470 Dollars: The Cost of Becoming Human

This is what it’s like to be human, to be baptized in Eden’s atmosphere. This is an immersion in the purity of the human project, a glimpse of its desired outcome.

We drove slowly beneath a canopy of towering oaks; their limbs stretched above and across our path, coalescing and weaving a deep green tapestry. I felt out of place in an automobile on this natural preserve, but soon enough my wife, kids, and I would set sandal to sand and prepare for a half mile trek across the dike toward Botany Bay.

Volunteers greeted us at the gate: “Welcome to Botany Bay. Watch out for mudflats. Beware of poison ivy. As you walk the beach, trod carefully; the shells can be razor-sharp. The beach isn’t the best for swimming because of deep holes in the surf.” I’d already read their website, which outlined no less than a dozen species on the island that sought human demise, and another litany of natural disasters lurking in and around the beach. I halfway wondered if they wanted us here. Then the volunteer cracked a sly smile, nearly poked his head into the backseat window, and told the kids, “Have fun. It’s amazing.”

470 dollars—this is the price, according to a sign, of one shell shoplifted from Botany Bay’s beach. We threatened the children the way good parents put the fear of God into little ones who would otherwise collect everything that didn’t move fast enough to get away. And, there was plenty to desire: large and perfectly shaped conch shells abounded (did you know you can hear the ocean in them?); a massive horseshoe crab shell lay wholly intact on a mudflat (yes, I walked it). The Boneyard possessed the bleak yet beautiful remains of palms that once thrived upon the shoreline, but had since been drowned by the Atlantic’s rising tides upon a receding shoreline—they stood like tombstones in the sand, relics of bygone beach days. I wondered if kids climbed these trees in their prime a generation ago as my kids climbed the ones further ashore.

The beach was dangerous. I nearly busted it several times because I didn’t heed mudflat warnings. I stepped in a hole up to my knee in the surf. This beach was not manicured; it was not safe. No lifeguards were on duty, ever.

This is what it’s like to be human, I told my wife, Elizabeth.

This is what it means to not be a consumer, she replied.

We were saying the same thing; she put a finer point upon the truth.

470 dollars—the price of a shell, the price of shocking our consumer-oriented systems to the point that we could not take anything, but only receive the island’s beauty.

We left only footprints; we took only memories…and a couple of photos, which they didn't confiscate.