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When Mia talks to the ocean, the ocean talks back.

We went to the beach, and despite the fact that the weather forecast had predicted overcast skies and cold winds, the sun was out and the water was warm. Mom went on the high sands, well away from the water, and laid down on a towel with a book.

Mia went looking for seashells, and I started building sand castles.

Probably a half hour passed before I wondered where Mia had gone. Partly I wondered because I thought the castle could use some decoration, and she should have had a bucketful of seashells by then, but also because she was quiet. Normally she would have gotten bored with whatever she was doing and would have come to bug me. I got up and went looking for her.

She wasn't anywhere on part of the beach mom and me were at. I had to climb over a pile of rock and driftwood and skirt around the ends of the cliff sticking up from the ground to get around to the other part of the beach: the part that was overshadowed by the cliff and out of the way.

Mia was there, down on the shore. She was dragging her feet along the wet sand, writing on the beach. When I got closer, I saw the word was "HELLO."

"Are you writing to the airplane pilots?" I said, looking up for someone in the sky.

"No," she said. "I'm writing to the ocean."

"The whole ocean?"

"Yep."

The wave broke on itself a dozen feet out and the water quickly spread itself over the sand, barely ankle-high. It ran over the words Mia had written and then sank back into the sea. The "HELLO" was still there, though. I had expected it to have been obliterated, smeared beyond recognition, but there the word was, still shallowly written in the sand.

"The ocean says hello," said Mia. "Go ahead and write something. Introduce yourself."

I knelt down and, using my finger like a pencil, wrote in the wet sand, "How are you?"

The next wave came up and surrounded our feet with salty water. When it had gone again, the words I had written were gone, and instead was:

"A LITTLE ITCHY, ACTUALLY. AND YOURSELF?"

I cleared away the words with my hand and wrote, "Can't complain."

We spent the rest of the afternoon asking the ocean questions.

"Is there pirate treasure near by?" (there wasn't) "How deep was the ocean really (very deep indeed) and Mia's question, "Are there mermaids in the ocean?" had probably the most disconcerting answer of them all (there are now).

And the ocean asked us questions in return. What are the little wooden things that skim across its surface (boats), what were the things that looked like people and were warm like people, but swam down farther than people could (divers) and what was it like to be dry (not wet).

Apparently nobody had ever thought to talk to the ocean before; there was so much it didn't know that by the time the sun was starting to set and our mom started packing up, we were feeling very bad for it. The ocean didn't seem to mind it, though, and was just happy to chat.

"THANK YOU," it wrote. "IT IS NICE TO KNOW ABOUT THE LAND"

Just then, our mom peeked over the pile of stone and driftwood into our part of the beach.,

"Guys," she said. "Pack up. It's getting late."

"Okay, mom!" Mia and I shouted together.

To the ocean, Mia wrote, "No problem, but we've got to go now, our mom is calling us."

"DO YOU HAVE TO?" the ocean wrote.

"Yes."

"I COULD KEEP YOU. I COULD SWEEP YOU AWAY WITH THE WAVES AND TALK TO YOU HERE." The waves washing onto the beach got a little deeper, going up to our calves.

"But we'd die!" said Mia aloud, scribbling the words to the sea. "We can't live underwater for long."

The ocean seemed to think about this. The waters went relatively still, with only small breakers that were far away from the shore. Water slid along our toes.

"WILL YOU COME BACK?" said the new words thoughtfully.

"Next weekend," Mia wrote.

"We have to ask mom," I told her.

"Mom will say yes," she said.

The ocean wrote, "I WILL SEE YOU THEN." And all the words were washed away after that. We ran to the car where mom was waiting for us.

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