a few more people stopped relying on them. On the other hand, when the modern weather forecasters were wrong, they seemed to only elicit a groan.

For when all was said and done, few people really wanted to go back to the old ways. Rubbing your feet against the sand to hear a weather prediction? That was embarrassing, part of an outdated older world. And of course, as time went on, the town got less reliant on agriculture and fishing and made its money upon the more stable rock of tourism and an office park near the highway. You just didn’t need to know what the sands sung about the weather anymore with any great urgency.

Nicholas only learned the secrets of sand listening, he said, because he was lonely as a child. Without much to distract him, he would go with the old-timers down to the shore to learn their way. It took him fifteen years to master listening, and no one has that kind of time anymore. Half the people think it’s fake anyway, that it’s all old superstition. Besides, they don’t find the “singing” very interesting. They say it sounds more like old windshield wipers than a song, and they are kind of right.

I believe Nicholas, but I don’t have the time to learn either, so he will probably be the last listener. But I do like to go down to the ocean with him, particularly when there aren’t many people around. As his feet move back and forth on the sand, a boyish smile comes to his eyes and he starts to smile, the sand singing like a seal beneath him.

Geoffrey Orens teaches high school English and art history in New York City. His work has appeared in Eunoia Review and is featured in Down in the Dirt in September, 2020. He is an avid traveller in his free time.