When I came home from my freshman year of college in March 2020, it was as if I had never experienced spring in Seattle before, even though it was the only place I’d ever called home. I watched the orange bellies of robins I had never stopped to notice. I watched the rhododendron outside my window blush before fading to white. But it’s 2022 now, and there is no longer one pandemic spring — there have been three. Was it last year that we spent Mother’s Day on our patio in the sun, eating and reading and laughing? When did we return to the Great Sedro-Woolley Footrace? And the afternoon we found baby rabbits in our window well? Time has jumbled for everyone, and I am lucky for the slowness I have found at times, especially with my family. But it’s equally easy to feel lost in a never-ending timeline of disappointment and uncertainty.
As I sunk into online classes and everything that came with that first pandemic year, social media became both a pit of dread and a place of hope and community. I have 50 followers on Twitter, a mix of friends from high school and college and writers who have, surprisingly, followed me back. For the most part, I don’t use it to tweet. Instead, it’s become a sort of collage of strangers and their projects, which I’ve encountered by chance. Sometimes I open my feed to Parker Higgins’ @choochoobot and the small joy of seeing trains moving through imagined emoji landscapes or to the artists of #plottertwitter, like Paul Rickards (@paulrickards), who uses modern code to create vibrant designs with vintage plotters.
That’s how I found Christina Riley (@cmarieriley). From late 2020 through the end of last year, her Twitter feed was an outlet for the second iteration of a project she now calls The Beach Today. The account is a product of her daily solitary beach walks, pairing seascapes with the rocks she found underwater, often matching in pattern and color. It’s a kind of magic to see a rock dappled with pink and green as flowers bloom on the shoreline in matching hues or to spot a shadow of orange at the bottom of a pebble found beneath a setting sun. It’s a catalog of someone else’s place and time that has made me feel less alone and creatively inspired in my own daily wanderings.
This spring, I found a moment each week to sit on a park bench with the intention of making art for a class. By then, Christina had stopped matching pebbles to the sky, at least for Twitter. But her practice, now archived on Instagram @the_beachtoday, had seeped into my visits. I wasn’t making pairs as she had done. Instead, I marked the passing of time by the three willows that framed my first view of the lake, photographing their branches hovering above one horizon, once leafless and soon full, silhouetted at nightfall and flying in the early spring breeze. I remembered the duck pond I had seen through nearly three seasons during my first year of college. It gave me a glimpse of what meant so much to me when I opened my phone to follow Riley’s account.
I was eating a granola bar and bracing against the wind one Sunday when I met a grandfatherly man who was piling driftwood on the shore of the lake. Each time he passed me resting on the bench, we joked or talked about how the park had changed, and he pointed out the osprey on the telephone pole as I waved goodbye. He had been stabilizing the shoreline with logs for a long time, protecting the trees closest to the waves. On another day, a PhD student whose camera matched my own happily pointed out frogs, and we watched the sun glint off massive chunks of ice on a too-warm winter day. Most of the time, though, I was quietly observing, the way I imagined Christina had as she took in the horizon and the substance of a place in the reliable presence of the leaves and the rocks and the water.
On September 21st, she wrote beneath a new pairing: “a man asked if I was looking for treasure, as if I wasn’t already standing on it.”
The Beach Today has nudged me to find the patterns, and the surprises, in the quotidian. I’ve wondered how we keep track of time, memories, and places in the digital age when things are changing on a planetary scale. So I kept time with Christina’s year of beaches and pebbles, making my own images that could hold still a cluster of trees and a body of water as I carried them with me through yet another spring. Finding one path to walk, one bench to sit on each day can be enough to steady you as you find a piece of joy in change.
Mari Kramer is a senior at Cornell University studying Environment and Sustainability. She enjoys books, art, and going for walks.