Sharla Dawn Gorder

Writer – Speaker

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© Jem Sullivan

I’ve begun writing a column for the Island Times Newspaper inspired by my photos of Pensacola Beach at dawn.  I’ve gone ‘round and ‘round in my head about what to call it:  Sharla Dawn at Dawn, seems a little egotistical.  Crayon Dawn requires too much explanation.  Beach Musings—a play on Pat Conroy’s 1995 title, Beach Music—is a little abstruse (as is the word “abstruse”), and Sucking Marrow, had my editor rethinking her decision to hire me.  (Ha!  Not really.)

But, of course, that one was my fave. 

Then, on second thought, I wasn’t sure I really wanted the work “suck” to be associated with my writing any more often than absolutely necessary.  Still, I love the idea, the imagery.  Marrow is where our life’s blood is made.  It is the soft, vital center of our bones.   It seems the perfect synonym for true, for vital, for honest; the perfect antonym for superficial, for artificial, for pretentious.  

I first learned about sucking marrow from Henry David Thoreau’s book, Walden, when I was in my mid-twenties.   I had been hiking (bushwalking) with a friend in the Blue Mountains just outside of Sydney, Australia, and the beauty of those azure-shrouded peaks simply stunned me into stillness and wonder.  My life as a Pan Am (and then United) flight attendant had been especially hectic and harried—and because of the “reserve” system in which junior flight attendants had no set schedule and could be called with 90-minutes notice to travel anywhere on the globe—life felt pretty arbitrary.

Someone had left a dog-eared copy of Walden on the plane. (Yes, people used to read paper books back then.)  I almost cried when I read about Thoreau’s desire to “live deliberately.”  I memorized these lines from Chapter Two:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…”

Transitional times always seem to leave me craving a more “deliberate” existence.  Back then, I was learning to be a grownup.  These days I feel like I’m being encouraged to learn to be a child again. (Thus, the crayons I match to the sunrise photos.) 

  • Children play—on purpose—one might say “deliberately.”
  • Children question—everything—“but why, mamma, why?”
  • Children move—on every plane of motion, simply to cross a room.
  • Children laugh—they just can’t help themselves.
  • Children “live deep”—in the simplest of ways because they have not yet learned superficiality. 
  • And most of all, children imagine—they observe, they engage, they create.     

I think is was Picasso who said, “Every child is an artist.  The problem is staying an artist when you grow up.”

I wanna be six again.       

Several years ago, during the most devastatingly/redeemingly transitional time of my life I pulled a Thoreau—“I went to the woods beach to live deliberately…to see if I could not learn what it had to teach.” 

I hid out for a while on this pristine sandbar we call Pensacola Beach.   Insomnia drove me to the somber gray shore before dawn, where I waited for the colors.  I knelt down in the shattered shells.  I gazed out to the brightening horizon.  I looked up to the ascending sun.  I talked to myself and to the seagulls and to God.  I tried hard to listen, to hear their replies.  I read entire books, cover to cover, while pacing the shore.  I returned to my deck and sat in my “magic chair” and filled the pages of seven journals—front and back.  

Eventually I started building sand castles and collecting seashells.  I photographed my new days with my new iPhone.  I marveled at the awesome variety of color from day to day.  My favorite was magenta, as it was as a child.  I bought a box of crayons at the grocery store, to see if I could match them all—all 64—to the colors of my mornings.  I could.  I had to buy a bigger box.  It seems the beach and “what it had to teach,” was, and is unbounded.  I will never get to the bottom of it all.  I’m so happy about that.

I am still learning.  I am a faithful student.  I show up on the shore every morning before dawn with my iPhone camera and my crayons, and a mind as “childlike” and curious as I can manage at my age.  And I see things.

I always feel like the kid on The Sixth Sense who whispers “I see dead people,” every time I write about the connections I make—with seashells, and sunrises, and rip-tides, and seagulls, and seaweed and sandcastles and  flotsam and jetsam and whatever happens to wash up at my feet.  It all seems a little “woo-woo,” but it is so real to me, so informative. 

Another woo-woo writer named Tosha Silver confesses:  “I live at the mercy of an endlessly metaphorical mind.”  You and me both, sister.  Why, just this morning behind the house on the banks of a shallow tide pool, I imagined the vast Namib desert viewed from high above and thought, perhaps I need a broader perspective on a relationship issue that is troubling me.

