One sunny June morning, my eighteen-month-old son, Cole, wakes me up early to play. I follow him out the back door and into the field overlooking the Atlantic Ocean behind the summer home that my wife Elena and I built on the border between Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Osprey circle up high and then dive straight down, splashing into the water. But Cole isn’t looking out to the waves breaking below us.
He is hunting for toads—or, as he calls them, “ABOODA!” He looks intently at the ground as he marches down the path. When he sees a toad at last, he points emphatically, looking back at me and repeats again and again, “ABOODA! ABOODA! ABOODA!”
I chase the toad into the high grass, trapping it in my cupped hands. I kneel down as Cole thrusts his arms out with great excitement, desperate to see and touch the little creature. I gently transfer the baby toad into Cole’s miniature hands. He recoils when he feels the moist skin and tiny clawed feet kicking for freedom. But, for a moment, he holds the toad in his cupped fingers, just long enough to look up at me with a triumphant smile. Then the toad jumps free.
Later that afternoon, Elena, Kerry, Seamus, Cole, and I walk down the same path through the field, and into the dunes beyond. A pair of swans flies past us in the direction of our house. They nest in the salt pond, coming by at least once a day with graceful long wing beats. We walk together onto the beach, wide with fine white sand. The water is a clear bright greenish blue; it’s a color that I have seen in the Caribbean, but rarely in New England where cold water laden with plankton turns the sea into a denser dark-colored liquid. There are giant rocks, far out in the ocean, where waves crash spectacularly. Closer in, we watch a neighbor try to surf the waist-high break. Down the beach, we can see the old farmhouses in the distance. Our house sits up behind us with a bluestone veranda that wraps around the back of the barn-shaped structure and overlooks the beach and ocean beyond.
Elena and I set up our chairs in the sand. Cole runs back and forth in front of us, marching towards the waves until they break, and then away as fast as his little legs will take him, giggling as he tries to avoid getting wet. We smile at his particular gait, a vigorous back and forth flailing motion with his left arm while keeping his right arm still. Kerry and Seamus alternately play with Cole, doting on him as their most cherished possession in the world, and ride the waves on their boogie boards.
—Photo Chris Seufert/Flickr