The beach is different this year.
There are gobs of people, for one thing. Or perhaps globs.
There have always been people here in the summer. When we come in April, it is usually pretty deserted, but there have always been families here in the summer… families with toddlers and grandparents, teenagers in love, young couples, sibling groups reconnecting with all of their spouses and children. But they have been in quantities where they are beautiful, people groups you can identify and imagine where they came from and what their week will be like.
This year there are just masses of indistinguishable humanity on the beach. As far as the eye can reach along the strand, cabanas sit over sets of human flesh massed around coolers, stretching off in each direction until the haze of heat dissolves them into a blur.
Maybe it is the new bridge. I don’t mind saying I hate it. There used to be an old (antique?) swing bridge. It only let a single lane of traffic on or off the island, so you always had to sit and wait your turn at the light. It took even longer if you found yourself traveling “on the hour”, because then the bridge actually closed to road traffic for ten or fifteen minutes while it swung around and opened up to let the watercraft pass through the bay behind the island. But now they have built a new bridge, a towering concrete monstrosity. Driving across it feels like riding up and down a rollercoaster. And when they finished it, they tore the old bridge out. Shawn says they had to do it because if somebody had a heart attack on the island it would have taken too long to perform rescue operations. The beach is so different now though, so many people.
It doesn’t help that while we have been here, prime beach hours have coincided with high tide, meaning that the strand is at its narrowest during the time when everyone wants to be on it.
I don’t know if it’s because it has been high tide, but the beach has seemed particularly rough this year, harsh. The wind literally howls and hisses with sand particles, and the ocean crashes and booms as though it wants (along with me) to drive all these people away. When I have gone into the gray-green water, it is warm and salty but full of energy. When I least expect it, it smacks me hard on the side of the head, or in the stomach, taking my breath away as though it were punching me.
It is still therapeutic. Yesterday was very hot, something like 98 degrees with a heat index over 100, but the ocean has a way of cooling you right down. I found myself with goosebumps at times. When I went up on the sand to warm up, the unrelenting wind in my ears and eyes was wearing me out until I discovered (after watching Laura) that wrapping a beach towel around my head provided huge relief, keeping sand and noise out of my facial cavities. I could even peek out a tunnel of towel to watch Jonathan cavort on his skim board, something I had been trying to see all afternoon but had been unsuccessful because the weather conditions kept forcing me to shut my eyes and miss his best tricks.
I sat there in a beach chair with my upper half under the shade of our umbrella, my legs sticking out into the sun. I held a bottle of water from our cooler, its bottom a small circle of wet cold soaking through my bathing suit onto my stomach. I ate some ice from the cooler and drank the water, listened to the sand hissing in the wind and the ferocious waves smashing themselves into the shore, and I felt like I was on vacation.
It is Wednesday, and we are settled into the beach house now, our vitamins and supplements spilling across the kitchen counters, computers in every corner, glasses for tooth-brushing on the bathroom vanities, dirty clothes in piles in each bedroom, books spread through the living areas on every end table, our DVDs in the DVD player. Of course there are bathing suits and towels hanging from every conceivable vantage point. I try not to think about the packing up and leaving.
Today is cooler. DJ and I got up at 8:30 and went for a walk on the beach. The tide was mostly out and the strand was wide. The majority of people weren’t up yet. The breeze was the gentlest it has been; my eyes didn’t start to water once. Back at the house, I made spinach and mushroom frittatas for breakfast, then grabbed a cup of coffee with cream to bring out on the porch after I’d eaten. The sky is blue with fluffy, scattered cumulus clouds. The forecast said we were going to have thunderstorms all week, but so far we’ve had good beach weather every day. Today looks like it might be the prettiest day so far.
I was going to write “Good-bye, girls—part 3”, but that can come on a later day. Sometimes it is just right to live in the moment.