Aerial view of the Namib desert–or a tide pool in my back yard?

I find a shell that looks just like a single angel wing—I must reach out to help someone—or ask for help myself.  (“We are all angels with one wing, and we can only fly by embracing one another.”)  I step on a shell that could have been Van Gogh’s ear—shut up and listen; don’t do anything rash! 

I spy a shell fragment that looks like an apple core and it suggests I could be taking better care of my body—the ole apple-a-day advice.  The “trinity” of tiny white feathers tangled in seaweed invokes Emily Dickinson and her message of hope (the thing with feathers).  The ghosts, rising out of the 64-degree Gulf on a 22-degree morning (the “holy” variety, not the “Bell Witch” type) remind me to trust my inner wisdom. 

A sun that rises briefly, then disappears behind a mattress of clouds, inspires musings on the nature of faith—a turbulent sea, the nature of trust—a dazzling spray of sunrays reaching heavenward, the nature of life itself—the uncanny stillness of the Gulf after too many storms, the nature of death

It seems to come back to the nature of nature.  And I sense it everywhere I go now:  That pelican that kept perfect pace with me while I was driving across the three-mile bridge—I had been feeling so lonely for my Mom.  The storm on I-10 that chased me off the road literally into a ditch—Sometimes it is safer to wait, even if it’s in a ditch.  The cottonwood leaf tangled in my hair shaped just like a heart—I am loved. 

Of course, every one of these “God Winks” or “Synchronicities” or “Coincidences” or “Miracles,” if you will, could be interpreted any number of ways, depending on my mood du jour.  For example, the jackknife clam shells that were all over the beach last week look just like those hideous acrylic nails—talons, actually—I wore so proudly back in the ‘80s.  When I find one of those I usually feel momentarily embarrassed and then check to see if I need a manicure.  But if I were more sociopathically inclined, I suppose I could look at it as permission to claw somebody’s eyes out.  Ha!

Apple core, trinity feathers, angel wing, Van Gogh’s ear, God’s perfection

I’m most likely to come to darker conclusions when I’m filling my brain with darker energies.  The month I binge-watched three seasons of Criminal Minds I saw severed body parts in broken seashells, and coagulating blood in the sunrise.  I did not enjoy that macabre mindset. I’ve since switched over to The Andy Griffith Show, and was able to “Nip-it.  Nip it in the bud.”  (Thanks, Barn.)

I’m reminded of a passage from the Bible that I memorized as a teenager:

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”  Philippians 4:8

Ah yes, there be virtue.  There be praise.  There be a fresh start with every sunrise.  “Nature,” according to Emerson, “always wears the colors of the spirit.”  All 64 and more.  Oh, so many more.  I want to color with them all.  Outside the lines.  Every day that I’m alive. 

Yes, oh, yes—“Living is so dear.” 


Follow me on Instagram (Sharladawn) or Facebook (@sharladawnstoryteller) for images and musings from the beach at dawn.  Also, pick up a copy of Island Times from any of dozens of local Pensacola Beach shops and restaurants.  There’s plenty of marrow to go around.  


“Vices” is now available on Kindle and other eReaders for just 5.99.  You even have the option of “gifting” the digital version by clicking the “Give as a Gift” on Amazon.com and entering the email address of the recipient.  Of course, the paper version (still my preference) is available at the buy-three-get-one-free rate from this website (Shop)


Books are also available from all these gracious local retailers:

At the beach:
         Geronimo’s Outpost

          69 Via DeLuna Dr.
          Pensacola Beach, FL 32561
          (850) 435-9555

In Gulf Breeze:
          Pizzazz
          832 Gulf Breeze Parkway
          (Publix shopping center)
          Gulf Breeze, FL  32561
          (850) 934-3436

In East Hill:
         Angel’s Garden
         1208 N. 12th Ave.

         Pensacola, FL 32503
         (850) 435-9555

Mall area:
          
Miles Galleries

           (at the front register)
           5109 Bayou Blvd.
           Pensacola, FL  32503
           (850) 607-6560

At Seaside:
         Sundog Books

         89 Central Square
         Santa Rosa Beach, FL  32549
         (850) 231-5481

In Fairhope:
        Page and Palette

        32 S. Secton Street
        Fairhope, AL  36532
        (251) 928-5295

 

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